On Sunday, September 16th at around 1am, a white van—labelled with “Van Wagner’s” blue logo and topped by a yellow strobe light—circled through permanently lit Times Square. Inside the vehicle, the driver and passenger, both dressed as construction workers, were nervous. They had just vandalized one kiosk a few yards away from an NYPD tower, now they were about to hit another one right underneath the nose of a large white NYPD security camera. Hearing his partner worry, “we’re really pushing some buttons here!” “Essam” shot back, “keep your head down, if they don’t see our faces we’re in the clear.”
They hopped out of the van with their tool belts and in less than a minute another authorized Van Wagner spot was replaced with one of the drone spoofing pieces that have so angered the NYPD lately. Five hours later Essam and the team he calls his “bros” (they also utilizes two “security vehicles” to scope out the scene, and in one instance “dodge a tail”) had knocked out 50 such spots. The next night, again concentrating mostly in midtown, they knocked out fifty more.
“That first night I couldn’t sleep at all,” Essam recalls. “My heart was pumping and I kept waking up in a cold sweat. Bloomberg, Kelly and his cronies are not going to take this lightly if I get caught.”
Last Friday, “Essam,” a 29-year-old art-school grad from the New England area, who served in Iraq as a “geo-spatial analyst,” sat down with ANIMAL in an undisclosed Brooklyn studio to talk about his philosophy and technique. Right off the bat, he admitted, “I’m not part of the street art scene at all.”
As far as his political views, the artist feels that Obama and Romney are “essentially the same.” If anything, he says his work “identifies strongly with libertarianism.” Asked if he’s looking to build a movement, he laughs, and says: “definitely! I’d love if it someone like [Paypal founder and libertarian] Peter Thiel would back me.”
He agrees that there is an inherent irony in his spoofs: the very fact that the NYPD (which claims to be strongly pursuing him with their “counter terrorism squad”) hasn’t caught him yet, is proof that we have not reached a state of Orwellian control. “But we’re going in that direction and no one’s talking about it,” he says. “And I think that’s pretty scary.”
We also did a video interview with Essam and he goes into further details about his motivations and how his military training helped him pull off this feat. We agreed to obscure his face and voice to protect his identity.