Street Art Museum Amsterdam, in collaboration with Amsterdam Fonds voor de Kunst (AFK), is at the end of a months-long creative process that has culminated in a monumental mural created by Colombian graffiti & street artist Bastardilla on the east wall of the Eigen Haard historical apartment block. The mural, depicting a human wrapped in a flock of birds inhibiting the local lake Sloterplas, is entitled “Memories” and sits at the intersection of Dr. H. Colijnstraat and Nicholaas Ruychaverstraat in Amsterdam Nieuw-West. The subject of this mural was decided upon through a series of dialogue sessions organized by SAMA with the neighborhood's residents in order to combine Bastardilla’s style with the multicultural makeup of the community.
A rare chance to see an artist not only at work but working on a monumental scale has brought residents and tourists alike out. Even when the weather has been less than ideal, SAMA representatives present throughout the process have gotten positive feedback from viewers. And if you were lucky enough to be at the mural the afternoon of March 21, you would have gotten the extra treat of seeing Bastardilla and her assistant rescued by the local fire department when the crane the artist was using broke down while they were poised 20 meters in the air. (No one was harmed or in immediate danger, just a mechanical malfunction.)
SAMA’s founder, Anna Stolyarova, has wanted to facilitate the creation of a mural on this building for more than 10 years. This particular iteration began in 2017 after the success of the mural Tulips by the artist Orticanoodles, which was commissioned by SAMA in the passthrough of this same building. Eigen Haard housing corporation has offered the east wall of their building to SAMA to create a monumental mural.
The concept for this mural has gone through several revisions, including the artist and the subject matter. The artist Cripta Djan, a Brazilian pixador & contemporary artist, who uses a cryptic graffiti style to create works that respond to social inequality in metropolitan areas, was originally selected. The original SAMA proposal to AFK for the mural was based on local banner protests that were hung from balconies on apartments throughout the neighborhood at the government’s renovation of buildings in the area. However, residents of the neighborhood wanted warmth, color, and wonderment that focused on the good of the neighborhood, not a work that highlighted a negative aspect. Satisfying the residents’ request that the mural capture positive memories, SAMA’s community-focused collection policy and the housing corporation’s desire to work with a well-known yet rare artist, the Colombian artist Bastardilla was finally chosen.
Bastardilla’s style uses vivid colors and loose, energetic marks to ease the viewer into works that address difficult topics such as gender equality, economic disparity, and environmental issues. The artist’s original proposal for a mural about memories focused on the idea of childhood memories of playing out in nature, capturing a facet of life in Nieuw-West that might be overlooked by outsiders: the access to green space and parks. Influenced by the spring weather while she was working, particularly the arrival of birds, and by the multicultural flavor of the neighborhood, the artist shifted the subject matter somewhat from the original sketches. The focus is still on a human, but may be now, not 'a child in a pijama', on the right side, whilst a flock of birds wraps one, who peers through the barrier of the building at the flames created by another group of birds on the left side of the building. The flames from each bird’s mouth on the left contribute to a larger flame, creating one fire, which in turn illuminates the face of the human.
This small tableau may seem simple at first, but it is a comment on the changing nature of this neighborhood and the hopes that its inhabitants have for the future. The variety of birds on the left reminds the viewer of the various ethnicities that make up the community. Each person’s background and story contributes to the whole like the individual flames from each bird come together as one fire. The flames from this fire light up the human's face, but it also seems that by reflecting on the past one is inspired for the future. Just on the left side of the barrier, a small group of bricks tumbles down, as though the figure has perhaps pushed bricks out of the way for a better view. If a viewer looks closer they will see more bricks scattered around the human’s feet and that bricks make up the ground on the left side. While at first this could be interpreted as decay or destruction, careful observation reveals that tiny plants are growing out of the bricks on the right and that the flowers on the left have emerged from this seemingly inhospitable soil. These signs of life growing out of rocky ground are another comment on the character of the neighborhood and the struggles that many of the inhabitants have endured in order to flourish.
Some may also recognize the connection with the Dutch artist Van Gogh on Bastardilla’s artwork. Those familiar with Van Gogh’s style may see similarities in how Bastardilla has layered colors on top of each other and how bright the majority of those colors are. However, digging deeper into Van Gogh’s oeuvre, as one visitor has remarked, can also see that the face of a 'child' or 'human' has a lot in common with the Dutch artist’s painting The Potato Eaters. The shape of the face and the play of light across their features is similar to that of the woman on the far right of Van Gogh’s painting. Although, have not seen this particular piece of Van Gogh before, the artist has combined a variety of influences as well as her dominant individual style to create a work that is both beautiful to look at and touches on struggles that are familiar to many people: hardship, renewal and the hope that we can provide our children with better.
SAMA’s collection, scattered throughout Nieuw-West, contains more than 200 works of street art however, this mural by Bastardilla is the largest scale project the museum has undertaken. When it is finished, SAMA hopes to have many visitors that come to the museum to see this mural and enjoy the rest of the museum’s collection. Those not able to visit Nieuw-West to see this mural unfold first hand will have the ability to see the mural through VR.
On March 28, Mediacollege Amsterdam brought in a virtual reality camera to capture the mural and a 360-degree view of the surrounding neighborhood. This is part of SAMA’s ongoing mission to extend the life of street art without freezing it in time and space. Using VR as a documentation tool, the museum will begin to catalogue the works in its collections in their locations. Eventually, this will allow people to use technology to build up a picture of what used to be in the neighbourhood and how it has changed over time and gives access to the collection to people all over the world. There will also be a time-lapse video of the production of the mural made by artist Irina Ermolaeva, which will be available later this spring through SAMA’s website.