Walk pretty much anywhere in San Francisco’s SoMa, Haight or Mission neighborhoods, and you’ll see one of Eclair Bandersnatch’s glittery stencils, often featuring “Saint Snowden” or Chelsea Manning. We talked to Bandersnatch about bringing art, tech and politics together on the streets.
Bandersnatch has been stenciling San Francisco streets for several years, and her subjects run the gamut from Godzilla to ladies who look like they’d be comfortable at a 1920s party along the Barbary Coast. Her vision is uniquely San Franciscan, mixing internet politics with a queer sensibility — and heaping dose of humor.
And ever since Snowden began to tell the media about the NSA’s secret surveillance plans, Bandersnatch has been turning the Snowden Age into street art. Here’s our interview with her.
Giz: Why are Chelsea Manning and Ed Snowden important to your work?
Eclair Bandersnatch: My work? They’re important to my life! And they should be important to everyone’s life!
I see Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning as heroes on an epic level. They willingly sacrificed their careers and their freedom to empower us. Manning gave us mountains of raw data and hard facts about the illegal, unethical, and immoral practices going on in our government. Snowden showed proof that our phone calls, emails, and web browsing activity have been being recorded for inspection by the CIA, NSA, or whoever else Big Brother deems fit.
Photo by Steve Rhodes
But there are still a large number of people who don’t get what the debate is all about because they aren’t able to absorb anything that is difficult or unpleasant.
What I try to do is pry people’s snouts out of their phones for a minute and trick them into learning about issues with imagery and prose. People like to be entertained and they like eye candy. If something’s funny or has a flow to it, like songs do, then its much easier for it to stick in your head and its more fun to learn about, especially for short attention spans.
Back in the day, when Chelsea Manning was still doing her Bradley drag, I wanted to call attention to what was happening, and all the sudden it came to me: Flashy Hollywood style imagery of Manning with the words “Caged Naked and Tortured” I mean who could resist? Its kink! But it draws people in and they remember it, and then they want to learn more about the issue.
Giz: Your art is literally part of the San Francisco streets, and it’s hard for me to imagine walking around my city without seeing one of your pieces glittering up at me from the sidewalk. Do you see Manning and Snowden as heroes for San Francisco specifically?
EB: Given that they both acted on principle, and in the interest of the whole human race, I see them both as heroes of the values that San Francisco has been known for historically; activism, liberty, social consciousness, tolerance, and challenging the status quo.
Chelsea Manning has really captured San Francisco’s heart. As many in the LGBT community know all too well, she was on the front line for years before she ever set foot in the Middle East. She knows the difference between fighting for country and doing what’s right. And if you’re going to ask someone with her integrity to fight for your country, you better make sure that what your country is doing is right. She truly is one of “the few, the proud, the strong.”
Harvey Milk would definitely have marched for Manning. And I’m sure Milk is rolling in his grave over Feinstein’s defensive tirade against Snowden. She’s not a nice Jewish girl - I’ll leave it at that.
Giz: What can you say or show using art on a sidewalk that you can’t say anywhere else?
EB: More importantly, who can you say it to? A well placed stencil in the Mission can reach more people in one day than at an exhibit in a gallery or museum. What Banksy said to graffiti artists, that “all other forms of art are a step down”, it really is true. We’re showing in the largest venue in the world, the city. The drive to do this comes from the feeling of having no voice. Its an act of desperation and frustration, but through it comes an amazing release and a feeling that I am contributing and changing things. San Francisco seems to be at the center of a lot of things right now, more so than most cities I imagine. And because of that you can put a stencil of Snowden on Divisadero and have it end up on the cover of one of the largest papers in Europe overnight.
The American news media decides what is a topic or not, and I take that power back. If an issue makes me think or somehow moves me, its a story as far as I’m concerned. So whether FOX or CNN is talking about an issue doesn’t concern me, because I can get the story to the people who matter.
Its a good thing sometimes to be as delusional as I am, because I really do think I can make a change. You know what they say, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right”. The only failure is to do nothing, and the time for apathy is over. Complacency is a luxury we cannot afford.
You can see more of Bandersnatch’s work on the streets of San Francisco, or on her Facebook page.
All photos via Eclair Bandersnatch, unless noted otherwise.