Public Mural. Otis Frizzel.
Williamson Ave, Ponsonby.
A MESSAGE FOR OTIS FRIZZEL.
Since you are one of the few “street artists” that “broke out and made it in the art scene” by being one of the few that isn’t a “lazy bum” (your words), and as you are “educated”, you must know a thing or two about context. The hood you are talking about has an average house price of $1.003m. Before Grey Lynn and Ponsonby were brutally and systematically gentrified under Robert Muldoon at the hands of the police, it used to be the hood. Dawnraids happened. Young kids and whole whānau were raided at the wee hours of the morning and thrown out of their homes.
This was a time of revolutionaries. Ngā Tamatoa and the Polynesian Panthers were formed. In response to the continued attacks on Māori and Polynesian youth, the PIG (Police Investigation Group) patrol was formed as an arm of the Panthers. The group’s main objective was to monitor police activity to try and protect young Māori and Pacific islanders from Police brutality.
A similar approach was taken by the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, in response to the continual harassment of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement officers. The Black Panthers openly referred to the police as ‘pigs’ during the movement. The word ‘pig’ refers to officers who targeted young African-American youth and exploited their power in order to oppress them.
The fact that Ponsonby and Grey Lynn have been gentrified should not be a surprise to you. Another thing that shouldn’t surprise you as an “educated” guy is that artists play a key role in gentrifying suburbs in order to maintain a falsity of pre-gentrification in a neighbourhood that has been, in reality, torn to shreds. It caters to the needs of the wealthy for an illusion of authenticity to satisify their fetishisation of what a suburb used to be. The mural you painted may have been a nice mix of people you could find from the area, but in reality is a falsity. Grey Lynn and Ponsonby are now two of the most expensive suburbs in Aotearoa and belong to a very specific demographic. Your mural is a joke. It is offensive to those who remember what those suburbs once were, whose memories remain on the windowsills and street corners of a place they can no longer call home.
The use of the term pig refers to an institution, it is a sentiment. The criminal justice system in this country today reflects one of oppression and racism. The word pig is an intentionally derogatory term for a system that shuts down dissent and silences the voice of the people.
Street art is a voice for those who are silenced by this system. Street art is not state-sanctioned commercially-driven decorations. Street art is about owning spaces that should be public but instead are controlled by elites, land owners and corporations. Street art is about having a voice.
There is an obvious aesthetic to street art and exploiting it for your own commercial gain – as in the work you did for the police – without any recognition of its roots is reckless. You commodify street art, good for you and your mortgage, not good enough to call righteous.
“Have a voice and an opinion, and stand up for what you believe in…”
Although you conveniently forgot to mention the tag scrawled on the other part of your mural while you were busy mending your ego, it says the message loud and clear:
REMEMBER THE RAIDS PONSONBY
This isn’t a coincidence.
There will be no apologies to those who are on their way to Glengarry’s or SPQR for having to be reminded of the roots of the concrete they walk upon.
There will be no apologies to the artist who appropriates the word activist and patronises those who haven’t sold out.
If you intended on disrespecting the struggle, now and then, you succeeded.
If you intended on looking like a toy who doesn’t know his history, you succeeded.
If you intended on offending any artist who has run from, hid from, been beaten up by or harassed by the pigs, you succeeded.
“No compromise, no sell out.” –Malcom X
Photo courtesy of the artist