Watch: Badir McCleary Documents a People’s History of Philadelphia Art and Culture
Blue and gold historical plaques are everywhere in Philadelphia. Numbering in the 300s, the markers are so ubiquitous that longtime residents might stroll by without a second thought.
“Sometimes I notice them without even looking,” says local artist Gabe Tiberino, whose North Philadelphia mural honors civil rights activist Cecil B. Moore and the Freedom Fighters, a group of young adults who, under Moore’s leadership, successfully desegregated Girard College in 1965. As Gabe astutely points out, the mural builds on the story behind an already existing plaque: the Girard College Civil Rights Landmark, which tells the tale in a scant 41 words.
“I think it’s definitely important to have the markers out,” Gabe continues, bending over to rinse his paintbrush. The muralist is painting on large swaths of parachute cloth as he talks, one of two Philadelphia artists appearing in the latest episode of Remote, filmmaker Badir McCleary’s six-part series on public art. “[Painting on parachute cloth] is the way we do most of the murals in Philly these days,” says Gabe, squatting to assemble several finished swaths on the ground. “We’re actually doing half of this mural on the wall,” he continues, referring to muralist Taqiy Muhammed, who appears alongside Gabe as a featured artist in the episode.
The second of six mini-documentaries in Badir’s Remote series, “Aesthetic Information as Public Art,” transports viewers to the filmmaker’s hometown of Philadelphia, where murals and markers shape the city’s cultural and historical identity. “Philly, for the most part, is a mural- and graffiti-heavy city, filled to the brim with art schools and universities but no true art scene,” says Badir, who now lives and works in L.A. “It has completely done a 180 turn since my youth by providing more opportunities for arts-based activities and mentorship for emerging artists.”
While Badir returns to Philly for episode two of Remote, the series’ first installment sees the filmmaker toting his camera to Coachella Valley in search of site-specific desert installations hiding in plain sight of L.A.
“Even though [L.A.] is bustling with a bunch of creatives and creative things, […] there's just so much more out there,” Badir says, explaining the idea behind Remote and its first episode, “Desert X.” “I go to a lot of places in search of art, especially out and around California,” he continues. “There's a lot of stuff that's out in the deserts and just an hour or two drive right outside the city.”
Though many of his projects support or resurrect visual culture in L.A. neighborhoods, Badir is a self-described “heavy traveler” who helps artists transform public spaces worldwide. In 2011, he founded Art Above Reality, an art consulting and curatorial firm that works with beginners and seasoned pros alike. Since then, the longtime filmmaker has built a reputation for breathing life into forgotten pockets of creative culture. His video series Fallen Through the Cracks highlights overlooked Black artists in short, digestible snippets, while his work with Gallery 38 helped reinvigorate the eclectic arts community in the historic L.A. neighborhood of West Adams. Similarly, the Remote series explores the impact of public art on surrounding cities, landscapes, and communities.
“Philly is very special in a way of being a history lesson with just steps around a neighborhood,” Badir says of his hometown. “Places, people, and public art truly make Philadelphia what it is. The murals reflect the people.”
Available to view here only, Remote is an exclusive video series created by Badir McCleary in partnership with NOT REAL ART. Watch the premiere of “Aesthetic Information as Public Art” on the player above, or scroll through to see the video stills. Make sure to mark your calendars for the next episode of Remote on Aug. 30, 2023.
“Places, people, and public art truly make Philadelphia what it is. The murals reflect the people.” — Badir McCleary
All photos published with permission of the artist(s). Featured image: “Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny” by Joshua Mays and DJ King Britt.
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