by Carla White
“I like to think of it more like a virtual museum. No driving necessary to appreciate the great artwork around, not easily accessed by foot.” So says Nancy Ellick-Tabeling, a photographer and virtual curator of Baja Graffiti, a Facebook site that provides a showcase for some of Baja’s top street art and the artists who create it.
The Baja Graffiti site evolved organically, while Ellick-Tabeling was exploring themes in contemporary Mexican culture to photograph. As she poked below the surface of the neighborhoods and communities in towns like Tijuana and Ensenada, the recurring elements of graffiti in all of its styles and messages grabbed her attention. Searching for “IT” became a treasure hunt and soon she began to identify and document the different artists and styles of street art — as she puts it, “the legal and illegal, primitive, sophisticated, soulful and soul-less.”
The images piled up quickly. What to do with them? Publish a book? For the photographer, the cost and labor didn’t make sense. “Who reads coffee table books anymore?” she asked herself. The answer to her dilemma came with the idea of Baja Graffiti and five months ago, the site was launched on Facebook. In short order, it gained support from street art aficionados all over the world and is quickly acquiring new visitors.
“A keen appreciation of street art, especially graffiti, is an acquired taste. But it is surprisingly easy to acquire if you are open to exploring a new art form,” says Ellick-Tabling. “Before turning up your nose, remember that Impressionism too, was fiercely despised when first introduced.”
She believes that the street art in Baja is particularly powerful in its contrasts — sometimes depicting the grittiness of the urban landscape, sometimes overlaying the images with the softness of the rural landscape. Perhaps, then, the fact that Baja Graffiti can present the images in a ‘gallery’ form — albeit virtual — gives viewers a broader platform from which to make their critical judgements. It is different seeing art in an organized setting that offers the chance to objectively view it versus walking along and seeing a painting on a cement wall. Maybe it makes the ubiquitous question, “Is it the voice of the people? Or is it vandalism?” a little bit easier to answer.
“What makes this page so much fun is the opportunity to be an art critic and to interact with the artists. Regardless of age, race and backgrounds anyone can connect and communicate over a piece of art. Picasso, Matisse and Gauguin would have loved Facebook!” poses Ellick-Tabeling. Possibly, they would have contributed some of their own work to Baja Grafitti.
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