Get Behind Askew


By Lindsayt |  Published on Tuesday, March 22, 2011.

It's time for the real graffiti battle of our times; starting in Auckland, NZ. Lets take the conversation to a higher level.

Over the past month, Askew One's been commanding the spotlight to point out something we have all known for decades:  It's a waste of our government time and money to commit resources to buffing and cleaning up graffiti.  On top of it being a waste, it's extremely disappointing when those resources go towards painting over impressive walls painted by talented artists.  While the environment and politics convulse world-wide, a small battle over one of Askew's hallmark walls in Auckland is being waged. 


Poynton Tce Mural painted by Deuce, Berst and Askew.  Buffed February 21st, 2011.



The story began ten years ago when Askew received permission to paint the wall in Poyntan Tce.  He has been painting the wall since 2001, updating and maintaining it; all, of course, on his own dime and for the love of the art.  Then February 21st, city employees showed up to buff the wall, without the owner's permission, and to the surprise of Askew.  The city employees were so "astounded.  They thought there had been a mistake so they double checked."  Askew pointed this out on his Tumblr and Twitter accounts that the buff job was not any good, facetiously saying that they didn't "roll out the top".  Hours later, the city employees were sent back to paint the rest.

Within a day, fellow artists like Saber AWR, local photographer Rimoni, DJ Dub Dot Dash and arts writer Hamish Keith were speaking out on behalf of Askew, and sending messages directly to Auckland's Mayor Len Brown.   Like many current events, Twitter helped facilitate a conversation between Askew and Mayor Brown.  The mobilizing began.

Legal evidence to support your outrage is always good in these situations, and Askew was not without some ammunition.  From the Auckland City Council site, it says "If the graffiti appears to be an artwork, i.e. permssion was given for the work to be done, it will not be removed."  

By February 23rd, it was clear the landlord and tenants of the Poynton Tce building were really upset about the situation; they didn't give their permission to the City Council.  Finally, by February 24th, Mayor Brown responded, but by that time, the earthquake in Christchurch had already hit, and his time was dedicated elsewhere. 

When Brown finally did escalate the situation back to City Council in the last days of February, it was time for Askew to face his nemesis, Rob Shields.  Shields is the council graffiti prevention officer.  Askew wrote on Twitter, "no amount of money would make me consider working with Rob Shields EVER.  Especially if he has any say over what I can and cannot paint."  Apparently, Shields was trying to work with the building owners to "manage" a replacement mural and Askew, rightfully, was refusing to work with Shields to repaint the building.  

You cannot replace an original mural that was done out of pure passion for the art with a forced vision and directive from antagonistic city councilmen.  

Askew explains more of his relationship with Shields on his blog post, "Super City Censorship," saying:

I was made aware of Rob’s involvement and voiced my disapproval. I have an interesting past with Rob Shields to say the least – to most that should be obvious considering who I am, what I do and who he is. I don’t care to delve into all the details at this stage other than to say that since I refused to be under his thumb about 9 years ago he has made it his mission to sabotage and interfere with a raft of positive projects I have worked on and also employed divide and conquer tactics to tarnish the reputations of myself and others in the graffiti scene.

In the past two weeks, the publicity around this issue had grown so high that the New Zealand Herald and Media 7 have been doling out coverage.  No matter how strenuous and misguided, putting cases like these in the spotlight for general consumption by the masses is a good thing.

Since the video cannot be embedded, please visit this link and skip to Chapter 2.  Also, admire and learn from Askew's composure and ability to address the issues at hand.  His actions have been entirely respectable throughout this entire ordeal.

Mayor Brown invalidates Rob Shields involvement in the repainting of the building by saying:



In terms of where it's gone wrong…there's been a little bit of a miscon around whose rights it is to repaint the wall, and it's the owner's rights.  And if he chooses the young fella [Askew] who is doing the work and has maintained that work, then that's his right to do so.


He also says of Shields, "When you get people that are passionate in the workplace, and Rob certainly is, you're going to make the odd mistake.  And he sure did on this one."  But, lets be clear, that mistake was HUGE, erasing 10 years of hard work on private property.


So what is next?  Get your name on this petition and show your support for Askew and everyone else in our community as well as in this world whose tax money is wasted on frivolous programs that buff artwork.  Speak loudly and confidently to convey the importance of art on our streets.  As we wrote on Istanbul, "the lack of art can indicate that something more is missing than paint."

People have been writing passionately about this topic, with prose that highlight the real thought battles at hand.  Oscar Law wrote for Sideroom Magazine:


Central to this idea [is] evidence that people either as individuals or groups feel connected to their neighbourhood. That they not only feel a sense of community but that they’re inclined to actively contribute to it. These people are the advocates. Ads for lost pets, rent parties, gigs by bands you’ve never heard of and will probably never see. These A4´s run off at the uni copy centre, local library or home inkjet are artefacts of a society that still wants to communicate with each other and counts the street as a means in which to do this.  

And so it is for art and artists. Especially those that want to cultivate some form of dialogue. 

Clearly, there's a feeling of disenfranchisement and immorality.  The time that Askew has put into that wall, and his dedication to his city, Auckland, have been taken for granted by, for lack of a better word, ignorant politicians and bureaucrats with power they do not know how to manage correctly.  Rather than fight against those that want to beautify the city in a way that's different than your own, learn how to harness that energy for collaborative outcomes.

The fact of the matter is, politicians campaign on eliminating graffiti and vandalism because it's a "low-hanging fruit" initiative to tackle.  They can spend relatively minimal resources on "cleaning up" any given neighborhood, so when they're challenged about fulfilling their campaign promises, they have something to point to.  It's distracting, and a scape-goat for tackling the harder issues like poverty, homelessness, and poor education.

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