Cities of Hope is the first event to be delivered as a Street Art convention which brings 9 of the worlds best artists to Manchester with the objective to force witness to 9 key social justice issues.
Christian Guémy aka C215 was one of them and came to Manchester to stand in solidarity with the oppressed and those that fight at their side. All 9 artists have chosen their own topics to address with their work. They are global issues that resonate with them on a personal level that we have then matched to the work of a local social justice organisation. C215’s social justice issue is homelessness.
Here is a recap video of C215 completing one of his mural for the Festival. Video courtesy of Zane Meyer of @chopemdownfilms:
C215’s work consists mainly of close up portraits of people. His subjects are typically those on the periphery of mainstream society, such as beggars, homeless people, refugees, street kids and the elderly. The rationale behind this choice of subject is to draw attention to those that society has forgotten about.
Both portraits above are based on photographer Lee Jeffries‘ work. Many of us are familiar with these portraits seen around the globe and it only made sense for C215 to pay tribute to Lee, who is from Manchester, by putting up those specific stencils.
Lee also participated to Cities of Hope Festival with his presentation ‘Portraits of Hope’. Lee Jeffries is famous for his achingly beautiful and stark portrait photography of homeless people from around the world. He discussed his approach to work and why he is drawn to homelessness as a subject. The talk was very moving and intense as Lee walked us through his fascinating working process and approach in photographing his subjects. Not only he immerses himself for several weeks but develops strong relationships with them prior to taking their portraits. The talk included a video entitled ‘I walk’ documenting his process and depicting the depth of connection Lee makes with the people he meets.
It all happened when a few years ago Lee was contacted by Terrence Malick who sent Lee a video camera. Gradually over time he has shot footage for him out on the street. With the help of Liam McGraths of Scratch Films in Ireland they have put together a short pilot video from material Terry didn’t have a use for. The aim is now to go on and produce an hour long documentary. You can watch it here.
Following his talk Cities of Hope organisers took Lee for a walk to visit both portraits Christian had painted as a tribute.
I could not resist striding across the streets of Manchester to look for C215’s stenciled cats. They become part of the neighbourhood appearing on a street corner or on the side of abandoned containers and bins. No doubt people will be as happy as I was when they stumble upon them. Despite the fact that street art works are by nature meant to be ephemeral, either tagged, buffed or washed away by the rain, I was delighted to notice how all works were left perfectly intact in the area. This really shows the appreciation by the community of the action undertaken by both the artists and Cities of Hope organisers.
As I walked around to shot the pieces left by C215 in the Northern Quarter I met with many local street art enthusiasts eager to hunt these beauties but also family groups who took the opportunity of the long bank holiday weekend to go out and do some urban art spotting. Those who were unfamiliar with the street art scene appeared to be very curious whether about the initiative, the artists and their background, the technique and the meaning behind the work.
Unfortunately what seems to be today’s recurrent reality in many countries, I was really moved and distraught to see many homeless people on the streets as I walked around. Seeing locals being involved and interested about what was going on, but also the coverage from both the local and national press the Festival got meant the message went across and will surely get things moving forward and get the initiative extended to other cities around the world to spread the love.