Writing a wrong: Artist repurposes bandit signs in South Philly

A street artist is fighting illegal “bandit” signs in his South Philadelphia neighborhood.

Bandit signs are those hanging on telephone poles and chain-link fences with offers to buy junk cars, ugly houses, or car batteries for cash.

They are illegal. If you take them down, rewrite the message so it says something funny, and put it back up, they are still illegal. That’s why this South Philly street artist doesn’t want his real name used. He prefers “Huggie.”

Huggie will rewrite a sign reading “Cash for Diabetic Strips” into “Cash for Diabetic Kittens.” “I Will Buy Your House in Seven Seconds” becomes “I Will Rob Your House in 4 Seconds.”

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“This one said, ‘We Buy Houses,'” said Huggie, pointing to one of his remixed signs, “We Hex Houses,” stapled to plywood covering a trio of burned-out rowhouses in Point Breeze.

“I think — how many things can I change? ‘We Have Louses’ … doesn’t work. ‘We Hex Houses’ just came to me,” he says. “These three houses, all abandoned — it felt like the perfect place to put it.”

Most of them are funny. But Huggie is making a point. He believes people living among trash no longer see it, and hopes his signs will provoke them to fight against blight. He lives in a modest rowhome in Point Breeze, where bandit signs proliferate like trash, nailed to a pole.

“You see these signs in poor neighborhoods,” said Huggie. “You don’t see them in Rittenhouse, you’re not going to go to see signs in Society Hill. But you do see them in South Philly, in North Philly. It’s kind of disrespectful that way.”

What Huggie is doing may be illegal, but many say it’s not unethical. The anti-bandit sign website, TheBanditProject.org, encourages people to rip down bandit signs when they see them, but gives Huggie signs a pass.

“I pretty much admire what this artist is doing,” said Christopher Sawyer, who runs th website. “The way the signs are being defaced, it’s poking fun at the individuals who consider this form of advertising to be legitimate.

“It sends a subtext — we really don’t appreciate these bandit signs popping up all over our neighborhoods, Sawyer says. “A majority of these things are scams, or are run by unlicensed businesses.”

Huggie may have his own anonymous collectors. Many of his signs last only a few days — sometimes just a few hours — before someone takes them. Their pole-life is much shorter than that of original bandit signs he is fighting against.


The origins of “Huggie,” in his own words: http://www.gorillaupskirts.com/2012/10/the-origin-of-gorillaupskirts.html


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