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No Dude, We Aren’t All Friends!

August 13, 2011

In an article published yesterday in the Guardian UK (read HERE), it’s come out that Shepard Fairey didn’t receive the welcome he would have hoped for on his recent trip to Denmark, where he was beat up after his exhibition opening last weekend. It appears that Copenhagen youth decided to try to teach him that elusive life lesson that what you do as an artist might actually have real life consequences.
Fairey’s mural on site of the former anarchist/punk squat Ungdomshuset (we ran a write-up on the importance of the site a couple years back HERE)—and ground zero for the youth riots of 2007—pairs a dove and the word “peace” with the Ungdomshuset rallying cry “69.” The combination of Fairey’s development of the cult of personality for Obama, the taking of Copenhagen city money, and the use of that money to paint a mural seen as trying to obscure the conflict between the city and the anarchist community was a step too far. Fairey’s transgress, and attempt to shove his particularly friendly, Southern Californian-style neo-liberalism down the throat of Danish youth activists has landed him a black eye and bruised ribs for his troubles. To his credit, Fairey did go back and repaint a portion of the mural with input from some former Ungdomshuset members, but then again, when you depend on street cred to keep your career rolling, it’s unclear if he had much choice. (photo: Tommi Ronnqvist for the Guardian)


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12 comments on “No Dude, We Aren’t All Friends!”

I didn’t write this little piece to defend Fairey getting roughed up, but to contextualize it. That said, it hardly seems surprising that something like this would happen in a context where graffiti and visual messaging have played an important part in a struggle that has led to hundreds of people being arrested, beat up, and even deported by the police, never mind evicted from a social center that was deeply important to the city’s youth culture.
Artists tend to roll into any situation and do a bunch of bullshit and think they’ll be protected because they’re “artists” and it’s just “art.” You can’t have it both ways, either art matters, and has real world effects (including violence) like other types of activity, or it doesn’t. You can’t pretend art matters when it benefits you, then pack it up and say “it’s only art” when you don’t like the results.
You can argue that violence was or wasn’t justified (I’m personally not a big fan of getting beat up, or beating people up), but that shouldn’t be used to obscure discussions about whether artists should be held accountable for their actions.

Shepard is a sellout. He disses out people, and puts his shitty OBAMA posters over people who have painted graffiti cities for years and years. He pays no respect to graffiti and for this im glad he got his wall dissed and beat up. Same message goes for going into someones city and putting up these glamorized murals, acting like hes from the streets, but doing it just for the big paycheck. He needs to stick to his clothing designs, and the galleries because thats where he belongs.
I am glad to hear some kids stood up for it, and im sure he wasnt hospitalized and just got a couple punches but not everbody believes in this hope, peace, bullshit senseless positive message. Not everybody wants this shit around their town, especially when some sell out hypocrite is putting it up.

OMG! Actions have consequeneces. I’m just suprised he hasn’t been beat up more. Disrespect people and they disrespect you. Everywhere isn’t America and everyone isn’t a pacifist. Lesson worth learning before he makes more of a fool of himself. What’s next? Rolling up on Greece for a peace mural in Exarchia?

This is pathetic. First you blanket stereotype by using politico jargon “SoCal Neo-Liberalism” in the same way Tea Party people toss around “Socialist”, and then have the nerve to say you contextualized something?
Subculture can become an excuse to act like fools by claiming unwritten rules. If you want to pretend and tell me violence is ok because this guy broke some “code” by places images of a political figure he agrees with in certain areas then you yourself have lost relevance. You lack relevance because you lose your goal. You claim to want to end exploitation, violence, and politics, yet….. in this case, because you agree with the “cause” violence “which is always exploitative” is justified due to the artists….politics.
Sounds to me like a bunch of follower kids finding personal identity through a subculture that plays by the same rules as the mainstream, but of course justified.

This is interesting!
I empathize with shepards situation and don’t want to be the victim of such aggression.
I don’t consider it any kind if justice (since we’d have to establish whether that can exist). It is an intersection of Shepards Art, which frequently appropriates and uses armed struggle/resistance movements, with an actual community that was in resistance to its state. Shepard ended up misrepresenting it and was dealt, very unfortunate, consequences.
Clearly representation in Art DOES mean something, ESPECIALLY when its out of the insulated box of a gallery.
After years of people telling Shepard this, someone frustrated enough brought it to his person

Jacky, this isn’t just a disagreement over image, there is a real struggle, with real people’s lives and control of their city at stake, that involved massive riots and thousands of arrests, and Shepherd is using his fame and influence to whitewash that struggle in exchange for pay. It’s disgusting and the pain he received is understandable.

Shepard is a powerful man. His power is fame and money, things that the kids in Denmark didn’t have. What did they have? Fists! I think it’s fair game. The famous and powerful get what’s coming to them, whether it’s “moral” or not has no effect. Personally, I think that this was bound to happen, and if he was too arrogant to realize that, he deserves what he got.

I live in the neighborhood where this ignorant, piece of shit public art, and ultimately attempted exploitation happened. Here is what I wrote in a similar discussion about what happened. SF took on something he had no business getting mixed up in.
From the other exchange:
This isn’t just about Shepard Fairey. It is about how he colludes with the wealthy and powerful, but pretends to be of the street, of the people, of the things he is not, and tries to take advantage of charged situations (or a history) and ultimately profits making a lot of money (or getting a lot of media attention, which also helps produce money). The municipality of Copenhagen declared war on the Ungdomshuset. It unleashed riot squads, anti-terror laws, new weapons, and caused extreme violence against a lot of people. It attacked a specific political history and fight for equality in the world that is over a century old. It was about imposing an ideology on to the city and its denizens. Fairey’s mural is a giant fuck you to that community especially because the same government that assaulted it funded his mural. I am happy about the fact that the jerk was held accountable in such a public way with getting a few bruises and being made to compromise on the mural. They have had to fight to survive, and continue to have to do that. If someone came to my house, beat me up, threw all my things in the street, tore down my house, imprisoned my family, and then commissioned an artist to make an inane mural about me, I think a few fists thrown are a really mild response. There are consequences for what your art does, where it goes, and how it shows up in the world. If an artist works with really violent forces for his own benefit, then I would expect that it is not unreasonable for him to get a taste of it back.

Ugh, that Big Boys ripoff is just terrible! Fairey is a master of doublethink; a disciple of the lie told with feeling, the lie so egregious that observers assume that it must have at least an ounce of truth in it somewhere. He also probably believes his bullshit himself, which is the critical crux: His response to the beating was so keyed to “understanding” the “misunderstanding” that he could probably take a few more beatings and continue to smile and say “it’s cool bro!”

Shepard Fairey is just trying to make it like any other hustling homey in the state of the world. Lots of mercy to him and dont fight brother on brother. He is not a hack, he is actually quite talented and very serious about his art.
Another artist you should check out is David Foox (FOOX). His work is at and is all about the creation of fictional myth to back up ancient history – through street art. Enjoy Samantha

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