“The biggest delusion and marketing scheme is if you work hard enough you can live the American Dream. But one has to be asleep to live that dream.”@freehumanity
Free Humanity is a street artist based in Los Angeles who first gained media attention in 2011 with a street art installation of a fake apple grenade in a tree. Over the years, they’ve continued to permeate the streets with independent, beautiful, and subversive imagery and messages in Los Angeles, NYC, and other cities. In July 2019, Free Humanity visited Milwaukee—a swing state that Clinton lost in 2016—during a League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) conference that coincided with a campaign visit from President Trump trying to win the Latin vote. There, Free Humanity installed wheatpaste images of immigrant children wearing shirts that said “Don’t deport my dad” and “I 💔 U.S.A,” which were created in collaboration with L.A.-based street artist Life After Death with the tag #traumakids. But what spoke even louder than these impactful images was the accompanying motion-detecting audio boxes that played audio of children being separated from their families by officers in recent ICE raids. We had a chance to chat with Free Humanity via email about their immigration project, other important messages they carry through their art, and American humanity in general.
When did you begin doing street art? Why did you choose that medium?
Around 2009, I started to go super hard on the streets as Free Humanity around the L.A. and Hollywood area. I believe the streets are the biggest galleries and are the best way to interact with the public on a grassroots level.
What was your intention behind the apple grenades and were you afraid of any repercussions?
That feels like a lifetime ago. I placed about 10 plastic apples with fake grenade tops on a tree in downtown L.A. for a photo. I left one there hoping one of my fans would find the location and take a free piece of art. Two weeks later, Osama Bin Laden was killed and there was a heightened sense of fear in the nation. That day, according to the news, a former marine saw it and called the police. They called SWAT, which called in the bomb squad and a bomb-defusing robot to blow the piece up. My intentions were to create an art installation that would hopefully make people think. But as the streets and the public have their own way with public art, it turned into something I was not expecting, which was being known as an “art terrorist” overnight. The city assigned a special task force called Major Crimes and the Criminal Conspiracy Investigation Committees to find me to charge me for the $250,000 that were spent to blow up a plastic apple. After a few months, they couldn’t find me so I guess their budget ran out lol hahahahaha. And after a while, it was all forgotten history.
Can you tell me about LULAC and your work with them?
LULAC is the oldest surviving Latino civil rights organization in the U.S., established on February 17, 1929, in Corpus Christi, Texas, largely by Hispanic veterans of World War I who sought to end ethnic discrimination against Latinos in the U.S. My relationship with LULAC is one of admiration and I just want to highlight and add to their cause.
How did you acquire the audio for your installations in Milwaukee?
I looked up videos that might contain the emotions that are involved with child separation and most of the videos are of kids crying asking for their mothers or fathers. I’ve always done wheatpasting and stencils, even though I’ve mostly oil painted the last five years. I have done some work in the past with my GmoLand series that involved audio clips with Disney characters holding fruit grenades, which is my symbolism for GMO and industrialized food. From that came the idea to add audio to hopefully already compelling images. My hopes are to plant seeds of consciousness and compassion. Sometimes images aren’t enough, so audio can grab people’s attention that normally wouldn’t take the time to look up or to the side. I’m trying to reach everyone. That is why I put my art on the streets, sometimes illegally. To me, suffering is beyond politics; it’s a human rights issue. Which is why I feel I speak for those who have no voice and no opportunity globally.
Why have you chosen to speak out more loudly about the ICE detainments and immigration legislation?
I come from immigrant parents. It seems fitting for me to express my views from the side of the disenfranchised, from which I come. So when the opportunity came to go to Milwaukee while there was a LULAC convention and Donald Trump was arriving, it seemed like a fitting time.
Have you received any backlash or negative responses to this work?
I have received a bit of negative responses, but that came mostly from people with remarks [like], “Go back to your own country” type of stuff, which I try to respond to diplomatically… but my fans are not so diplomatic, which is a good thing. The negative does not affect me, as I am deeply rooted in my views that immigrants built this country and still keep it moving. I’m just trying to light a lamp in the darkness and hopefully shed some awareness.
What do you think are some of the biggest delusions our society is suffering from?
The biggest delusion and marketing scheme is if you work hard enough you can live the American Dream, but one has to be asleep to live that dream. America was made for the opulent, the 1%, and the rest of the population are just batteries for the war machine. The only way to break away is to stop feeding the monster. Our biggest protest comes in the form of how we live, spend our money, how we eat, and what we buy and support.
How do you feel about social media and the role its taken in our culture today?
It can be used in many positive ways if we are aware of its effects and power, but it can also become an addiction. We as a human species desperately lack a community and seek to find it in the digital realm, which can be very superficial and not as fulfilling as real interaction. The role it has taken is very much a reflection of the needs of humans in the digital age. We are all so individual we have forgotten we are all one.
I saw in a recent comment you said you were anti-Obama. Can you expand on that?
While campaigning for President, Obama outright promised to label GMO foods. When he became President, he signed a bill known as the DARK Act (Denying Americans the Right to Know). Signing it was a blow to transparency around our food—it imposes a weak labeling requirement with no penalties for noncompliance. Which pretty much meant that this company Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) was above the law. The fact that he deported tons of immigrants and used drone attacks in the Middle East that killed children is [another reason] why I’m not an Obama fan. While Obama was receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, he sent 15,000 troops to the Middle East. That event inspired me to create an art piece with Obama’s face over Che Guevara’s face which I called “Warmongers Come in Many Shapes and Sizes.” I feel he’s just as KRS once said: “A black face on the white empire.”
What are your thoughts on the campaigns leading up to 2020?
Well, I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter, but the Democratic Party is just like the Republican Party. They are mostly all backed by Wall Street. Reminds me of a great Noam Chomsky quote: “There are two parties, so-called, but they’re really factions of the same party: the Business Party.”
Have you garnered other public recognition/acknowledgement for your work?
Maybe. I have no clue nor do I wish to spend my time thinking of things of that nature. I just wish to make art daily and that’s all I try to let my mind be consumed by.
Are you spiritual?
No, maybe, okay I am, maybe.