A new street art exhibition in Germany, aptly titled "Persons of Interest," is celebrating the spirit of two iconic art cities: Brooklyn and Berlin.
Both towns are known not just for their graffiti and street art, but for their greater DIY culture, marked by an influx of resident artists, musicians and writers who have taken solace in the respective hubs. The show sets out to highlight the cultural exchange between one American city and Germany's capital, recruiting a group of Brooklyn's most recognizable street artists to get the job done.
Curated by Brooklyn Street Art co-founders Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo (who often share their street art expertise on The Huffington Post), the exhibition begins with a simple but unique set of instructions, directed to the 12 featured street artists: Choose any portrait subject -- an artist, a poet, an activist -- all that matters is that he or she is German, or from Brooklyn with a connection to Germany.
The possibilities were endless really, because if you think inspiring intellectuals with roots in Germany, or even iconic Brooklynites with German associations are in short supply, history disagrees. Amongst the "People of Interest" -- hand-picked by Swoon, GAIA, Icy & Sot, Specter, El Sol 25 and others -- are painter and printmaker Käthe Kollwitz, feminist activist Katharina Oguntoye, poet Charles Bukowski, and teacher Fereshta Ludin. Oguntoye and Ludin were both able to attend the exhibition's opening on March 14.
"Brooklyn and Berlin have deep roots together," Harrington explains in a statement for the exhibition. "So much of Berlin’s '70s-80s subculture became mainstream that we don’t even think about it," he added to HuffPost. "And before that the Dadaists and the Bauhaus [had] a huge impact on artists here. My connection has always been through the music -- I grew up listening to Bowie’s Berlin albums when the Cold War was palpable and of course was a serious Kraftwerk fan as well, although they were from Düsseldorf I think. So for me the connection to Berlin has always been de facto."
"Every time a Brooklyn artist returns back from Berlin they say they are considering moving there for a while," Rojo concludes. "To give you an idea how connected the artists communities are -- half of our Brooklyn crew extended their trips and are sleeping on extra couches in Berlin right now. You meet an artist in Berlin and they probably have done a project with one of your friends."
The show, created for Project M/7, is on view until June 15 at Berlin's Urban Nation, with portraits appearing on the facade and in the windows of the future UN "House." Beyond the installation, Harrington and Rojo asked the artists to briefly explain why they chose their particular portrait subjects, profiling the responses on their BSA blog. The reasons vary, spanning deeply personal essays to politically-charged calls to action. Below is a selection of excerpts from those features:
Cake & Käthe Kollwitz
“I picked Käthe Kollwitz for so many reasons. She is an artist who gives to her subjects. She gives dignity to the suffering in her work. She takes the suffering, the hungry, the dying, the scared, and she gives them humanity, she gives them the gift of themselves again, despite the life circumstances they are in the middle of. They are not presented as less than, and she has become an advocate for them. She wanted to give through her work – she wanted to help. She was completely dedicated to the work, and as an artist I connect with and value this deeply." (Read more here)
Chris Stain & Charles Bukowki
“I started reading the works of Charles Bukowski about 20 years ago. I can’t say I agree with all of his opinions but what keeps me returning to his books is his sheer honesty as he relates to the common people. Throughout his literary embellishments he maintains a certain amount of hope that I believe everyone can relate to as they traverse life’s pain and wonder. I feel honored to be able to create a portrait of this German born American poet in his homeland. “ (Read more here)
DAIN & Marlene Dietrich
“I chose Ms. Dietrich because she was one of the most famous German American actresses. She had a style and look that were both glamorous and exotic. I love the fact that she continually reinvented herself – not only within acting but as a show performer later in her career." (Read more here)
Don Rimx & John A. Roebling
“For me, Roebling fits perfectly into the line of work I’ve been developing lately. Roebling’s design aesthetic provides me with the inspiration for how to play with structure to connect and make links. I love the concept of the bridge, which reminds me how in art we carry culture and send ideas from one side of the world to the other." (Read more here)
El Sol 25 & Hannah Höch
“She’s one of my all time favorites and also a native German so I really wanted to pay my respect by painting her portrait. She was a key innovator in the original Dada movement and her collages are the strongest I’ve ever seen... She is my hero for many reasons.” (Read more here)
Esteban Del Valle & George Grosz
“I believe art is inherently powerful and that power can be used to reflect and reshape reality. Much like I aspire to do, George Grosz used satirical imagery to call attention to social inequalities while blurring the line between illustration and painting. His poignant content and aesthetic seems just as relevant today as it did in post 1920’s Berlin.” (Read more here)
GAIA & Fereshta Ludin
“I chose to focus on Fereshta Ludin because of her advocation for multicultural understanding and cooperation in the face of intense national debate regarding the sphere of religious expression in German politics.” (Read more here)
Icy & Sot & The People of Berlin
“It’s a portrait of freedom, Berlin’s peoples freedom. The image inside the portrait was a very important moment for Berlin when the wall came down and we wanted to celebrate it.” (Read more here)
NohJColey & Katharina Oguntoye
“I have chosen to create a piece that focuses on Katharina Oguntoye because of her contribution to the woman’s equality movement in Germany. She has overcome countless obstacles in her lifetime and has changed so many lives for the better because of her relentless efforts.” (Read more here)
Specter & Sally Montana
“Sally Montana is my neighbor. She is from Germany but lives in Brooklyn and is a professional photographer and one of the nicest people anyone could ever meet. The reason I choose her is because I feel she embodies this project. The connection between NY and Berlin art communities being the two of the largest in the world and the back-and-forth sharing of people and influences from each others cultures.” (Read more here)
Swoon & Turkish Immigrants
“This portrait is a celebration of the cultural diversity of the city of Berlin, and specifically of it’s large and vibrant Turkish community... [The installation represents] a long distance love letter to the city that informed so much of my early work, and which inspired and embraced the creative evolution of art on the streets like few other places in the world.” (Read more here)
All images courtesy of Jaime Rojo.