WHAT’S GOING ON: “Finally, SoHo is about art again, not shopping,” a longtime local resident smiled on Monday, as she snapped a picture of one of the murals that had appeared in the neighborhood over the past week. “That’s how it’s supposed to be.”
When Black Lives Matter protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder started in New York City on May 28, participants, like their peers elsewhere, took to the streets. And all of them began showing their anger over police brutality, government’s disregard for the working class, and capitalist complicity in different ways. Some marched with signs, some confronted the city’s violent police, while others took to storming stores, including many expensive boutiques in the downtown Manhattan neighborhood of SoHo.
The so-called “cast-iron district,” once manufacturing-heavy, SoHo became a creative hub in the 1970s, when artists in search of ample space, plenty of light and low rents, started moving into its lofts. Since then, the district had been gentrified, and before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the commerce down indefinitely, a typical day in SoHo involved vast crowds of tourists loitering around the many fancy stores. For instance, the Prada boutique made famous by “Sex and the City,” as well as their use of blackface in the window displays.
Due to its location close to Union Square and City Hall, the two hotspots of civil unrest, SoHo became the perfect target for those who wanted to seize some purses and sneakers, since means of production were not as readily available.
As the city government implemented a curfew to prevent further property takeover, many of the stores were boarded up with plywood. The situation calmed down, the curfew was canceled, and then, art began appearing. First, illustrated portraits of police brutality victims began to be posted on the plywood among the “ACAB” and “F12” graffiti. Then quotes by James Baldwin and Frederick Douglass started to appear. And now, the neighborhood is full of artists with their supplies, creating works of art that commemorate the fallen victims, honor black lives and inspire faith in the equal, radiant future.
WHO MADE IT: Some of the participants are easy to recognize from their other work in the streets of New York City. Others are emerging stars.
Here are the artists featured in this selection: Moving On Everything, Ella Elia Kim, SacSix, Lydia Venieri, ArtManDan / D. Bonilla, Hadley Tutton, Urban Russian Doll, Optimo NYC,Pure Genius, Emma Haskel, Nick C. Kirk, Oded Halahmy & Pomegranate Gallery, Izzy V Young, Akhdi Abdellah, Tiger Mackie, Irena Kenny, Natalie Woodson / Skulls & Souls, Soteciety, Beatriz Ramos & Dada Power, Maeve Cahill, Michael Rimbaud, Shaina Eve Cintron, Jeffrey Melo, Loren Abbate, Dena Paige Fischer, Denis Ouch, Ilina Mustafina, Marcia Go, Amir Diop, Koffee Creative, Aisha Bee, Sula Bust for Artists 4 George Floyd, Si Golraine, Colin Mahar, Rowena Rubio.
Soho Social Impact is the initiative bringing artists together.
WHY DO WE CARE: Because the Supamodu office, although sparsely populated these days, is close to SoHo, we’ve taken time off protests and work to show you that in SoHo, nature is indeed healing. And because we know the area well, we’ve also been able to make some enlightening observations. It’s interesting how different types of businesses are reacting to the art takeover. For instance, Selima, a small eyewear boutique owned by a French-Algerian immigrant Selima Salaun and a neighborhood staple since the early 90s, was looted on the first night. But they decided to reclaim the narrative and welcomed the artists with open arms. Meanwhile, the Chanel boutique, part of a chain owned by French billionaire brothers, has its employees paint over the works of art every day. The same goes for Celine, owned by billionaire Bernard Arnault. Gentrifiers will never understand the soul of the place they invade, nor will billionaires ever have respect for art unless they can profit from it.
WHY YOU NEED TO PAY ATTENTION: Just like Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, although, to a lesser extent, SoHo is now showing how wonderful and important it is to take the world away from capitalism and back to art, justice and equality. We’re still yet to see more concrete change, as the fight continues and governments across the nation take steps in the right direction to defund the police, break ties with police departments, or restructure the institution altogether. But making way for art is one of the first actions in a revolution, and a better world is already evident, as drab plywood comes alive, a thing of beauty.
If you want to participate and bring more art and justice to the street you live in but lack the skills, here are the links to some posters by the featured artists to print out:
Black Lives Matter posters by Quentin Monge.
The portraits of victims of police brutality by Lydia Venieri.
PS: We’ve tried to identify as many creators as possible, but if you have any additions, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or any social media DMs.
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