Wednesday, March 14, 2012
It’s December 30th in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and my flight has arrived at midnight. My father and brother are waiting for me on the other side of the automatic doors, smiling. We hug tightly and pack my things in the car. It takes us just fifteen minutes to turn onto my family’s street, Calle Teo Cruz in Las Americas. There is a cement wall that runs the length of the first block on the street, and in the dark I can barely make out strange figures painted across the entire wall.
I go back to the wall the next day. It’s covered in graffiti and feels like a little piece of NYC in the DR. One figure in particular captivates me. Reminds me of Julio Cortázar’s short story, Graffiti. Adhering to the art form’s history of resistance and protest, Graffiti is a tragic story of subversive communication between two artists during the time of the Los Desaparecidos, The Disappeared Ones.
The piece on the wall before me now is that of a soldier with a machine gun and an ammunition belt full of crayons.
I assume my father is angry over the imposing reflection of hip-hop culture so close to his home, and I imagine my old aunts shaking their heads in disapproval. But no. They love it! My two old aunts even ask me to photograph them in front of the wall as they throw up peace signs.
Come on, tell me that’s not dope.
So here we are, Delen Readers. I tracked him down, and take great pleasure in introducing Dr. Mol— writer (that means graffiti artist) and ambassador of hip-hop culture in the Dominican Republic.
Dr. Mol, what’s your government name and where are you from in the DR?
My name is Manuel de Jesus although many people call me Dr. Molecula (Dr. Molecule) especially in the world of graffiti. The nickname was given to me because I played checkers, and other games, easily winning against players double or triple my age. One of the older players gave me the nickname which was inspired by a ‘60s cartoon called “The Adventures of Dr. Molecule,” where the character (Molecule) was a boy scientist.
I was born into a poor family in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. I’ve lived in the popular area of Cristo Rey since I was a year old. Now I’m 30, but that number increases every October 31. Hehe.
How and when were you introduced to Graffiti?
As an adolescent, I always felt attracted graffiti. I was impacted by a lot of graffiti seen in American movies. In 1994 a friend took home a hip-hop magazine and there was a section with several pages of graffiti images. That’s where I found true inspiration. I immediately began to imitate the pieces in the magazine until I filled a couple of sketchbooks then I started tagging walls around the neighborhood with a marker. My first contact with a spray can was in 1995. I made my first signature in an alley outside my house, using the pseudonym”FAST” as my tag. But I didn’t spend too much time bombing due to academic commitments and sports activities. I returned to graffiti in 2004, this time using “Dr. MOL” as my tag.
Which graffiti artists inspire you?
Around 75% of the education I received during my childhood was centered in the world of art. I was able to develop an excellent conception of art and aesthetics, so my influences in graffiti are not based solely on graffiti artists but also illustrators and painters in other genres from the conventional to the contemporary.
Among these I can say that the most influential are:
• Sex el niño de las pinturas (Spain)
• Jonas Muvdi (Dominican Republic)
• Anus One (Germany)
• Daim (Germany)
• CanTwo (Germany)
• Sebastian Kruger (Germany)
• Jan Op De Beeck (Belgium)
• Justin Bua (United States)
Have you ever heard of Banksy?
Of course I have! Banksy is a global street art icon.
You created a piece in Las Americas where a soldier shoots crayons from his machine gun. What central themes do you intend to communicate to the spectator through your art?
With respect to the mural of the Americas, and as with most of the walls I paint, I focus on social issues. I try to have the viewer reflect and ignite the revolutionary spark that is in us all, for we “the people” are the ones that must fight for change. We cannot wait for those who are on top to change.
Have you faced opposition to your art in the Dominican Republic?
To date I have not faced any problems in presenting my art in public. The police, city hall and cultural institutions have all supported me, however, the religious sector (except for the Catholics) is the only one who has challenged me on occasion.
How has your art been received in the Dominican Republic overall? What recognition have you received?
The work I do is very popular in the country. In 2009, my works were part of an exhibition together with “Niño de las Pinturas” at an important cultural center in the capital, Santo Domingo. Later on the same center asked me to teach a workshop on graffiti to children, like I did with kids in my neighborhood and teenagers of the Dominican Institute for Integral Development. I have made appearances in a number of magazines, television and radio shows, major concerts as well as local and international websites.
Also, in 2009 I was invited to be part of “BNA crew,” having members in over 15 cities throughout the world, which I am quite proud to represent.
After the UK and New York, Brazil has been a destination for impressive and distinct graffiti style. Does the Dominican Republic have a unique and identifiable style of graffiti? What is your style in particular?
Even though the Dominican Republic has carried out the practice of graffiti for decades, the first interpreters of the art were not knowledgeable of what was going on in the United States and therefore were not able to develop their talents, to transcend, leaving graffiti in the Dominican Republic stagnant for about a decade.
In the early 2000’s, with communication advancements in the Dominican Republic, youths had more ease in acquiring references and were able to learn from the innovation of styles and materials used in the U.S. and Europe. However it was not until the end of the decade that you began to see productions at various points in the city.
Currently, in the Dominican Republic, we are still in the learning process, supporting and absorbing knowledge of foreign artists. Our generation had to start from scratch. It is too early to talk about the “Dominican Style.” So at the moment it does not exist.
In my case I have knowledge based in art. In regard to the studies I have done and the teachings of a lot of friends who happen to be writers of different levels. I’ve been mixing the two schools and have slowly been able to develop a style quite expressive between realism and characters with distorted features quite often involved in socio-political issues.
Are you committed to anything else besides writing?
Yes! I am a Technical Director in a national sports federation, and an art teacher at the Ministry of Culture.
So what else would you would like to share with our readers?
To end I would like to urge the graffiti community around the world to include the Dominican Republic as a destination for painting. We have many blank walls and the camaraderie is pretty good. The skill level of local writers is increasing gradually.
Thanks to the media for supporting me and for supporting Dominican graffiti.
We shall meet again on a wall of your city …
Gracias Dr. Molecula!
Paz, amor y arte