Joel Bergner: The bigger picture

From refugee camps to favelas, from war torn towns to divided neighbourhoods, Joel Bergner’s mural work has brought light to arguably some of the darkest places on the planet.

Queens, NYC 2013: “The Plague Doctor” at 5 Pointz in Long Island City

But his greatest works are never from a solely personal perspective. Bergner collaborates with grassroots organisations to communicate the local community’s hopes and dreams.

Za’atari Syrian Refugee Camp, 2014

Working as a counsellor in San Francisco, he treated youths struggling with issues such as violence, prostitution, suicide and drug addiction. His artwork was something he did separately, for fun.

San Fracisco 2003: “De Frontera a Frontera” in the Mission District
“My art crew started to pick up and I started being able to do that as a paid career. I didn't want to abandon the other work that I did, so I experimented with different ways that I could combine the two,”

Although he works with people from all ages, children are often more willing to get involved with the creation of Bergner’s work.

Za’atari Syrian Refugee Camp, 2014, “I dream of…”
“They love to paint and representing themselves in a public space. So you can say ‘this is my culture and this is what I miss about home’ or ‘these are the things that I’ve gone through’ or ‘these are my hopes for the future, my dreams’, all these things you can put on the wall in a work of art that will stay there and you will see it everyday. That’s very powerful for a young person to get involved in.”
The Holywell Lane Wall at Village Underground was painted for Street Child United, a UK based NGO that promotes the rights of homeless youth around the world. Joel has worked with the organisation previously as part of the Street Child World Cup which brought together youth from across the world to play in Brazil during the FIFA competition. Whether it’s street art or football the idea is to allow young people to express themselves and then inspire others.

The idea is for the them to be an advocate for themselves and for their fellow street youth, and that's really what the mural is about.
You're going to see one giant girl and filled all inside of her face and her hand are all these other kids and she has a huge megaphone and she's yelling into the megaphone
And all of this positive crazy energy is coming out and it's going to say ‘I may be a child, I may live on the streets but I am somebody’ - and that's the slogan of this whole thing.

This wall was created for the Street Child United summit and the giant girl is an ambassador called Jessica. Other Street Child Ambassadors were invited into the creative process and also asked to add their own illustrations within Jessica’s face.

One thing that is for people to understand when you're working in a mural that is collaborative is that you have your own area that is for personal expression but you also have to do certain things that will lead to the harmony of the piece because it is collaborative. So you can't do anything that you want. So for example, following a certain colour scheme, if we're doing a certain section that is oranges and yellows and warm tones, you can't just decide you want to put something in black right there.

Bergner’s message is that his work isn’t done from a sense of guilt. His advice to help in a situation like this is to look to your own passions and strengths.

“I don't think of this as charity, because it's not something that I'm doing, just to help other people. I LOVE what I do, I love helping but I also love it for selfish reasons and that's the best way to contribute. Do something that helps others and you love... and really you're going to be so much better at doing something so much more useful, if you do something that you enjoy.”

There’s more information about Street Child Unite here and Joel’s website is here.