Head out to the Navy Yard, and you may notice a few new additions. An orange monster, outfitted in a tight “Jawn” T-shirt, now guards one of the area’s walking bridges. A large necklace with the words “Rusty Love” drapes down from an old ferry shed along the Delaware River. Cross-stitched flowers scale the walls of a former military building. And a 1984 Ford Thunderbird sits like a piñata, covered entirely in strips of colorful paper.
It’s all part of M.I.M.O.S.A., short for Mystery Island and the Marvelous Occurrence of Spontaneous Art. It’s the newest public art project from Group X, the anonymous group of Philadelphia-based artists, curators, and organizers who brought the popular, purple-tentacled Sea Monster installation to town in 2018 and the massive “cocoon” made out of tape that drew thousands of visitors last fall.
Starting today, M.I.M.O.S.A. features six installations from seven artists from India, Spain, Amsterdam, and, also here, including Philadelphia’s Kid Hazo and South Fellini.
“We view art as something that’s for everyone, and that’s always how we approach every project,” says one of Group X’s anonymous members. “We’re trying to break down the physical and socioeconomic walls between Philadelphians and art, and this invites people to see all kinds of art from artists all over the world.”
The display is free to the public, and stretches out across the Navy Yard, making it easy to socially distance from others. Some pieces are larger and easier to spot, while others require that you do a little scouting. The theme that connects them all is simple: using the built environment to express a sense of playfulness.
“The Navy Yard means a lot of different things to different people. Over the years, many people have worked here, have lived here, have memories here, and so we wanted to use the existing landscapes to just create an element of fun and surprise,” says Jennifer Tran, spokesperson for Navy Yard, collaborating with Group X for the third year in a row.
Enter the Navy Yard from Broad Street, and one of the first pieces you’ll see is The Ray of Hope by DAKU, a street artist from India whose installations use sunlight and shadow. This one features the word “hope” in 25 languages. Rays of sun shine through stencils to bring the word to life beneath a canopy set up in Crescent Park.
“The whole time that we’re in is very unique. What we need the most right now is hope,” says DAKU. “I surveyed the demographics of Philadelphia and used the languages of all the different communities living in the area. When people see the words in their own language, I hope that they feel more connected, to see signs of belonging.”
Each installation has an accompanying sign that explains about the art and the artist. You’ll learn that the paper-covered 1984 Ford Thunderbird, for instance, is a tribute to Vegas-based artist Justin Favela’s mom. Decked out in colors of the Guatemalan flag, it represents the first car she bought with her own money when she came to the U.S. from Guatemala.
“We had this idea in January, but you could say we got lucky,” says an anonymous Group X member. “All the installations are spaced out, outdoors, so people can walk around and experience free art. It works really well for this [pandemic] environment.”