In the’90s and aughts Shepard Fairey’s stickers popped up everywhere. Images of Andre the Giant were seen perched along the skyline. If that doesn’t ring a bell, does Obama’s “Hope” poster bring back memories of a less tumultuous time in history?
Posted high up on city billboards, bus bench ad spaces, on walls and hard to reach spots across Los Angeles and in galleries are Shepard Fairey’s works of art. From street art to fine art, his VR art exhibit “DAMAGED” is available on Steam for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, and at the Oculus Store for the Gear and Go.
The original “DAMAGED” exhibit touched down in L.A. for a limited showing in November to December of 2017. It was one of Fairey’s largest exhibits. The pieces have references to social, environmental, and political issues affecting the world.
An Emotional Connection to “DAMAGED”
It’s a time of social and political turmoil throughout the U.S. and the world. As a mixed race Latina, it’s discouraging and terrifying to see racism and hatred divide nations. Stepping into Shepard Fairey’s VR art exhibit helped me address the overwhelm of disempowerment and restraint I’ve experienced.
On an uplifting note, to be a visitor of this VR art exhibit inspired a reset to my mindset.
In the beginning, the experience opens up with a quote by Shepard Fairey. There’s more than this, but this part of his introduction stuck with me the most:
“I hope that the art and processes on display in ““DAMAGED”” are a reminder that we’re not powerless. We may be damaged but we still have the ability to use our voices, to evolve, and to rise above!”
“DAMAGED” is a fully realized and high-quality VR art exhibit. To teleport among influential works of art, especially in VR, is a privilege in itself. A major bonus, there was no squinting involved. Everything was clear, colorful, and made me feel like I was really there. With the entire floor to myself, I didn’t have to look over shoulders (I’m short) and can revisit it whenever I want.
Looking at the first painting, “Target Exceptions“, I listened to Shepard Fairey speak about his inspiration for the piece. The woman in the piece, an immigrant, faces rejection by society and must work harder for a better future.
Like many progressives, Fairey talks about rebelling against ideals only a select few can ever achieve. He refers to social belonging, living wages, a world without pollution and corruption. His message is optimistic. We can achieve it if we change our ideals from the inside out and the bottom up.
In the first room, the mixed media and collage on canvas piece “Wrong Path”, held my attention. The massive 15 x 30-foot mural and multi-piece canvas affected me. As a writer, I found it clever to reference advertising and its powerful role in our society.
The words and images are simple but powerful. The mural displays the words “Sub-Standard”, “Wrong Path”, and others out of frustration. It’s an advertisement for the social and political ideals that immigrants and world citizens are up against.
Next was the canvases of diverse women. Each piece has one or two subjects from Latin, black, Muslim, white, Middle Eastern, and Asian descent. The empowering pieces hit close to home as a woman who’s dealt with racial discrimination and sexism. I appreciated that he uplifts women instead of tearing them down.
In the second room, there’s a printing press, silk screen machine, and piles of The Damaged Times newspaper. There are also three Big Brother panels and the main wall that has smaller pieces. Like all his works, each piece has a breath and life of its own.
In both the first and second room, there are walls with smaller canvases that have singular images on them. These are like an ode to those who’ve influenced him as well as images and icons of discontent.
In the second there are smaller pieces with images that range from women, men, mandalas, the Obey logo. There are references to pollution and corruption, as well as musicians and bands he listens to.
The pile of red, white, and black newspapers called The Damaged Times stuck held my attention. Fairey describes the power of print as a vessel of truth or fiction. He tells you what influenced him while also giving you the power to decide what it means to you.
For me, I questioned: What’s today’s catastrophe? Bleak, I know. It also left me with some optimistic questions too. Do social scars heal? Or at the very least, can we all live and let live?
Music is a significant influence on Shepard Fairey’s art and seen throughout the VR exhibit. Black Flag, TSOL, The Clash, Public Enemy and Bob Marley fueled his rebellious spirit and his pieces. He’s even got a playlist on Spotify for music heads. On one of the walls in the second room is a Black Sabbath tour poster that I reveled in.
The third room has three walls and one advertisement billboard. It’s massive in scale, and I won’t say what it says because I want readers to see it for themselves. The ad is an homage to his roots as a street artist and a call to action to other artists.
His piece “Wake Up” is one of my other favorites as another call to action piece. It’s a female-centric piece that came about from the 2016 presidential election. It’s a confronting piece that refers to non-voters young and old. It also reflects the outrage caused by aggressive rhetoric spoken by those coming into power.
There are two things I’d change about this VR experience. First, to add click turning. While sitting and teleporting, I figured out I had to stand up to turn around. If one were in a wheelchair, they’d have to turn to see anything.
Second, the canvases are to have voiced descriptions to them. They detail the inspiration behind their creation, musical influences, and stories. Some pieces highlight but don’t trigger the audio to play. At times it fluttered the information panel and then disappeared or didn’t work.
“DAMAGED” Is A Must See For These Tumultuous Times
Shepard Fairey’s “DAMAGED” was more than an evening looking at hundreds of pieces at a VR art exhibit. It gave me the comfort of knowing I’m not alone in wanting real change as a citizen of the world.
It helped to lift the weight off my shoulders. Not entirely. However, just enough for some relief and clarity. The spark of empowerment that I, like so many, have to fight to hold onto has finally resurfaced. Just enough to rise above the chaos.