Iranian stencil art duo ICY and SOT arrived in America about a month ago, and already New York has welcomed them with a packed show at Open House Gallery in NYC Thursday Aug 23rd. With the support of Iranian rockers Yellow Dogs, and some gin sponsor that I can’t remember the name of, the show organizers put together an event that really put most of our senses to work. I was invited to look at the work and talk to them about it and their new found freedom to express themselves, with or without permission.
No Banksy doesn’t own stencils, and certainly not these, produced with definitively Persian hands. Bansky is at worst a nuisance that brings street art peepers to its locations and passers by an interesting thought for the day, and his pieces almost automatically raise the property value of the ‘vandalized’ building. ICY and SOT became who they were under the real possibility of becoming enemies of a state that should other wise protect them. Imagine being rewarded with prison and torture, or death for your creations instead of movie deals, book deals, solo exhibitions, and becoming the subject of legends. We talked to ICY and SOT at the beginning of their journey outside of Tabriz, Iran. And what a better place to start than with your own NYC exhibit?
And you guys are?
Icy: I’m Icy.
Sot: Im sot.
You guys are stencil artists?
Icy: Yup we are.
How long have you been in the U.S.?
Icy: We have been here one month ago.
Are you guys staying here or are you planning on going back to Iran soon?
Sot: We’re going to travel more. We’re planning on going to LA to paint more or other cities.
Have you guys had a chance to do some work here?
Sot: Yeah we’ve done about 8 pieces in Manhattan
Was that your piece that was in the niche on the way in here on a slab of stone?
Sot: No, no, no, but I know him he’s from New Jersey, he’s great.
Sneaky sneaky, placing a stencil down the street from your show. How do think American freedom compares to Iranian?
Icy: It’s very dangerous there.
Sot: When you get caught there they put so many labels on you, they think you’re Satanist, you’re political because they don’t know anything about street art, but here there’s a big community and lots of people know about art. Here even normal people know something about street art.
There was a Japanese artist, Takeshi Miyakawa, that got arrested here during design week for putting up light fixtures that looked like plastic bags that said I <3 NY and was charged with terrorism
Sot: I guess yeah if I got caught here it would be dangerous too.
There are very notable differences here but it’s still not 100% free or safe
Sot: I think here the difference is that if someone owns a wall you can go to them and ask if you can do a piece, and do whatever you want on it. And everybody can see it. But in Iran, there’s no such thing. No legal walls that you can paint. So always, we do illegal
Icy: More than illegal
You are brothers. How does the process work? Does one of you come up with the idea and the other embellishes, and then there’s a back and forth?
Icy: We come up with our own ideas but then we work together
Sot: It doesn’t matter if it’s his idea or mine
So one person comes up with a concept and the other helps with the execution?
Together: yeah, yeah, yeah
You guys have been doing this since 2008. Before that what were you doing?
Sot: Before that, with our skateboards making stickers. We were getting together at gatherings with other street artists and didn’t even know this was stencil art. We were just making stuff
You had no idea that you were making art?
Sot: Street art came to us through skateboarding, and they were the people of the street. So we communicated our vision to the people of the street, and we love it, and we keep on boarding
How long are you planning on staying in New York?
Sot: We plan on staying for three months but if we can extend it for a year…, we want to do more walls in New York and other cities. But as long as we can.