Pest Control: Death Of A Street Artist

It's not been the best year for American police departments, with thousands of cases of excessive force, abuses of power, killing of innocent animals, unnecessary breaking and entering, manslaughter and general violations of the civil and federal rights of Americans making the Internet headlines, if not caught on some form of amateur video for all of us to hang and shake our collective heads in shame. Of all of these rights violations (which are now par for the course of living in a country who drapes the flag of freedom over the snake pit of fascism) this year, one case of unnecessary force has managed to strike a chord with many of us and have its resonances stay reverberating in our awe-filled hearts: the accidental killing of 18 year old Israel Hernández from Miami, Florida. The shockwave of this incident are now felt in Berlin as gallerist Pablo Gehr of G&G Fine Art Art Miami / Berlin brings some of this raw conflict to the Preview Berlin Art Fair.

Getting The Facts Straight

Hernandez, a local skateboarder and seemingly good kid with an unforgettable easy-going heart, was doing what cool kids should be doing: skating, probably smoking a little herb, and catching a few small tags around the posh South Beach neighborhood. Skating past the windows of a derelict building that once housed our benevolent deity of good food, McDonald's, Hernandez whipped out a rather dry black medium-point marker to write his tag, "REEFA," on the yellow paint of the fading facade. He got as far as writing the R, one measly letter no more than 8 centimeters in height, when he was spotted by South Beach police and did what any kid like him would do: he bolted.

Arguably the most famous street artist is being exhibited at Preview Berlin Art Fair 2013. Photo: Chris Phillips

Evading the first round of cops that initially witnessed his criminal micro-lettering, he encountered another batch a few blocks away, one of whom happened to really want Hernandez to stop. The officer produced a TASER stun-gun and shot Hernandez—how someone can be fleeing from officers and be tasered in the heart is still a question that remains unanswered—causing him to go into cardiac arrest and die not five minutes after the fact. Though the media has moved on to the next sensational thing, the waves of shock and pain in the wake of Israel Hernandez' death continue to haunt the South Beach community at large. No group is more afraid, however, than the contingency of active street artists in South Beach, who could potentially face impromptu death penalties for graffiti. Constructing an installation of works by his artists, Gallerist Pablo Gehr of G&G Fine Art has designed to start both a dialogue and action around the killing of REEFA. "When I heard that this young, Colombian street artist from my neighborhood was killed for doing basically nothing, I knew I had to do something," Gehr told Artparasites. 

Installation at Preview Berlin that references the death of Israel Hernández. Photo: Chris Phillips

"The police are not aware of the danger that shooting out-of-breath people with a taser poses! The police officer that shot Israel Hernández was seen high-fiving another officer," soon after firing the electric shot that would end a young man's life – "A young man who had just exhibited work at a satellite fair of Art Basel and had a bright future ahead of him." The street artist GG has contributed a work from 2012, commemorating a time she was chased by the police while painting a work commissioned for the 2012 Olympics. And, on a not-for-sale, hush-hush basis, the street artist who’s stenciled rats and flower-flinging protesters are among the most well-known images in graffiti worldwide has contributed two pieces. "If nothing changes in the way the police have handled the Hernández incident, we are prepared to launch a Boycott South Beach campaign during this upcoming Art Basel Miami, stopping millions of dollars in tax revenue from reaching the pocketbooks of this city." Looks like art in action is joining forces with the art of action. 

Article by Drury Brennan