By Michael Arbeiter
If at one point in the past two weeks you’ve cut through the open alley that connects 1st Street and Houston in between 1st and 2nd Aves, you’ve probably left the scene with two very specific words on your mind: “World peace.” The phrase appears dozens and dozens of times on the alley’s eastern wall, aligned meticulously and printed in bold blue and orange.
“That’s loosely based on the New York Knicks and the New York Mets,” says Redna Writer, referring to the color scheme of what he calls his latest handwritten mural. Shrugging off his own personal affinity for either institution, Writer had a frank explanation for the rationale behind allowing these teams to influence his work: “This is New York, you know what I mean?”
Of course, allegiance to the city’s athletic franchises is hardly the only “New York” thing about Writer’s project. Although he has branded the walls of 14 other American cities with identical undertakings, the delivery of his pacifistic message to the Big Apple still rings unique—thanks in no small part to the date he chose for the latest outing of his tour.
I met Writer at the site of the mural just after its completion this past September 11. With the sun coming down and the memorial beams preparing to permeate the night’s sky from just across the island, it would have been impossible to not afford a few thoughts toward the events of the morning a decade and a half prior.
“A lot of people died on this date 15 years ago. Everything else aside, it did trigger a war,” Writer said. “Maybe the details are unclear about how long that war even lasted, or if we’re still in it. Maybe the details of September 11 are shrouded in mystery.”
These points aside, the artist asserted that whatever political connections a viewer is inclined to draw between the piece and his choice of date are not of concern to him. Though conscious of the historical significance inherent in his choice of date, Writer is certain that his message of world peace is not meant to tether to any one specific event. “At any given moment there’s a war going on in the world,” he said. “It can always be related to or put in the context of something, and it’s interesting to see what people do with it.”
Still, to Writer, the message is simple. “But I come from a place of no point of reference,” he continued. “I enjoy discussing the finer points at times, but I also like to always return to the simplicity of it…It’s world peace. It’s real self-explanatory. We all want it. It’s possible, though maybe we don’t all realize it.” He added, “My goal in doing this is just to introduce it into the global conversation. Or reintroduce it, maybe, I should say.”
Though Writer does believe in the plausibility of achieving such a lofty goal, he, like any of the rest of us, lacks a clear-cut strategy for bringing this dream to life. Still, he’ll identify a few constructs that he believes are standing in our way. “We’ve forgotten about it as an option,” he said. “We’re so caught up in all the divisive things that we don’t even see that this is possible, and this actually solves everything else. We’re worried about Clinton or Trump or this or that. These things are meant to divide us, and are doing just that.”
If there is any key element to fostering harmony worldwide, Writer sums it up in one word: “Communication.” These murals are his way of expressing this idea to the people of America. “I’ve done all kinds of murals over he last few years. I’ve noticed that they always have an impact,” he said. “I did a mural that said “Love is a risk, do it anyway.” I fell in love in the process. I met a girl while I was working on the mural. I’m still with her two years later. I noticed that a lot of coupes had a relationship with the wall. People were proposing in front of it or using it in their engagement photos.”
Writer has noticed this kind of effect consistently across his body of work. “I did a mural of all positive self-affirmations, where I wrote, ‘I am happy,’ ‘I am healthy,’ ‘I am confident,’ ‘People like me,’ ‘I attract good energy,’” he said. “I just wrote that kind of stuff over and over. And then I noticed all that stuff manifesting in my life. And I noticed people taking selfies in front of the wall. All along, I saw that this idea of words on a wall is a good idea, because it attracts an energy.”
His famous “world peace” idea evolved from there: “Seeing these different walls and the impact they had led me to think more broad. What is something that’s real big and that will impact everyone, and that will almost have no room for argument or interpretation?”
As simple as the message may be, the practice plays quite a number of roles in Writer’s mind. “It’s public art, it’s street art, it’s graffiti, it’s political art, it’s poetry, it’s pop art, and it’s performance, too,” he said. “The process is just as relevant as the final product.”
So where to next? Among the 15 cities Writer has already hit are Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston, and Fredericksburg, Virginia—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg: “I’m going to do 500 more, literally, by the time I’m 70.” He said, “I really want to do it everywhere. It’s just a matter of time before I do it in every place… Will I do San Francisco? Yep, probably. Will I do Chile? Probably. Clearly, Writer believes wholeheartedly not only in the message of his art, but in the possibility of that message to come true. “I’ve said on multiple occasions, I will do the World Peace Mural Tour for the rest of my life. And that’s how I see it.”
For more info about the World Peace Mural tour, visit http://www.worldpeacemuraltour.com
For more info about First Street Green Art Park (the alley that connects 1st Street and Houston in between 1st and 2nd Aves,) visit http://www.firststreetgreenpark.org