Howard Grads Create Adventurous Art Exhibit

by Kris Ankarlo

WASHINGTON — It’s a space between the in-between. A building so forgotten that the city has forgotten to demolish it, contrary to a handbill pasted to the wall warning of demolition more than a year ago.

A breeze blows through this skeleton of a building, most windows long broken out. Three stories up, strings of yarn give vibrance and life to a shell of a space.

“You got four columns. You got orange, purple, blue and white strings and they all connect with each other. I don’t know how to explain it…they just kind of go through each other,” says Eric, who says he and his friends found this impromptu art exhibit on Instagram. “My interpretation is more like a free your mind, a free spirit type of thing. That’s what I get when I see a lot of colors. It makes you feel good.”

Friends Eric and Tommy pose in front of the exhibit. (Credit: Kris Ankarlo)

Friends Eric and Tommy pose in front of the exhibit. (Credit: Kris Ankarlo)

The art is called Synth Series 002, it’s the labor of a pair of artists that go by Toki. Their real names are Toluwalase Rufai and Khai Grubbs, they both just graduated from Howard where they studied architecture. For them, this exhibit is about exploration.

“This is a journey of finding ourselves,” says Rufai. “We both embarked on the journey and through our love in music we chose to explore the idea creating a space that represents music three-dimensionally.”

Credit: Kris Ankarlo

Credit: Kris Ankarlo

Both Rufai and Grubbs are surprised by the attention their project has garnered. Over the last three weeks the multi-colored yarn has been popping up in Instagram user feeds, spurring some to make the trek to see it in person.

“When we made it, we didn’t really anticipate a large audience finding out about it, or being able to see it, because of its location,” says Grubbs. “So I think, as more and more people discover it, it’s really exciting to see all the different reactions and interactions with it.”

The journey to find this exhibit involves experimentation with Google Maps, sliding through fencing for some light trespassing, stumbling over rubble and climbing a dark set of stairs.

Credit: Kris Ankarlo

Credit: Kris Ankarlo

The sprigs of threaded color string out in contrast to peeling paint, broken bottles, cracked brick, barbed wire and layers of dust and grime. Trains rumble by every few minutes, the building likely invisible to Red Line passengers. It’s just another boarded up and fenced off structure slated for demolition in a rapidly changing neighborhood in a rapidly changing city.

Credit: Kris Ankarlo

Credit: Kris Ankarlo

But for Toki, the message is about music.

“Listening to music, it isolates and separates us from the immediate surroundings, which currently is chaotic,” says Rufai. “I think the piece represents a place that transports you to somewhere else in the middle of all the deterioration in the surrounding building.”

Rufai says the he and Grubbs have come to accept that this piece of art has taken a meaning beyond their intent. They say that hearing the different interpretations from people who stumble upon the art has been fun. The exhibit brought Eric and his friends to use it as a backdrop for their own art.

“When you see a lot of colors, it’s like a rainbow. It makes you feel happy, it makes you feel free. It’s just creative, and creative things open up your minds to new ideas,” says Eric. “Something so simple, it’s just so basic, so simple, but yet there’s a lot to it though. It’s a lot more than just strings, it’s art.”

Credit: Kris Ankarlo

Credit: Kris Ankarlo

Grubbs and Rufai say they spent two days and $200-300 creating the display. Synth Series 002 has been up for three weeks, and it has a few more weeks of life left. Unless it’s taken down. The exhibit isn’t exactly legal.

“We weren’t really promoting this as a place to go or a thing to do. We just wanted to create something so that if, by chance, someone was exploring they would just find this inspiration, this creation.” says Grubbs. “We never really looked at it from the standpoint of really promoting the illegal aspect or the negative aspect of street art. That’s not really our mission.”

Credit: Kris Ankarlo

Credit: Kris Ankarlo

For Eric’s friend Tommy the extralegal state of the display only adds to the meaning.

“They could come down here and take this down at anytime, but that’s how it is though. That’s the beauty of art. People get to appreciate it…a certain amount of people.”

WNEW D.C. Bureau Chief Kris Ankarlo contributed to this report. Follow him and WNEW on Twitter.

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