Free Cooper Union’s “Bharucha Confessional” (left, right, and bearded addition to Banksy original in center) (all images courtesy Free Cooper Union)

For the latest in their inventive visual mockery of Cooper Union president and unalloyed economic realist Jamshed Bharucha, the student activists of Free Cooper Union satirically reconfigured a Banksy work that popped up near the school’s campus over the weekend. The piece, listed on the Banksy website on October 12 and titled “Concrete confessional,” depicts a priest figure in pensive repose, an image drawn from a 1955 photograph of a clergyman hearing confession by the photographer Berni Schoenfield. Located in a sort of windowed concrete bunker on a construction site in front of the school’s Thom Mayne-designed building/monument to profligacy on East 7th Street, the frenzied attention garnered by the work seemed to be perfectly suited (and situated) for the kind of aggressively clever artistic practice that has become Free Cooper’s trademark.


Jamshed the Giant

And, sure enough, a cottony tuft of beard sprouted on the man’s chin, transforming him from provincial priest to Peter Cooper, the university’s founder. This modification was accompanied by a  well-executed Bansky-style illustration of Bharucha in the previously vacant concrete window next door, thus providing the tableau with a suitable confessor. “Free Cooper” was also scrawled in red letters on an adjacent concrete block, which was in turn “defaced” by a rendition of Banksy’s “The Musical” stencils, in this case a playful shill for Free Cooper’s subversive theater rather than the inscrutable dialectical act that Banksy has been visiting upon graffiti’d slogans since earlier this month.

Never ones to pass up the opportunity for good publicity (and in this respect above all others, the bottomless Banksy brouhaha is an ideal pretext), Free Cooper fired off a press release this morning commemorating the act, which they are calling the “Cooper Confessional.”

Free Cooper Union is pleased to present the repentance of Jamshed Bharucha.

“Cooper Confessional” depicts Cooper Union’s overpaid and visionless President, Jamshed Bharucha, as he confesses his transgression from a historically merit-based full scholarship model, to an expansionist tuition agenda. Hearing Bharucha’s lament is Peter Cooper, who founded the Cooper Union in 1859 and established the mission of the institution as necessarily providing free education to all admitted students while educating against the evils of debt.

This collaborative work is flanked by an image of the infamous Jamshed the Giant, who insists that must students PAY for years of financial mismanagement and administrative bloat at the Cooper Union, along with the title of the Free Cooper Union Player’s latest drama, Free Cooper: The Musical, which is the sequel to the group’s debut hit The Politics of Destruction.

As Banksy notes, “there’s nothing more dangerous than someone who wants to make the world a better place,” and with that in mind, and with many more plans for direct action, we continue to fight against tuition at Cooper Union and the rising tide of student debt.

Nearby, a send-up of Shepard Fairey’s ubiquitous “Obey” — featuring Bharucha’s bespectacled mug exhorting the viewer to PAY — completed the parodic tribute. And so a rising tide of street art lifted all boats.

Mostafa Heddaya is the former managing editor of Hyperallergic.