For photographer Rad Roubeni, the walls of New York City are an ever-evolving muse. Roubeni photographs street art and graffiti, which is constantly changing as surfaces get repainted, tagged over, and knocked down. A pop-up exhibition of his large-scale photos, “Public Display: Streetscapes,” is up through Feb. 15 at 104 Delancey Street on the Lower East Side. (A closing reception on Valentine’s Day will feature live art from Hash Halper, a street artist known for his graffiti hearts.)
Roubeni lives and works in a Tribeca loft whose white-and-silver color scheme gives the place a space-age vibe. Two photos from a 2002 solo exhibition, “Like Candy,” are on view, and there’s a rainbow array of photo backdrops in one corner. In a white shelving unit between the kitchen and his computer, Roubeni keeps a decidedly plain concrete object on display: a chunk of the Berlin Wall. The Tehran-born photographer spent his youth in Germany, and he got this piece of history on an illicit childhood trip from Hamburg to Berlin.
I grew up in Hamburg, Germany, and Berlin is about 2.5, three hours from Hamburg. I was about 11 years old, and I basically told my parents that I’m going to go sleep at my friend’s house for the weekend, like a sleepover. But I actually wound up going on a road trip with these older kids from my school. We went to Berlin to see Pink Floyd play.
So I went on this adventure with them in a little van, and we wound up in Berlin. I didn’t even know what the hell was going on, really—I mean, I knew the Berlin Wall was coming down—but basically everybody was allowed to chisel off the wall. So these guys gave me a sledgehammer, and I found a little hole to chisel off of. I was basically just banging unrestrained, and this is one of the chunks that came off, and I kept it. It was a really special moment because I really got to feel what the whole thing was about.
[After some hammering,] I was able to make a really big hole, and then somebody’s hand came right through the wall and grabbed my hand and shook it. It was like feeling someone’s freedom rushing through me, from East to West. For me, it was one of the most amazing days of my life. That evening we saw Pink Floyd at the wall, which is one of the most famous concerts, ever, in the history of concerts, and I was there, mind-blown. It was the first concert I’d ever been to, so for me it was just a crazy weekend. I did a lot of things that an 11-year-old probably shouldn’t have done, but I’ll never forget it, and I took this with me.