Titanic portraits: from Barack Obama to the girl of Belfast city
Cuban-American artist Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada made a name for himself with a huge land portrait of Obama. Now he is making his mark on Belfast’s Titanic Quarter
Rodríguez-Gerada doesn’t believe his social conscience has got much to do with his Cuban heritage. He says it is more closely related to how he got caught up, as a young man, in the counter-culture of 1980s Manhattan.
“It was an incredibly vibrant time,” he remembers. “When I was a student in Manhattan, it was this intense melting pot; everyone was from somewhere else. All that creative energy had to go somewhere.”
Guerilla street art
As a leading member of the Artfux collective, Rodríguez-Gerada spearheaded a guerrilla style of street art whereby billboard advertisements were altered in witty and thought-provoking ways. He was particularly drawn to the hoardings that hawked cheap cigarettes and “get drunk quick” booze in underprivileged areas.
One such ad for cigarettes shows a leather-clad dude winking over his shoulder at the camera, his arm around two young lovelies. It’s a nostalgic, 1950s-style image, but after Artfux got to it, the dude had a new slogan on his biker jacket: “Rebel without a lung.”
Despite the relative success of culture-jamming – the NYC media lapped it up and Naomi Klein devoted a chapter of her book No Logo to it – Rodríguez-Gerada could see its limitations, and he graduated on to a more artistic and poetic way of making social statements, of which Wish is the latest example.
Now, he also has more everyday concerns. As a father, Rodríguez-Gerada found himself faced with a stark choice, when his eldest son, who is now 13, was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder as a young child. He was on a cocktail of drugs in New York and the prognosis was bleak. “He was basically dying on us,” he recalls. “For us to have taken him off his meds to try some alternative treatment would probably have meant the authorities taking him away from us. So we moved to Barcelona, where there were pioneering therapies available. Within a very short space of time he was much better.”
Work on Wish is ongoing. The piece will be officially unveiled on October 17th and available for viewing from specified vantage points for the duration of the Belfast Festival. The artist is hoping as many people as possible will get involved in its creation, including those with special needs. “You don’t need to have any artistic ability,” he insists. “Can you do a bit of physical work? Do you like meeting new people? Just come and join the party.”
Volunteer through belfastfestival.com or track the project through Twitter #BelFest. belfastfestival.com