Over the last year or so, Baltimore street artist Nether has been demolishing the somewhat-stale lines between politically engaged work and avant-garde conceptual art. Unlike so much of the boosterish street art in Baltimore, which is often purely decorative, Nether's work becomes conceptually challenging because of its political content. In his Wall Hunters project, he teamed up with housing activist Carol Ott and a series of other street artist to bring attention to the problems of vacant buildings in the city. In his recent piece at MICA's "Locally Sourced" show, he hung a sheet, printed with architectural plans, over his own painting of local street life in order to show what new plans for Station North might cover up.
Today, he completed a piece on the structure of a bus stop at Greenmount and North avenues, where Baltimore police officer Vincent Cosom punched 32-year-old Kollin Truss while another officer held him. The piece—based on a City Paper photograph taken by J.M. Giordano at a local rally protesting police violence in Ferguson, Missouri—shows a weeping African American woman with one arm raised. On either side of the image, which covers the back of the bus stop's Plexiglas structure, is text, titled "TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN," which explains what happened to Truss at the location and ends with "Vincent E. Cosom is still on active duty at the Baltimore Police Department." (UPDATE: Cosom was today charged with assault and perjury by city prosecutors.)
Nether told City Paper that he chose the bus stop because it was city property. "When it is not being dealt with in an official way, you need civil disobedience," he says.
At first, the artist thought of painting the actual punch, but changed his mind: "I didn't want it to be so in-your-face. It is informational and mournful . . . the lady's reaction to violence is disgust, sadness, hopelessness."
Nether says he put the piece in a place where it could not be ignored. "This is a place where something happened. I'm not trying to forgive and forget. I will one day, but until then, I'm still trying to get people to remember."