Benny Cruz and Jens Franzén: Making “Old” Stuff New, Always Relatable and Relevant

Benny Cruz and Jens Franzén: Making “Old” Stuff New, Always Relatable and Relevant

jens portrait

Benny Cruz, interdisciplinary artist and THHM Donor photographed by Jens Franzén
Jens Franzén, photographer and THHM Donor photographed by Bruce Gilden (Magnum Photos, London, England, 2019)

These remarkable artists, based in Gothenburg, Sweden, donated photos of their temporarily installed work on public spaces around their city. 

What’s Important About These Items

Whatever your perspective and perception, art – be it “unofficial” or hung, installed, staged – exists everywhere we look. This includes outside, between where we live and where we work, shop, and hang out. Hip Hop, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring set the tone and raised the bar via graffiti art. While this remarkable example of visual storytelling is harder to come by in New York than it once was, stories are still being told (particularly in Gothenburg, Sweden and locations near), thanks to Benny Cruz and Jens Franzén

Between claiming a big space and presenting something equally unexpected and inspiring is what these men have been doing with – wait for it – helium-inflated balloons spelling out Public Enemy lyrics for one hour. The Hip Hop Museum is privileged and grateful to receive Jens’s photos of Benny’s work, some of which premiered in Queens, New York at Box Factory Gallery’s immersive exhibition in July 2022.  


Change,” by Benny Cruz and photographed by Jens Franzén, Feske Körka, Gothenburg, Sweden, April 4, 2021 

A different view of “Change,” by Benny Cruz and photographed by Jens Franzén, Feske Körka,  Gothenburg, Sweden, April 4, 2021 

According to Benny, besides balloons being easy to apply to a public space’s wall, there’s “no permission needed,” to do this, even when the wall is part of an iconic place, such as Feske Körka (the Fish Church or the Church of Fish) which locals refer to as “That Building” in Gothenburg where Change, inspired by Chuck D’s 2016 release “If I Can’t Change the People Around Me, I Change the People Around Me” by Mistachuck. When we spoke with Benny and Jens during their last trip to New York, Benny elaborated: “In my head, we don’t need permission. When people approach me [to discuss the installations], I can show them and explain. As a Brown person, I have experience with police officers. So I try to think ahead of steps and be very communicative; I don’t want to make a negative impression.” Jens cosigned and declared, “We always come prepared” with QR codes and Benny’s candid share. 

It’s certainly easier to move pieces the chess board than it is to move people from where we are in life. When Benny found inspiration in “Game Face,” a remarkable P.E. track on 1998’s He Got Game original soundtrack, he found an ideal space to install something that reminds us “We ain’t for the game, We for the change:” Gamlestadens fabriker, factories that have been part of Gothenburg’s industrial world for centuries. Jens told us how in life, “like in chess, we all have positions – royalty, soldier, peasant – and we all can win, regardless of our position.” 

And the people said, hell yeah. 

“Chess” by Benny Cruz and photographed by Jens Franzén, Gamlestadens fabriker (old town factories), Gothenburg, Sweden, July 17, 2021 

“Chess” by Benny Cruz and photographed by Jens Franzén, Gamlestadens fabriker (old town factories), Gothenburg, Sweden, July 17, 2021

Why Benny and Jens Donated These Items to the THHM

“If you don’t stand for something, you fall for anything,” and its various versions, is an adage attributed to everyone from Alexander Hamilton to Rosa Parks to Malcolm X. We can include Public Enemy in this roster. In 2007, when their 20th anniversary album, How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?, was released, it included “Harder Than You Think.” Their timeless lyrics, more important than ever now, show up particularly in this song:  

“Revolution means change 

Don’t look at me strange 

So I can’t repeat what other rappers be sayin’ 

You don’t stand for something 

You fall for anything 

Harder than you think 

It’s a beautiful thing.” 

We discussed the song, its statement depicted by balloons in a tram on Mölndals Bro (Mölndals Bridge) in Gothenburg, and why this piece was installed on a tram.  

