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Interview with Broken Fingaz Crew
by Char Jansen

Jan. 2012 - There are many reasons you should like Broken Fingaz. Hailing from the northern Israeli town of Haifa, the graffiti crew, (comprising members Deso, Kip, Tant and Unga) describe themselves as ‘gypsies’, and in the most positive sense, they embody the notion. They are intelligent without falling into the easy traps of political satire available to them; entrepreneurial without a note of capitalism; artistic without being flimsy. Indeed, their work inspires the positivity, aspirations and fantasies of the 80s, a period of street art which their aesthetic references. There’s something very rare in the BFC’s impressive body of work, and it relies on a careful balance of these dichotomies. 

Following simultaneous exhibitions this summer at Israel’s most prestigious arts institutions – the Tel Aviv Museum and the Haifa Museum of Art – the BFC’s place in contemporary art history in their homeland has already been marked out: but with their international fanbase growing into six figures, exhibitions in Europe lining up for 2012, and their hard-grafting, grassroots approach, this is only a prelude of the shape of things to come from the BFC. 

Broken Fingaz, potsdam, germany, 2011; Courtesy of the artist

Charlotte Jansen: What did you do before forming BFC?

Broken Fingaz Crew: Kip and me were in NRC (the first graffiti crew in Haifa) when we were in High School; but that crew broke up, as the guys that were older than us joined the army and stopped painting; so we started up Broken Fingaz.

CJ: How did you begin to make a name for yourselves?

BFC: We worked a lot outside, but at first it was only people from our city who saw our stuff… about seven years ago we started doing posters for events in Tel Aviv, and slowly started to reach out to bigger circles. Making posters is a really good way to put your shit out.. of course the Internet changed everything now, but it's still cooler to see someone’s works in real life.

CJ: Israel is constantly under the spotlight in world politics. As artists working predominantly in Israel, is your art affected - is your art political at all?

BFC: We don't really see ourselves as representative of Israel. It's kinda hard when you hate your government and what it represents so much. We do love Haifa, the land, the food, so of course the fact that we grew up here and still live and work from here is something that comes out in our work in one way or another… most of our works aren't political, probably because Israel is such a political country that art is kind of our escape to 'normal life'. 

Broken Fingaz, Israel , 2011; Courtesy of the artist.

CJ: How did the shows at Tel Aviv Museum and Haifa Museum come about?

BFC: All the hype over street art and graffiti arrived to Israel much later than everywhere else. So some how we got asked to show our works in the three largest museums over here during one summer [the Tel Aviv Museum, the Haifa Museum of Art, and the Riveria]. It's kinda crazy ‘cause before that we didn’t really do too many exhibitions in galleries, but it was a great opportunity to try to realize some ideas we had in mind for a while but never set down to actually make them happen.

CJ: What do you think it is about street art that makes it compelling for audiences on a global level?

BFC: The fact that it's illegal makes it more romantic for people, i don't know why but people are always looking for the story behind the art.  But also the fact that street art is still relatively new and developing right now, so people wanna be a part of its growth. Most of the really fresh things that are happening in the art world now are from this movement... 

CJ: How did people in Israel first react to your work, which was something pretty radical at the time?

BFC: The city [the municipality] always fought against it, and still is. They don't really care what is the painting about, they just buff it the next day. But the people that walk in the streets while you're painting are almost always positive about it… even if the image is brutal the color makes it funky.

CJ: Do you feel any frustrations in terms of creating your work?

BFC: It's sometimes frustrating that we work more hours than everyone around us and we're still always broke as fuck. If we earn some cash we'll use it to buy more paint and materials for projects… but we can't really complain because we spent almost half of the past year traveling, and we only make shit that we love.

Broken Fingaz, china, 2010; Courtesy of the artists.

CJ: There are four of you, how do you all work together?

BFC: We're really not the kind of people that are looking for drama, so it's pretty easy.. Three of us also live together. So we really spend too much time together, but it's cool...

CJ: Graffiti is notoriously linked to getting into trouble with the law, and going to great lengths to avoid being arrested... any interesting stories? What are the regulations like there? Do you feel constrained as artists?

BFC: In Israel the situation with the cops is better than in the States or in Europe, they got so much security issues to take care of so graffiti is not on their top priority; but it will change soon cause it's starting to be all over the place.

When we painted in China we got caught three times and somehow got away with it. over there it's scary, you don't wanna fuck with their government. One time we bombed a tunnel in Guangzhou with some local writers and before we finished a door gets opened and a worker gets out all sleepy and confused.. turns out the workers sleep inside the tunnels in small rooms. It took him a while to understand what was going on, and we kept painting cause we wanted to finish it. But then he wakes his boss in the door next to him, he gets out, started to freak out and scream in Chinese, we run away and they were after us but at the end we made it.. it’s always a lot more stress when it's not your country…

Broken Fingaz, swiss, 2011; Courtesy of the artist.

CJ: What's your day-to-day life like?

BFC: We live in a squat, a really nice old villa that we took over.. We don't have electricity there so we can't really work from there, so most of the day we're at the studio.. but it changes a lot. Some months we're out every day painting walls and traveling, other times we would sit hours at the studio, preparing for an upcoming show or something. Lately we've been busy with GhosTown, which is sort of a label we started with some friends, we just finished a big t-shirt collection for it.

CJ: What keeps you in Haifa?

BFC: People, mostly. We have a big crew of friends that are our family and that have been with us since the beginning. Even though it's a small place it has a lot of creative and open-minded people. It feels that in the crazy country we live in, this place is a bit more normal and less militant.

ArtSlant would like to thank Broken Fingaz for their assistance in making this interview possible.

--Charlotte Jansen

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