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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mur-Mur—The Walls Have Ears (and Eyes...)

Ahearn/Torres' Life on Dawson St. in the Bronx. Photo: clocktowertenants.com
by Susan Yung

Mur-Mur (The Wall), by DynamO Théâtre (presented by BAM Education & Humanities at the BAM Fisher, May 18) is a fascinating case of art inspired by art inspired by life. Director Robert Dion saw John Ahearn & Rigoberto Torres' wall installation Life on Dawson St. and was inspired to create a theater work, which evolved into Mur-MurThe everyday people who had inspired larger-than-life sculptures had in turn inspired DynamO to re-enliven them. A full creative circle.

Mur-Mur. Photo: Robert Etcheverry
Art in the Bronx in the late 1970s—80s often meant graffiti. In stark contrast, John Ahearn (who later teamed up with an early subject, Rigoberto Torres) had been making casts—busts and full figures—of his Bronx neighbors, painting them realistically, and mounting them on the sides of buildings. Not only did the sculptures enliven blank walls in a borough blighted by drugs and violence, they were (literally) heightened representations of average citizens done in the manner of classical representational sculpture, a medium often reserved for heroes. 

Ahearn/Torres' art is quintessentially about folks from a specific geographical area, but it wound up being universally embraced and exhibited internationally. While it originated  from the streets of the Bronx, it had nothing to do with the vandalism and turf wars of graffiti. It didn't try to lionize the emerging hip-hop artists' scene. It simply depicted everyday peoples' lives, at work or play, and remains a timeless inspiration for viewers and other artists.

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