Next week, empty walls in the Bronx and El Barrio will be transformed into giant murals by some of the leading international artists working in public art today. MONUMENTART, presented by La Marqueta Retoña, is the continuation of Los Muros Hablan—an urban art public art festival that started in San Juan, Puerto Rico and was brought to New York City two years ago by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
In its beginnings, the project was focused on highlighting the long history of Puertorriqueños in the tight-knit community of Spanish Harlem, with art that connected that history with the culture back on the island. This year, the central theme for the 10 murals has widened its purview to immigration, examining New York as a destination that attracts people from all over the world.
“It’s what happens in New York expressed through art,” said Celso González, co-founder of Los Muros Hablan and curator of MONUMENTART.
Besides mural art, La Marqueta Retoña also has a dope line up of music scheduled for the weekend, including performances by Mima at the Julia de Burgos Performing Art Center’s Theatre with special a DJ Set by Raquel Berríos of Buscabulla. And you don’t have to wait until then to dance, this Sunday there will be a FREE street party at La Marqueta in East Harlem with live art, international food, and a performance by Boricua indie singer Calma Carmona.
In the meantime, get the scoop on some of the artists participating:
Celso González: Cero (Puerto Rico)
Celso González began making street art as a young boy in Loíza, where his family was from. “There weren’t that many materials so any abandoned wall was a good place to express myself and eventually it transcended.” González, who curated MONUMENTART and is participating as an artist, studied architecture in California in order to create what he’s most known for—monumental mosaic structures. He also masters different disciplines in fine arts including painting, sculpture, and film. His work has been featured in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Italy, France, Taiwan, and the U.S. He has developed over 100 public art projects. “In public spaces, you put the art in the spectator’s face and you confront them,” he said, “I like to establish that direct dialogue with everyone, not just art-lovers, but anyone who is alive.”
González works with another architect and artist, Roberto Biaggi, and together they are Cero Design & Built. They will be working on a mural at Lexington Academy with El Mac, an artist from LA. Their mural will honor a local personality who is yet to be determined and will be inspired by people from low-income, minority communities who make something of themselves without guidance.
Andrew Antonaccio and Filio Galvez: 2 Alas (Puerto Rico/Cuba)
Andrew Antonaccio and Filio Galvez met in 2010 at an art exhibit and began collaborating two years later as the 2 Alas art collective—a name that referencesLola Rodríguez de Tío’s poem “A Cuba,” in which she calls Cuba and Puerto Rico are two wings of the same bird. Antonaccio was born in New York, raised in Puerto Rico; and Galvez was born in La Habana, Cuba.
2 Alas are known for their black and white linear portraits and colorful geometric abstractions. They’re championing public art in South Florida, but their work can also be seen in Montreal, New York, Italy, Switzerland, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Cuba. They will be painting under a bridge in the Bronx on 138th and Park Ave, and are excited to be part of a social initiative. “[It’s] always good to empower communities through the arts and instill a new and stronger pride of place by helping beautify public spaces,” said Antonaccio.
Elizam Escobar (Puerto Rico)
Elizam Escobar will bring new life to the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center theatre with a mural commemorating the Puerto Rican poet and nationalist. “Julia de Burgos’ figure is important to me culturally and politically,” Escobar said. “She was way ahead of her time and suffered a lot. I don’t give too much importance to the romantic aspect, for me what’s important is that she wasn’t just a poet, but a militant in the movement for liberation.”
Escobar, a Puerto Rican artist, poet, and theorist, is no stranger to New York City— he lived in New York for almost 10 years in the seventies. In 1980 he was sentenced by the United States’ government to 68 years in prison on charges of seditious conspiracy. He continued to paint and write in prison and was released in 1999. After prison he moved back to Puerto Rico and is now a professor at Escuelas Artes Plásticas in Old San Juan. “Doing this mural in New York is really important to me. New York is like a second home. I see it as a separate country from the U.S.,” he said.
He has painted two murals in Puerto Rican communities in Philadelphia before, this will be his third mural in the U.S. and first in NYC.
Nicolás Romero: Ever (Argentina)
“On that piece of concrete, you’ll be able to see people who live and love what they do. For me, that’s total anarchism,” said Nicolás Romero Escalada about the artists participating in MONUMENTART.
As a teenager, Romero began spray painting text on school benches and the streets of Buenos Aires. But it wasn’t until meeting political and social activists in Paris on his first trip to Europe that he began to see street art as a way to challenge authority. “Painting on the street to me is a political action. Even if you have nothing to say, nothing is something because you’re modifying the public space,” he said.
Romero will be painting in El Barrio’s Artspace PS109, a newly opened affordable housing complex for artists and their families. His work will be centered on immigration and intercultural relations. Although he has painted a couple of murals in New York before, he said this time feels special because he feels the community’s feedback will be immediate. “What is important in a mural festival is to celebrate human existence. What makes the work richer is the participation of those watching and the experience of the people seeing the artist paint.”
ROA is excited about the giant brick wall that awaits him on 108th and Lexington Ave. Originally from Ghent, Belgium, he began spray painting as a teenager. He is now known for his animal murals, explaining “I love the diversity of the animal kingdom and the various ways they live and survive with each other. Indirectly, the animal’s contemporary fate and habitat issues, echoing [sic] the human behavior and the recklessness of humankind with nature. Some animals actually adapt their ways to our lifestyle in order to survive, other species become extinct.”
He uses a minimal color palette—black, white and sometimes red. His first mural in NYC was nearby the Bowery Hotel in the East Village. Since then, he’s painted in Brooklyn and New Jersey. “I love to paint in New York and it’s great to see my first piece is still there!” Although he hasn’t decided what he will paint yet, we can expect local, relevant animals. My guess? Pigeons.
In addition to these five artists, look out for work from Adrián Román aka Viajero from New York City; Faith47 from Cape Town, South Africa; Carlos Alberto Segovia Alanis aka Sego from Mexico City, Mexico; Miles MacGregor aka El Mac from Los Angeles, California; and Luis Vidal from Puerto Rico.