Afrika Bambaataa, a founding figure of hip-hop culture, outlined the four pillars of hip-hop: MCing, DJing, B-boying, and graffiti writing. Graffiti remains arguably the most controversial of the four, prompting strong reactions on both sides—epitomized on one hand by the success of the landmark 1984 publication Subway Art, and on the other hand the $9 million spent in Chicago for Mayor Richard M. Daley’s 2010 Graffiti Blasters initiative. American culture continues to struggle to find a place for graffiti within the history of art, free speech, and vandalism.
Through the creation of the Life is Living festivals, Marc Bamuthi Joseph found another way to frame the conversation around power, politics, and public space. The festivals, rich with collective energy, served as a means of conducting fieldwork for the text and design of red, black and GREEN: a blues (rbGb). One of the many axes of collaboration were the Estria Invitational Graffiti Battles hosted in Harlem, Chicago, and Oakland. Estria Miyashiro is a friend of Bamuthi and a veteran graffiti artist in the Bay Area art scene. Miyashiro and Bamuthi were motivated to collaborate by their shared desire to use their work in the hip-hop arts to empower local communities and encourage lasting systemic change.
Each battle challenged popular local graffiti artists to create work related to themes of sustainability. The theme for Chicago was “Earth,” and the murals created by the contestants were hung at different locations throughout the city with the hope of inspiring dialogue and imparting a sense of urgency around the importance of life in the midst of urban violence.
The picture below shows a portion of the group mural created at Chicago’s Clarendon Park. This highlights the opportunities for connection embedded in Bamuthi’s practice which, in turn, fed the creative process of rbGb.
This spring Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Theaster Gates collaborate to bring red, black and GREEN: a blues to MCA Stage. During his time in Chicago, Bamuthi is scheduled to hold sessions with local teachers and students exploring the issues of community and civic engagement that inform and inspire his work. In many ways, these performances and discussions are a continuation of the 2009 MCA presentation of Bamuthi’s the break/s: a mixtape for the stage, for which he collaborated with Young Chicago Authors.
As a youth-activated organization, Young Chicago Authors serves more than 2,500 teens a year through its education programs and reaches 30,000 people through its publications and live events. On April 14, they, along with the MCA’s teen program The Creative Agency, hip-hop-based teen arts organization Kuumba Lynx, and Chicago teen media program YOUmedia will work with Bamuthi to bring their collaborative artistic process to MCA Stage with SHareOUT.
In 2009, Marc Bamuthi Joseph brought the Life is Living festival to Chicago. The event, held at Clarendon Park, was the culmination of months of outreach and collaboration between 25 community partners. The photo below captures an exercise in remembrance organized by Kuumba Lynx and spurred by Bamuthi’s assertion that eco-movements should be “less about green and more about a shared value—life.” The signs, held high during a parade, symbolically rename streets and avenues in commemoration of the lives of 39 students claimed by violence in Chicago Public Schools.
Participate in the visual dialogue by uploading a photo to Flickr or Twitter responding to the question, “What sustains life in your community?” Tag your responses with lifeisliving.