A city-wide exhibition

Global and local artists collaborate in the city’s Mural Arts Program.

Mural artist MOMO paints for Open Source, a projected created by Mural Arts in Philadelphia. | COURTESY Mural Arts Program
Mural artist MOMO paints for Open Source, a projected created by Mural Arts in Philadelphia. | COURTESY Mural Arts Program

Heeseop Yoon doesn’t use an eraser.

That might seem unusual for someone who creates black-and-white images that stretch more than two stories high and 60 feet wide.

“I feel like there’s no mistake in terms of the process of drawing,” Yoon said.

The South Korean artist said her education at Chung-Ang University focused primarily on achieving visual perfection—an objective that required heavy correction. Now, Yoon values the meaning behind her work more than its physical pleasantness.

When Yoon moved to America in 2002 to pursue an MFA from the City University of New York, her fascination with cluttered spaces and forgotten objects pushed her to develop a visual voice that is more bold and deliberate than flowery and subtle.

“[In America] it was not about making a visually pleasing drawing or painting or installation,” Yoon said. “It was more about talking about your work and idea.”

Yoon’s ideas are based in her signature nontraditional medium of black masking tape on top of Mylar—a white plastic covering used in greenhouses—that the artist composes layers and lines to create colossal images.

The mural Yoon will create in the Italian Market this fall will reflect her own artistic style, and the style of the surrounding neighborhood.

Yoon is one of 14 artists partaking in one of Mural Arts’  biggest projects yet: Open Source, an ongoing citywide exhibition. Marks of the project are already visible throughout the city streets; it’s almost impossible to walk past the Graham Building on 15th and Chestnut streets without gaping at the 20-story gray scale portrait of Ibrahim, a Pakistani immigrant who works in one of the city’s downtown food trucks. The new installation is a product of JR, a globally renowned street artist from Paris.

“His whole concept was to make a work that would bring one person’s story to life on a massive scale,” said Nicole Steinberg, Mural Arts’ director of communications and brand management.

Mural Arts teamed up with visiting curator Pedro Alonzo to reach out to the handful of artists. Five of the participants are Philadelphia-based, including the Dufala Brothers and Ernel Martinez, while the remaining nine artists hail from California, New York, Louisiana, France, the United Kingdom and South Korea. Despite the regional diversity of the artists, each mural will have one thing in common: it will focus on an issue relevant to Philadelphia.

Shepard Fairey, creator of the iconic Barack Obama “Hope” poster, will focus his work on mass incarceration and criminal justice, and local artist Michelle Angela Ortiz plans to draw attention to immigrant rights.

An immigrant herself, Yoon visited Philadelphia for the first time to begin work with Mural Arts and was struck by the multicultural atmosphere of the Italian Market—which, despite its name, now contains immigrants from an assortment of countries including Mexico and Vietnam.

“They took me to a bunch of different neighborhoods and they wanted to choose one neighborhood that I wanted to work with. When they took me to [the] Italian neighborhood … I got really excited, it was so vibrant and active,” Yoon said.

Entranced by the neighborhood, Yoon took photographs of what she thought represented the everyday life of South Philadelphia’s residents. The pictures hold objects ranging from tortillas and vegetables to candles and religious symbols.  Yoon said being able to communicate with local storeowners and residents created an affable atmosphere between artist and subject.

“Once [the store owners] found out about the project, they were super friendly and they were talking about their store and things they sell and some of them were talking about their life,” Yoon said.

Yoon’s mural, along with the majority of the Open Source works, will open Oct. 3.

“We expect that it will be a galvanizing, game-changing moment for both Mural Arts and Philadelphia,” Steinberg said.

Angela Gervasi can be reached at angela.gervasi@temple.edu.

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