This month, Dazed features an exclusive exposé on The Spartans of New York – the homeless street fighters of Union Square who came together in the summer of 2008 to create a disciplined community founded on hope, mutual respect and brotherhood. To celebrate the launch of the issue, The Dazed Gallery is presenting an exhibition of photographs of The Spartans by James Mooney, the Irish photographer who has documented their lives. Below is an extract from this month’s feature by our editor, Rod Stanley.
In Union Square, a corner of New York known for its fair share of junkies and derelicts, two young men are having a fight – they circle each other, until one lunges forward and they exchange a quick succession of sharp blows, before the other catches him off balance and sends him smashing to the concrete with a kick. The victor showboats for a moment, then helps his opponent up; as they shake hands, the small crowd applauds. Back in April 2008, this was the beginning of an alliance that would give a group of young homeless people with a shared interest in martial arts status, local infamy, and even hope.
As summer came, they organised regular fights, even welcoming challengers to step up and have a go (main rule: no blows to the head). A strict hierarchy emerged, and anyone deemed to have bullied a weaker opponent would be ostracised for a period of time, or in extreme cases made to fight the two top dogs simultaneously. Science, an imposing, thoughtful figure in his mid-30s, and one of the three originators along with Spyder and Legend, gave the group its name – The Spartans.
James Mooney, an Irish photographer living in the area, spent last year documenting their lives. “They trusted me and opened up to me,” he explains. “So, I felt I had a responsibility to tell the truth as I see it.” He adds that local media painted a negative picture of the scene. “That’s what sells papers, right? So, they were smoking joints – big deal! I never saw anyone brutally beaten. That’s why I didn’t want to show much fighting. I wanted to show this community they created – a group of homeless people who went and did all this off their own back. It’s quite amazing.”
The Spartans opening party takes place on Thursday 23, April, 7-9pm at The Dazed Gallery, 112-116 Old Street, London, EC1V 9BD