War On Art: Charlie Hebdo vs REEFA and DEMZ

Year: 2014
Size: 24×36
Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
Style: Artivism
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In the realm of art, there exists a unique power—a power that transcends the canvas and speaks to the very soul of humanity. Art has always been a channel through which we express our thoughts, emotions, and our most profound concerns. My painting, “War On Art,” is a testament to this power, serving as a visual commentary on the violent suppression and loss of life experienced by artists in the face of oppressive forces. As the creator of this painting, I aim to take you on a journey through the brushstrokes and shades, to delve deep into the symbolism, the meaning, and the raw emotion behind this piece.

The Portrayal of Pencil and Spray Can: Personified Victims

In “War On Art,” two art mediums come to life as personified victims, each embodying a different facet of the art world. On the right, a blue pencil stands with a sense of vulnerability. It wears glasses as eyes, and its shirt showcases the controversial cover of Charlie Hebdo Magazine, which featured a depiction of the Prophet Mohammed. This image ignited a firestorm of controversy, violence, and tragedy. The pencil’s arms, constructed from ink calligraphy pens, are raised in a sign of defense, vulnerability, and defiance.

On the left, we see a spray can—a symbol of the street art and graffiti movement. It has a crown perched on its head, a nod to those artists that reached king level on the streets. The spray nozzle serves as its face, giving it a cyclops-like appearance as it faces left. The spray can’s arms, two Magnum 44 markers, are also raised high, mimicking the gesture of surrender or defense. This is a visual representation of an artist’s call for peace, creativity, and freedom of expression.

These two figures are caught in the crossfire of oppressive forces, a stark reminder of how artists have become targets, their creativity and expression met with violence, censorship, and suppression.

Oppressive Forces Unveiled: Jihadist and Policeman

The oppressive forces depicted in the painting are a reflection of the stark realities artists face in the world. On the left, a Muslim jihadist in black tactical gear points his rifle at the blue-pencil figure. On the right, a policeman dressed in full tactical gear aims his service weapon at the spray can character. These figures represent two opposing forces—the jihadist embodies extremism and the violent response to controversial art, while the policeman symbolizes the law enforcement agencies that sometimes stifle artistic expression with a heavy hand.

The juxtaposition of these two figures illustrates the delicate balance artists must navigate in a world where freedom of expression is not always guaranteed. Their raised arms, a gesture of surrender or defiance, underscore the vulnerability and the determination of artists in the face of potential violence.

A Gallery of Hashtags and Quotes: An Ode to the Fallen

The painting is adorned with hashtags that hold the key to understanding the tragedies that have inspired “War On Art.” Among them, #ripreefa and #ripdemz pay homage to the memories of two artists who lost their lives. These hashtags are not just symbols but testaments to the lives that were cut short, reminding us that art often comes at a high cost.

The phrase “Killing in the name of…” is a quote from the iconic band Rage Against the Machine, a powerful and resonant expression of protest and resistance. It underscores the themes of defiance and the fight against oppressive forces, themes that run deep in the narrative of this painting.

Reefa’s Story: A Tragic Loss of Youth and Promise

One of the inspirations behind this painting was the tragic death of Israel “Reefa” Hernandez. On August 6th, this young artist lost his life due to the use of a Taser by a Miami Beach police officer. As friends and supporters gathered outside the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, they carried with them an autopsy report that confirmed the cause of Reefa’s death—a cardiac arrest due to the direct application of the Taser. This contradicted claims of drugs or “excited delirium,” often used to explain deaths linked to Tasers.

Reefa’s friends and family demanded justice, calling for the arrest of the officer involved. They shared their memories of Reefa, emphasizing that he was not a criminal but an artist who was Tasered to death for a misdemeanor, for tagging a building. His weight, 140 pounds, and the use of seven police officers to subdue him served as a shocking illustration of the excessive force that artists sometimes face.

The State Attorney’s Office’s decision to label Reefa’s death as “accidental” fueled outrage and disbelief among his loved ones and the community. As I delved into this tragic story, I was struck by the injustice of an artist losing his life over an act of creative expression. The art world had lost a promising talent, and his memory served as a stark reminder of the perils artists can face.

Demz’s Legacy: Questions Surrounding a Graffiti Artist’s Death

Delbert Rodriguez, known as “Demz,” was another artist who met a tragic end. He was a street artist in Miami, and his death raised questions and concerns regarding the circumstances surrounding it. The Miami Police Department’s narrative suggested that Demz was hit by an undercover cop’s vehicle during a pursuit.

However, an account provided by a friend who was with Demz that night painted a different picture. According to his friend Danny Garcia, the officer was right behind Demz, and he had no time to hide. The officer turned a corner and tragically struck the young artist. This account called into question the police’s version of events.

Moreover, an examination of the internal affairs file of the involved officer, Det. Michael Cadavid, revealed a history of civilian complaints for aggressive policing, road rage, and misconduct while out of uniform. Though none of these complaints had been substantiated, Cadavid’s track record raised concerns about the conduct of officers who interact with artists in the community.

The stories of Reefa and Demz underscored the dangers artists can face in the pursuit of their craft. As I delved into these accounts, I was filled with a sense of empathy and a desire to create a visual commentary on the tragic fates that had befallen these two young artists.

“War On Art” stands as a visual chronicle of the struggles artists face in a world where creative expression can sometimes lead to tragedy. It portrays the vulnerability of artists, their defiance in the face of oppressive forces, and the high price that some have paid for their art. The hashtags and quotes that adorn the painting serve as reminders of the fallen artists, whose memories continue to inspire resistance.

As an artist, I believe it is my duty to amplify the voices of those who can no longer speak. “War On Art” is my declaration that art should never be silenced by violence, censorship, or oppression. It’s a testament to the resilience and determination of artists who continue to create, even in the face of danger.

The painting is a call to action, a plea for a world where artists can freely express themselves without fear of violence or suppression. It is my hope that, through this visual narrative, we can ignite conversations about the importance of artistic freedom and the protection of those who dare to create.

Art has the power to heal, to inspire, and to challenge the status quo. “War On Art” is not just a painting; it is a battle cry for the protection of creative freedom and a tribute to the artists who have paid the ultimate price for their art. Through my brushstrokes and the visual language of this piece, I hope to convey the urgency of this message and to inspire change in the world of art.

In the end, “War On Art” is a reminder that, even in the face of violence and adversity, art will prevail. The spirit of creativity and expression is indomitable, and artists will continue to stand their ground, for art is a force that can change the world.

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