First, the tram. Gothenburg is the only city in Sweden that operates trams, this one had stopped in Mölndals, and Benny knows a tram driver. He connected them to a driver who could loan them the vehicle. The opportunity presented a significant challenge: while the tram was parked, which it needed to be for the installation, it was parked for 15 minutes between scheduled runs. This meant Benny and Jens had to work and photograph faster than they ever had. While they always move quickly, Benny confirmed, because “This is how our installations work: making art without having negative impact on the space without having impact on the viewer. We take a picture, and we take it down. We never leave it up.” Jens recalled how they “put it up in 14 minutes, photographed it for one minute, the tram had to leave, and we took it down.” Simple as that. This work, presented on March 19, 2021, holds their record of being installed for the shortest time.  

The installation’s brief duration – from creation to activation to capture – is as impressive as it is meaningful. When asked why this statement in “Harder Than You Think” (noting how much the song’s title is truth), Benny declared, “Before I had a goal, I just went along day by day. Without believing in something, without standing for something, it was a destructive way to live. Jens cosigned, stating how much this song’s lines mean today when he sat back and sighed, “The line itself is very current – looking at the political climates around the world – because if you don’t have basic beliefs and commitments, you will fall for anything.”  

“If You Don’t Stand” by Benny Cruz and photographed by Jens Franzén, Mölndals Bro (Mölndals Bridge), Mölndal, Sweden, March 19, 2021

The first collaboration between Jens and Benny occurred on February 14, 2021, when they met at Esperantoplatsen (Esperanto Place) in Gothenburg where they built “Most of My Heroes.”  The title of this installation is a line in one of Public Enemy’s best-known songs, “Fight The Power,” which first appeared at the request of director Spike Lee for the original soundtrack of Do The Right Thing in 1989; another version was part of Fear of a Black Planet (1990). The line is a call out, a reminder that those who inspire us aren’t necessarily household names and worldwide celebrities: 

“I’m ready and hyped, plus I’m amped 

Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps 

Sample a look back, you look and find: 

Nothing but rednecks for 400 years if you check.” 

We spoke about the people included in our lists of heroes (Greta Thunberg for Jens, Frida Kahlo for Benny), and how one doesn’t need to be immortalized on postage to inspire. Benny shared, “I think about all the immigrants [including his family, who moved from Chile during the worst of the Pinochet regime] who’ve come to Sweden who aren’t seen as the heroes they are. People in Sweden forget, or they don’t know, that immigrants generate commerce. When my parents emigrated to Sweden, like so many people, they came to work. People need to recognize the value of people coming to their country to work.” 

We couldn’t have said it better. 

“Most of My Heroes” by Benny Cruz and photographed by Jens Franzén, presented by Linda Thorén, Benny Cruz, and Lilith Edwinsson (from left to right), Esperantoplatsen (Esperanto Place), Gothenburg, Sweden, February 14, 2021 
“Most of My Hereos” by Benny Cruz and photographed by Jens Franzén, Esperantoplatsen (Esperanto Place), Gothenburg, Sweden, February 14, 2021 

In Jens’s and Benny’s Words  

The Hip Hop culture made us who we are today. Hip Hop has been very present in our lives. The music, the visuals, the clothing: all the elements of the culture ran through our upbringings. Hip Hop was ‘our’ thing, for us and our friends in the neighborhood. For us to give to The Hip Hop Museum is a gift to us. Hip Hop culture is home. To be part of the THHM is love for the family.”
– Benny Cruz and Jens Franzén 

“Peace and Love” by Benny Cruz, photographed by Jens Franzén, Mölndals Galleria, Mölndal, Sweden, May 30, 2021 

Keep up with Benny and Jens in the web world on sites and socials. They are making art nonstop, and you can experience it via Benny’s website and on Instagram (@bennycruz and @jensismyname). 

Kate Harvie is a contributing writer for The Hip Hop Museum.
She is the author of a book and writes for Localeur, In Step Beauty, and OZY Media.

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