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Paint brawl! Socialist-themed mural serves capitalism in Fort Greene

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One of the most-iconic images of 20th-century Socialism has been repurposed to serve capitalism — and has set off a war worthy of those long-battling ideologies.

Habana Outpost owner Sean Meenan said he was only trying to “unite” the neighborhood when he took a famous photo of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara and had it repainted with the image of rapper Notorious B.I.G., complete with the restaurant’s “H” logo in place of the red star on the guerilla’s cap.

The mural, located on Meenan’s builing at S. Portland and Fulton streets, includes one of Biggie Smalls’s lyrics, “Spread love/It’s the Brooklyn way” — but it has has been anything but unifying.

Nowhere on the colorful painting is any credit to man who actually he designed the mash-up: 21-year-old Parsons student John Garcia.

“It’s frustrating, because I literally laid out everything on the wall,” said Garcia, who is upset that his name is absent from most of the company’s material on the mural. “They didn’t mention me and they said in the future in they would.”

Garcia, perhaps, doth protest too much. After all, his painting of Biggie Smalls itself was appropriated from the Cuban Revolution’s ultimate symbol — the famous Alberto Korda photograph of Che — to service Meenan’s eco-revolutionary, Habana Outpost brand.

In fact, only Meenan’s website — seanmeenan.com — is credited on the painting. But the mural’s crew included established graffiti artists such as Cern One, and legend Lee Quinones, who was initially credited with the whole thing when the New York Times’ Fort Greene blog initially reported the story.

To Meenan, the artistic controversy is over.

“The mural is what it is,” he said. “It’s done.”

But not to Garcia.

“One of the founding things when I negotiated it was that my name was on the wall, and I would have liked it to be there,” he said. “It’s my work and I’d like it to be treated as such.”

Beyond the issue of credit is the issue of imagery. Should Communist icons be recycled into capitalist branding? In a word, yes.

“It’s not uncommon for revolutionary imagery to be used for commercial purposes,” said Lincoln Cushing, a Cuban-born expert on Communist poster art.

The iconic Korda photo of Che, for example, is one of the most recognizable and marketable images in the world — and its use to brand products such as vodka, ice cream, and T-shirts, has created enough controversy to fill books.

Meenan said he saw no irony in using the communist imagery to promote his company’s logo or his Habana Works project, which sponsors urban environmentalism projects.

“We give a lot back to the community,” said Meenan. “I don’t think that Fidel or Che or anybody else would have a problem with us.”

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow his Tweets at @from_where_isit.
Updated 8:52 am, December 10, 2011
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Reasonable discourse

SkyRoller from WrightHere says:
Said to the artist,

"tHE sTATE THaNKS yOU for yoUr DonaTion."
Dec. 10, 2011, 8:18 pm
Or from Yellow Hook says:
Ah, Che, the killer of teenagers, he looked cool, so we made him a poster boy.

A rich kid playing poor, but lets let him speak for himself:

“The Negro is indolent and spends his money on frivolities and booze, whereas the European is forward-looking, organized and intelligent.”

“The negro has maintained his racial purity by his well known habit of avoiding baths”

"To establish Socialism rivers of blood must flow."

“Mexicans are a rabble of illiterate Indians.”

Youth must refrain from ungrateful questioning of governmental mandates. Instead, they must dedicate themselves to study, work and military service. The very spirit of rebellion is reprehensible."
Dec. 10, 2011, 9:47 pm
Bill Savarese from Ft Lauderdale, Fl says:
Seems like the artist had an oral contract, nothing written... which IS binding. The artist's name should go on the wall!... or Meenan should be sued.
Dec. 11, 2011, 8:41 am
(( from Fort G says:
either way, another dope mural in The Fort
Dec. 11, 2011, 10:46 am
December says:
sheesh...the Che guy was really confused. If the quotes from Yellow Hook are correct , it seemsf Che was talking about Europeans and imitating them all along.

I said this years ago...

There goes the neighborhood! People claiming ownership while promoting communist art and.... they are giving back to the community. Where? How? May I ask?
This certainly represents the spirit of America. .
Dec. 13, 2011, 6:18 pm
Over It from Habanalandia says:
Typical megalomaniac nonsense out of mr. meenan. He dosen't do —— for the community unless there is a photo op for him involved. Good luck getting your name on anything he's PAID for.
Dec. 16, 2011, 5:09 pm
Beatrice from Ft. Greene says:
I don't understand why Sean Meenan feels the need to commemorate a guy who sold drugs on that very corner for years before making it in music. Nothing too loving about that.
Dec. 19, 2011, 10:13 pm
I grew up here from Fort Greene says:


A) B.I.G did not sell drugs on that corner.
B) Agreed, Sean Meenan dosen't do $#! for the community unless there is a photo op for him involved.
Dec. 20, 2011, 1:36 pm

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