The Aboveground Work of an Underground World

Banksy’s “Girl and Rat” (New Orleans)

Street art is absolutely fascinating. I never paid attention to the strange creativity of it until I moved to New Orleans and noticed the words “You Go Girl” graffitied onto a small patch of a building, something that could easily go unnoticed, during my first year of residency. On any given day when I would need to walk from the hospital to one of the clinic buildings, the uplifting message could be spotted on a building on Lasalle Street. I thought it was merely a solitary (albeit illegal) gesture of kindness until a friend’s beautiful photography opened my eyes to this entire world of street art. There are “You Go Girl” messages all over this city, along with countless other amazing, beautiful, strange, unnerving, and confusing pieces of art plastered on building walls.

Street artists oft go by pseudonyms to protect their artistic and legal anonymity. The likes of Shepard Fairey (the creator of the famous Obama “Hope” posters), Sweet Toof and Cyclops, Borf, Buffmonster, Seizer, Ron English, Swoon, and Neckface usually work in the cover of night to glue artwork onto or assemble installations near random buildings, staircases, telephone poles, and anything else that can serve as a wall to their museum, otherwise known as the outside world. Another well-spoken of practitioner of this medium is Banksy.

Banksy is an English street artist who has drawn worldwide attention to his art, yet his identity remains hidden. He even had the gall and vision to graffiti the Gaza wall…some might call this brash, irresponsible, and risky; others would call it art in its purest form. He can be a prankster like no other; he once secretly mounted his art onto the walls of a museum in Bristol. However, he also displays a seriousness in his work. At times it can be playful; at other times it is very political. What strikes me is that inherent to the secrecy is the notion that this is art for art’s sake. Banksy’s work has been auctioned and sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars –not by him, but by those who find, remove, and subsequently sell it. Truly art is his passion, not monetary gain. That is why he moved forward to tell the story of street art through an oddly gifted man named Thierry Guetta (Mr. Brainwash)– a man with an obsession for filming everything who accidentally stumbles into the world of street art — in a documentary called “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”

There has been speculation about whether this documentary is actually a “mockumentary,” and if you watch it you will understand why. The character of Thierry Guetta seems so odd that he verges on fiction or cartoon. Despite the accusations that it is a hoax, the story appears to be in fact true. Whatever the case may be, the documentary is worth watching and may open your eyes to the strange, beautiful, powerful, and amusing world of street graffiti like it did for me.

Thierry Guetta (Mr. Brainwash)
Banksy's "Elephant in Room"
Banksy’s “Elephant in Room”
Shepard Fairey
“Street art has a short life span, so it needed documenting.”
You Go Girl (New Orleans)
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