Drawing the street with Broken Fingaz

Israel’s Broken Fingaz Crew uses its signature bold graffiti to liven up the world’s urban architecture.

The Broken Fingaz Crew is one of Israel’s best-known graffiti collectives abroad. The four Haifa residents – known by their art names Tant, Deso, Kip and Unga – have spray-painted fresh and innovative pop-art murals in Europe, North America, and Asia.

This multi-disciplinary crew dabbles in illustration, graphic design, murals, fashion design, elaborate posters and flyers for nightclub parties, album covers, silkscreen printing and animation, as well as music videos and fine art.

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Their signature art, they’ve said in the past, draws ideas from American comic-book covers, old-school skateboard graphics and tattoos, and is meshed with local smarts.

Street artists at the core, they’ve been called the Israeli representatives of graffiti. But the title, they say, isn’t accurate.

“We don’t see ourselves as representatives,” Broken Fingaz Crew tells ISRAEL21c via email. “We’re happy if people [abroad] see that there are young people in Israel who are creating something positive and are not about war.”

Broken Fingaz is part of the blooming Israeli street art scene. A small country with few walls available for graffiti, Israel has more than two dozen accomplished artists – among them Know Hope, Pilpeled, NRC, TML, DEDE, Inspire and Gezer – leaving their mark where they can.

Most of these artists, however, are based in or near Tel Aviv, Israel’s cultural capital. Broken Fingaz members were born, raised and still choose to live in Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

When the contemporary art network ArtSlant asked them why, they replied, “People, mostly. We have a big crew of friends that are our family and that have been with us since the beginning. Even though it’s a small place it has a lot of creative and open-minded people. It feels that in the crazy country we live in, this place is a bit more normal.”

An album cover drawn by Kip. Photo by Kip/Broken Fingaz Crew

An album cover drawn by Kip. Photo by Kip/Broken Fingaz Crew

Their distance from Tel Aviv actually has allowed Broken Fingaz to experiment more freely and create a style of its own.

Innovative and gory

Broken Fingaz fields regular invitations from abroad from fans and other street artists wanting to collaborate. They’ve hooked up with INSA, Mr Phomer and Toshio Saeki, among many others.

Their work is intricate and in your face.

Many of the images are gory and brutal but are almost always depicted in funky colors, adding a sense of hilarity to the piece. They steer clear of political messages but definitely have what to say about sexuality and pop culture.

“We’re influenced by everything around us, from the old people in Haifa to psychedelic drugs, old porn magazines, traveling, music…,” they say.

“Most of the time the first idea for our work is visual: like a picture we have in our mind. From there we develop it, inventing a story,” the crew told globalstreetart.com. “In general you could say our work relates to funky apocalypses, cannibalism, acid, animals and psychedelic experiences.”

They are commissioned for works but paint without permission.

Broken Fingaz Crew has even exhibited its works in major museums – the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Haifa Museum of Art, and galleries overseas.

Three walls of graffiti by Broken Fingaz Crew in Chengdu, China. Photo by Kip/Broken Fingaz Crew

Three walls of graffiti by Broken Fingaz Crew in Chengdu, China. Photo by Kip/Broken Fingaz Crew

“When we put [our art] inside a gallery or museum it is no longer ‘street art,’ it’s just art,” they say. “For us it doesn’t matter [how people designate our work]. It’s people being obsessed with labeling stuff.”

Buffed in Haifa

Broken Fingaz has been painting Haifa’s streetscapes since 2001. A visitor to Haifa won’t necessarily see this work. It’s not that it’s hidden, but rather has most likely been buffed off the wall. The municipality of Haifa, the crew laments, works hard to keep the city graffiti-free.

“We got used to it,” they tell ISRAEL21c. “Haifa is the worst city in Israel for painting on the street; nothing stays more than a few days. It’s a shame for the city because it could have made the gray abandoned streets so much more colorful and interesting. But it also teaches you not to get too attached to your works and constantly reminds you that it’s just paint on walls.”

The crew is happy to put their street names out in the media, but likely because graffiti art is illegal in most countries, their real names are kept under wraps. Most articles written about their work contain citations from other articles or snippets found somewhere else on the web. Even their stunning Vimeo video – a top pick by the site – fails to show their faces.

Yet type in “Broken Fingaz Crew” into a search engine and you’ll get thousands of hits and links to this Haifa collective’s works. In fact, Broken Fingaz Crew enjoys growing fan bases and is racking up air miles.

ISRAEL21c caught up with them moments before they set out overseas again, with new projects lined up for Mexico, New York, Amsterdam and Berlin.

“We are buried in the studio [right now] working on some new works,” Broken Fingaz writes in an email. “We have lots of projects [on the go].”

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About Viva Sarah Press

Viva Sarah Press is an associate editor and writer at ISRAEL21c. She has extensive experience in reporting/editing in the print, online and broadcast fields. Her work has been published by international media outlets including Israel Television, CNN, Reuters, The Jerusalem Post and Time Out.