A Story of Anti-White Supremacy Art and a Karen With a Spray Can
An anti-racism mural goes up in Brooklyn. Three days later, it’s defaced. Take a wild guess who did it.
Last Friday afternoon, graphic artist Julian Alexander and creative producer Khadijat Oseni hosted a small curbside gathering at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In attendance was a small collective consisting of various creatives from the intersecting worlds of art, media, fashion and advertising. All were present to watch the reveal of the latest mural installment for the Supremacy Project, a visual art campaign dedicated to articulating specific contextualizations of White supremacy.
The black-and-white mural consists primarily of a photo of the iconographic tribute to America’s founding fathers, Mount Rushmore. The intent of the photo selection is to remind onlookers of White supremacy’s original power brokers. Sprawled across the top half of the 19’ x 10’ piece is the word “Supremacy.” Its type face is an intentional hybrid of apparel and Hypebeast cult brand Supreme and the CVS pharmacy logo. A closer look reveals soaring military fighter jets. This particular detail takes aim at Donald Trump’s audacity (last July 4th, he hosted a rally at Mount Rushmore, where he had Blue Angel jets fly above during his speech), while bringing full circle the historic complicity of the POTUS. With Friday sandwiched between the last presidential debate and the first day of early voting in New York, Alexander felt there was no better day to unveil his latest “conversation starter.”
On Friday at 4 p.m., the mural was erected for all pedestrians to view. By Monday night, it was vandalized. Security camera footage revealed the violator as a masked, fair-skinned woman wearing Lululemon pants, a thin hoodie, Canada Goose winter coat and huge diamond on her ring finger. “It’s hard not to laugh at the situation,” says Oseni, a thirty-something-year-old former photographer agent who prefers the tag “creative alchemist.” “If you looked up the urban dictionary definition of a Karen, the perpetrator checks all these boxes. You can’t script this better.”
The masked woman was accompanied by a fair-skinned male, who remained off to the side while she smeared brown acrylic paint across selective parts of the piece. Julian’s reaction traveled from anger to surprise to validation. “[At first] I was like, ‘If I find out who this dude is…’ Then it was like, ‘Aww man, it’s a hundred pound lady in yoga pants.’ [Laughs] But I think that’s good because it keeps us on our toes. We really don’t know where [racism] is coming from. We think our enemy looks one way and I think this is eye-opening.”
“People have a very antiquated view of what White supremacy is. It’s something that’s [perceived as] very masculine. They don’t consider that it could also be from a female perspective.”–Khadijat Oseni
Friday’s installment was the Supreme Project’s second. Its first was inspired by a picture photographer Steve Sweatpants took in Times Square this past June of police officers uniformed in riot gear, standing in formation. Julian remixed the photo into a storefront sized scream against police brutality. It lived at 198 Flushing Avenue where its successor now exists. Says the 46-year-old Alexander, “I [initially] wanted to do three main pieces that centered on the branches of government. The first piece was about the judicial branch. Because we’re in an election [season], I chose to do the Executive Branch next.”
Julian is the visionary behind iconic album covers like 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and the Grammy award-winning Miles Davis box set The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions. He conceived the Supreme Project in June, while sitting in his apartment in Fort Greene, Brooklyn bubbling with emotion. The sight of George Floyd’s murder haunted him. Protests and rioting occupied both his TV screen and apartment window view. “I was feeling a way, as I’m feeling right now because of what just happened [to Walter Wallace Jr.] in Philly,” says the Connecticut native, who’s resided in BK since 1994. “I was just hurt and feeling like I was living in a war zone. So I was like, ‘What can I do in this moment with my skill set? How can I use my voice?’”
At the same time, Julian’s friend Khadijat was experiencing a creative shift of her own. After participating in a 2015 voter’s rights campaign for the 50th anniversary of the March on Selma, where she participated in a five-night walking classroom, the Brooklynite saw her artistic intent pivot. Fast forward to COVID’s pandemic shutdown; the sight of a boarded-up NYC revealed a new canvas. “I wanted to turn the streets into museums,” says Oseni, who looked to creative friends as potential collaborators.
Unbeknownst to Khadijat, she and Julian were the missing pieces to each other’s puzzles. He shared with her his desire to posit his activism art on a broad stage. She found the space across the street from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, showed it to Julian on a Tuesday and by Saturday, the Supremacy Project made its first strike.
The next step was spreading the word throughout and beyond New York City. Khadijat began entertaining conversations with creative activists around the country in hopes of bringing the project to cities like Milwaukee and Birmingham. In fact, the second installment was almost a billboard in Atlanta. Ironically, politics prohibited. “[The vendors] were concerned that Supreme would sue them,” says Alexander. “My argument is that we’re not selling anything. We’re not promoting a product. It’s an idea and conversation that’s protected as a work of art. It’s no different than Andy Warhol painting the Campbell’s soup can.”
Instead, Brooklyn remained the campaign’s home. Although everyone isn’t welcoming of its messaging, the recent defacement has further affirmed Julian and Khadijat that their mission is necessary. “I think it’s good [that we were vandalized],” says Alexander. “We live in New York and we think it’s all good and people are on the same page. It’s good to see the challenges and difference in thought.”
According to Khadijat, their mission is to “provoke people to reimagine a different future.” The Nigerian-American assures that a spotlight commitment to America’s ugliest systems and participants will offer clearer vision to those on either side of the fight.
“People have a very antiquated view of what White supremacy is,” she says. “It’s something that’s [perceived as] very masculine. They don’t consider that it could also be from a female perspective. The most dangerous form of racism is what we deal with every day. It can be your next-door neighbor jogging around in Lululemon pants.”