How Street Artists Around the World React to Life with COVID-19: Part 1 – Rachel Levin, Art Lecturer

Rachel Levin, a popular art lecturer who often lectures at the Bernard Betel Centre for our weekly Tuesday Lifelong Learning Lectures, has provided a lovely write-up for the Bernard Betel Centre community on how street artists around the world are reacting to life with COVID-19. Enjoy!

Much of the world was under ‘shelter in place’, but some countries are slowly easing restrictions. Graffiti artists, street artists and muralists have been taking over public spaces during this pandemic, using their art forms to express beauty, support and dissent.

Society uses the digital public sphere for sharing and viewing art. On a more a local scale, there’s a lot of graffiti popping up about issues such as rent, strikes and issues related to basic needs of survival.

In Berlin, Germany a mural by Eme Freethinker of Gollum from ‘Lord of the Rings’ worshipping a roll of toilet paper. Eme Freethinker wanted to make a statement about greed during the Covid-19 crisis. “I was thinking all night about what I should paint, and was laughing a lot about it, and in the morning I told my son that I was going to paint Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings” holding a toilet paper roll, with the words ‘Mein Schatz’ (‘My Precious’ in German)”.

Another version on hording of necessities is by the artist Teachr1 from Los Angeles. The coronavirus pandemic has sent panicked shoppers to stores and into a toilet paper buying and hoarding frenzy. Videos of scuffles in supermarkets have been circulating widely on social media and some have even ended in fistfights that required police intervention.

Graffiti on a road in Jaipur city, Rajasthan region, India raises awareness how to fight the virus by staying home.

In Amsterdam a mural by FAKE pays tribute to health care workers during the pandemic.

A mural in Hannover Place, Bristol, UK, by the well-known street artist Banksy, echoes the titled Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) by the famous Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (1632 –1675).

Denver based artist Austin Zucchini-Fowler painted a multicolored Healthcare Hero mural on the wall of an abandoned building on Colfax Avenue. The mural shows a winged healthcare worker wearing a face mask and a pair of red boxing gloves.

The mural, which took fewer than 10 hours to paint, “has resonated with the healthcare community,” said the artist, who added that he has seen many medical professionals taking photos in front of it.

After a visit to his local supermarket on March 12, the Charlotte, NC based artist Darion Fleming (b. 1993) realized that there would soon be no sanitizers anywhere, a thought that inspired his work Purell Gold. “I thought it would be a funny idea to see gold spilling out of a ‘Purell’ bottle,” he said, and added the words “Available Nowhere” on the bottle.

He painted the 400-square-foot mural on a quiet residential building on North Davidson Street. It took him eight 10-hour days to finish it. “This wasn’t a commissioned piece, and everything was on my dime because I wanted to do something for the community to enjoy in serious times”.

Duyi Han (b. 1985) is from Hubei province China. He is a designer and creative director of Doesn’t Come Out design house. Han has created a concept for a mural that pays tribute to the medical workers in Wuhan. The work is part of a series called The Saints Wear White.

Since the outbreak, doctors and medical workers have faced infection, fatigue and even death. In April, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that 3,387 medical staff in China had been infected with Covid-19. Han said he wanted to use the motifs of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling in his mural to elevate the images of the medical staff impacted by the crises. “In general, I think there should be a much higher public regard to those people in China, so when I created this work, I felt this strong emotion.

In Bristol, UK, John D’oh, is known for his stencil art and his deep political views, and is known as one who doesn’t hold back. His mural on the street immediately confronts with the issues of the day. Most of his work is created from media influence.

Tyler from Mumbai, India, depicts a masked Buddha. Like other artists, he has been using the most recognizable images in this mural. The mask provides a real link to today’s world we know so well.

A powerful piece from the Melbourne Murals team appeared on the side of the Black Rock News agency building in the city. The mural is showing a winged male nurse in a Herculean stance. He is kneeling on the virus while holding the globe aloft, preventing it from crashing down.

“We Can Do It!” is an American World War II wartime poster. It was produced by J. Howard Miller in 1943 for ‘Westinghouse Electric’ as an inspirational image to boost female worker morale. An unknown American artist depicts a Black nurse, mirroring the 1943 famous “We Can Do It!” poster. The image not only addresses existing racism in America, but also makes it clear how many of the essential healthcare workers are not only women, but also women of colour, and how they have been constantly undervalued until the pandemic came round.

Another image is a healthcare worker posing beside a mural by Emmalene Blake on a gate in south Dublin, Ireland.

A mural by the artist known as the Rebel Bear painted on the wall of a building in Glasgow’s West End. The artist said he wanted to “provoke hope of life after lockdown and also to show the tightrope between fear and love that many of us are walking at the moment”.

Another work by Rebel Bear popped up on Bath Street in early April. It shows a man chained to a bright green coronavirus particle, highlighting the frustration felt by everyone restricted by the virus.

TVBoy (b.1980) is the pseudonym of Salvatore Benintende an Italian street artist born in Palermo, Italy but lives in Barcelona, Spain. TVBoy created a mural after the poster: I Want You for U.S. Army (1917) by James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960). This poster was used for recruitment to the US army during WWI and again during WWII.

Another version of James Montgomery Flagg poster is by Pegasus (b. 1988). Pegasus is the pseudonym and signature of a North London street artist. The artist is originally from Chicago but best known for his work in England. His stenciled pieces play with popular culture’s most recognizable icons, and sometimes his images are controversial. The painting of Boris Johnson is on Great Eastern Street in Shoreditch, London.

A mural depicts a nurse embracing the shape of Italy on a mural dedicated to the medical workers of Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in Bergamo Italy, and says “To all of you… Thank you!”

3 thoughts on “How Street Artists Around the World React to Life with COVID-19: Part 1 – Rachel Levin, Art Lecturer”

  1. Thank you Rachel. I’m so impressed by the creativity, satire and irony of the artists you featured

  2. Thank you Rachel, unique visit from around the world. Especially moving is the Melbourne Mural and ” The Kiss ‘from Glasgow with the comments.

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