Last week, CRP covered the story of MEAR ONE’s controversial new mural in London, Freedom for Humanity. This week, we are sad to report that Tower Hamlets council is seriously considering erasing the new piece. Notice that, in the original story, the mural has now been labelled as “Anti-Semetic” in large letter, while MEAR’s response that the piece is about class and privilege is at least 3 times smaller. Nowhere in the conversation are class or privilege mentioned. It is not surprising that the plutocracy wants to obscure the issues that MEAR is raising with the subjective “determination” that the piece is anti-Semitic. After all, the same politicians and the banker employers are responsible for the inequities that MEAR is calling out. In some ways this piece is too powerful for them to let exist. Below the “official article” is a well crafted response from the International Business Times.
London council set to remove ‘anti-Semitic’ mural showing Jewish bankers
Artist Kalen Ockerman counters that the painting ‘is about class and privilege’
A mural painted on a wall in East London depicting Jewish bankers apparently exploiting black men is set to be removed following complaints that it has anti-Semitic undertones.
The council of the London borough of Tower Hamlets has called in the police and reportedly given the owner of the property 28 days to remove it.
The mural, titled Freedom for Humanity, depicts a group of businessmen and bankers counting money around a Monopoly-style board balanced on the backs of men with dark complexions. It was reportedly spray-painted on private property.
The Los Angeles-based artist, Kalen Ockerman, acknowledged that some of the bankers were Jewish but said the mural was not anti-Semitic.
“My mural is about class and privilege,” he wrote on his Facebook page, and posted a video showing its creation on YouTube. “The banker group is made up of Jewish and white Anglos. For some reason they are saying I am anti-Semitic. This I am most definitely not… What I am against is class.”
Ockerman, born in 1971 in Santa Cruz, California, and based in Los Angeles, works under the name “Mear One.” His website, which currently features the mural prominently, says he has been “described as ‘The Michelangelo of Graffiti’ and ‘The Salvador Dali of Hip-Hop’ and is considered by many to be Los Angeles’ most prolific graffiti artist.”
Ockerman puts the finishing touches to his mural ‘The Enemy of Humanity’ last month (photo credit: YouTube screen shot)
Lutfur Rahman, the Tower Hamlets mayor, said he “shares concerns” that the mural is anti-Semitic, and that it “perpetuated anti-Semitic propaganda about conspiratorial Jewish domination of financial and political institutions,” the Jewish Chronicle reported.
The mural was painted last month on a wall in Hanbury Street in the Brick Lane area, in what is now a largely Muslim part of East London that was once the heart of the East End Jewish community from the late-1800s until the mid-1900s.
A local council member and long-time resident of East London Peter Golds asked the police to consider prosecuting Ockerman under race hate laws. “When I saw the mural I was shocked. It’s horribly similar to the propaganda used by the Third Reich in Nazi Germany,” said Golds, according to the Daily Mail. “It’s intensely racist and has caused a great deal of offense.”
Mayor Rahman said he had received “a number of complaints that the mural has anti-Semitic images. I share these concerns.
“Whether intentional or otherwise, the images of the bankers perpetuate anti-Semitic propaganda about conspiratorial Jewish domination of financial and political institutions,” Rahman said, according to the Mail. “I have asked my officers to do everything possible to see to it that this mural is removed.”
Mear One’s Brick Lane Street Art: Class and Societal Inequality Not Racial Hatred
An artist paints a work depicting what he sees as the truth of underlying events that are bringing about mass inequality, death and destruction.
According to some, it is hugely offensive, should never have been seen in public and the artist responsible should be imprisoned. As always, politicians get involved and when it is seen in public, the artist receives a threat to his life.
The decent thing to do would be to ban the work, hide it away or maybe paint over it to avoid offending sensitivities.
Congratulations, you’ve just denied the world being able to see Picasso’s ‘Guernica’.
Now I’m not for one moment suggesting the latest work to stir controversy,Mear One’s ‘Freedom for Humanity’ painted in the East End of London is comparable to Picasso in its content, message or delivery. But they are in similar vein.
You don’t have to like it and you can be vehemently opposed to it. But when you have people suddenly claiming it incites racial hatred, it’s time to take a step back and, no pun intended, get some perspective.
I’ve intentionally used that example in a hyperbolic way to counter to some of the odd assertions that have been levelled at the work. The fact I have to explain that is doubly depressing but when you read the following I hope you’ll understand why.
Lutfur Rahman, the Tower Hamlets mayor, stated: “I have received a number of complaints that the mural has anti-Semitic images. I share these concerns. Whether intentional or otherwise, the images of the bankers perpetuate anti-Semitic propaganda about conspiratorial Jewish domination of financial and political institutions. Where freedom of expression runs the risk of inciting racial hatred then it is right that such expression should be curtailed. I have asked my officers to do everything possible to see to it that this mural is removed.”
That’s pretty close to some doublethink.
Freedom of expression is good, except regardless of artistic intention, if it may offend local residents and then it’s bad and should be stopped. Now if this mural was badly created or indeed hugely offensive I’d be on the side of those complaining.
But what does this work actually show – where is Mr Rahman’s “anti-semitic propaganda”?
It depicts a group of businessmen and/or bankers sitting around a board game. Indeed the artist himself has said as much in his defence.
Kalen Ockerman, aka Mear One, on his Facebook page explained: “I came to paint a mural that depicted the elite banker cartel known as the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Morgans, the ruling class elite few, the Wizards of Oz. They would be playing a board game of monopoly on the backs of the working class. The symbol of the Free Mason Pyramid rises behind this group and behind that is a polluted world of coal burning and nuclear reactors. I was creating this piece to inspire critical thought and spark conversation.”
However a day or so later he added: “A group of conservatives do not like my mural and are playing a race card with me. My mural is about class and privilege. The banker group is made up of Jewish and white Anglos. For some reason they are saying I am anti-semitic. This I am most definitely not… What I am against is class.”
So why is this mural so offensive to the local community that Mr Rahman is asking for it to be removed? Because it reveals that the global financial system is run by white, middle aged men, some of whom are also Jewish? I really hate to break it to Mr Rahman but if he travelled a few miles down the road to the City of London and went and sat in the boardrooms of the major banks I think he’d be in for a shock.
But then sometimes reality can be a painful thing, holding a mirror up to the world and revealing what many of us may know to true but just as many choose to ignore. But this always been at the core of street art and is one of its major attractions and has been used to highlight numerous causes, from global inequality through to anti-whaling campaigns.
Its power is the fact it’s not hanging in a gallery or part of a recognised ‘system’, it’s on a wall that you or I could walk past and observe.
Its power is also that it cannot really be controlled by local authorities, despite their best attempts. Much of what has driven the rise of Obey, ironically now a commercial entity in its own right, came from John Carpenter’s brilliant satire ‘They Live’ where the main character can see the reality behind everyday life.
Then there are artists, such as Blu in Italy, using large-scale works to highlight the hypocrisy of religion and the state.
But that power is also why it also generates such debate.
Speaking to artists, you find that many are what you might loosely term as ‘left wing’ and use their medium as a way of expressing their frustrations with the world as they see it.
Many of them are aware that they can project powerful images and messages to the public but they are also acutely aware that there is a boundary between artistic freedom of expression and its potential to offend.
So should something that could potentially cause offence be seen so openly in public?
Of course it should. And this is the crux of the issue.
The best political art, or indeed political anything – books, songs, magazine articles – should provoke critical thought, informed debate and hopefully draw attention to an issue. They shouldn’t be withdrawn just because they might or could cause offence.
The mural will likely be painted over, either by the Council (a fine use of public resources during a recession), or given its location I imagine another artist/writer will come along in a few weeks and will continue the natural evolution of street regardless.
Geoff Whitehouse is a contributor to London-based street art magazine Very Nearly Almost (VNA). VNA is a UK-based independent quarterly magazine that documents the street art and graffiti scene, tracking everything from the wheatpastes, paint and stencils out there on the streets through to gallery shows and events that bring together artists from around the world.