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Nov 12, 2021
Graffiti is a powerful global movement that has been practiced for centuries. We all like to leave our mark, whether with words or images. Humans are obsessed and have been from the day they were born. In fact, in ancient Greece and Rome people communicated by writing messages on bar walls. The word “graffiti” is derived from the Greek word for write, “graphein”.
Now in the 21st century, graffiti has exploded across the world as many artists began using it as a modern art form to convey messages through their work without any restrictions or limitations - only pure creativity! But things may change in coming years - with local governments moving in on Insta-friendly walls and artists struggling to avoid commercialization and keep their integrity. What does the future of graffiti hold?
Today’s Daily Dose is the ultimate guide for anyone who loves street art. We take you on a fascinating journey alongside unsung can-and brush wielders while introducing places where "wall bombing" is life or death, and showing how to become an expert graffiti snob with tons of insider tips!
— Based on Reporting by Josefina Salomon
What Your Parents Didn't Tell You About Graffiti
1 - Incognito Icon
Think graffiti, and Banksy is the first name to pop into your head, right? The superhero of today’s street art scene has gone from spraying walls in his native Bristol, England, to selling a canvas for a record-breaking $25.4 million. Known for his in-your-face political, anti establishment messages, the mystery man is also credited for making street art mainstream (think the girl with a balloon and the two police officers kissing). Alas, he says he’s not in it for the fame or the cash. “All graffiti is low-level dissent, but stencils have an extra history. They’ve been used to start revolutions and to stop wars,” the elusive artist once told author Tristan Manco.
2 - The Legal Question
With millions of spray paint cans brightening (or defacing) our city streets, the looming question remains: Is graffiti legal? The answer isn’t straightforward. In most cases, it depends on what the piece is and whether it’s been authorized. While some cities are waging a war against wall art in public spaces (authorities in Chicago have even removed commissioned pieces by mistake), others cannot get enough of it. Melbourne, Warsaw and Paris are encouraging artists to claim designated walls in a bid to attract tourists (for the ’gram, ya know?). Pablo Escobar’s native Medellín uses it as a way to engage marginalized youth. Fun fact: Outdoor art murals can help attract people to neighborhoods.
3 - A Political Weapon
It manifests in many shapes and forms — spray cans, but also paper, glue and stickers. So how can you actually tell what is Banksy-hot and what is not? Australian Fintan Magee, who paints large-scale hyperreal pieces depicting humans in vulnerable situations, says it all depends on the eyes observing it. “From the artist’s perspective, it is about intention and self-awareness,” he tells OZY. “If the artist intends to express a certain idea or image and is able to pull it off, then it’s good work.” For Boneta-Marie Mabo, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait artist based in Brisbane, Australia, the key is in the message an image can convey. “Street art is supposed to be political,” she tells OZY. “It’s supposed to scream at you, to tell you something, but I feel that it has been diluted so much that now it’s just pretty pictures on the walls that make people feel nice.”
Artists on the Rise
1 - Anna Garforth
Street art can have a positive social impact to be sure, but environmentally friendly it is not. In fact, most products used to create eye-catching pieces are made from chemicals and pollutants that are not particularly good for the air, nor artists’ lungs. So in comes Anna Garforth, one of the pioneers of “green graffiti,” who mixes water, milk, sugar and yes, moss, to create a paste she uses to paint. Her pieces, usually located in darker London alleys or areas with little exposure to natural light (moss doesn’t particularly love the sun) have a life of their own and grow with the seasons. And yes, these ones you can touch.
2 - Shamsia Hassani
Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women. When that woman is holding a spray paint can, the potential threats multiply. But that has not stopped this 33-year-old artist. Her murals, painted on anything from bombed-out buildings to hidden alleys, tend to depict strong women happily going about daily activities such as teaching, singing or working. But look closely and you’ll see their eyes and mouths are always closed, a nod to the broader struggles women face in Afghanistan.
3 - Saner
If Latin America’s rich street art scene was a country, Edgar Flores, better known as Saner, would be its Mexican ambassador. The artist manages to colorfully articulate and combine the splendor of his country’s modern culture with its exuberant Indigenous traditions. His art is so distinct and magnetic, it has crossed his country’s borders, and got him as far as Australia. Flores’ work features the renowned Nahuale masks, which, legend has it, can turn humans into animals. His creations also help bridge the growing gap between our day-to-day lives and the natural environment around us.
4 - Medo Kagonka
Think being a graffiti artist in the back alleys of New York and London is dangerous? Imagine what life is like for a young gay artist in Sudan. Medo Kagonka is one of the faces of the ongoing artistic boom in Africa’s third largest country since mass protests toppled Omar al-Bashir, one of the region’s longest-serving dictators, in 2019. Al-Bashir was not a fan of art and as soon as he left, artists took revenge with their paint cans. Medo’s depiction of a skeletal-looking hand, featuring a tag that reads “missing” painted on the wall of a morgue in Sudan’s capital city, Khartoum, is one of the most thought-provoking and inspiring in the city.
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Graffiti: Then & Now
1 - Ancient Art
Can a painting of a red wild pig made on the wall of an Indonesian cave more than 45,000 years ago merit comparisons to today’s guerrilla art? The image, which includes other smaller animals and human hands, could very well be an ancient form of Banksy, minus the political message. The archaeologists who discovered it this January said that to print it, these early artists would have had to put their hand on a wall and then spit pigment around it. No wonder the technique didn’t make it to our time.
2 - Grecian Roots
Graffiti as we know it today dates back several thousand years, to when ancient Greeks and then the Romans used the walls of their cities as boards to communicate. Just like an ancient form of the internet, they wrote everything from declarations of love (including some pretty raunchy ones), to tourist reviews, threats to enemies and political ads. See the evolution here? We don’t either.
3 - Classic Cornbread
Darryl McCray, popularly known as Cornbread, will go down in history as the original modern graffiti artist — and that love was the force behind his work. The story goes that he fell so hard for a girl named Cynthia that in order to impress her, McCray, who loved to print his nickname everywhere, wrote “Cornbread loves Cynthia” throughout her Philadelphia neighborhood. But he didn’t stop there. Cornbread became a household name, tagged to a plane owned by the Jackson 5 and even an elephant in the local zoo. Did he get the girl in the end? You betcha.
4 - Pioneers of the Eighties
Long before the British artist became synonymous with street art, there was the legendary Brooklyn-based Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring (remember those fuller stick figures?) and Blek le Rat, the father of stencil graffiti and Bansky’s most obvious influence. These three held the key to a politically charged era when scribbles on public walls evolved into a form of revolution. Found in dark back alleys in the 1980s, the work of these artists is today exhibited alongside well-known art legends. A piece by Basquiat, who died in 1988 at age 27, broke the record in 2017 for the highest-selling piece of any American artist at an eye-watering $110.5 million.
5 - Looking Forward
As in the distant past, what we choose to paint on walls often serves as a mirror with which to highlight the pressing issues of the day. From George Floyd-inspired graffiti in places as diverse as Kenya and Syria, to depictions of nurses and doctors dressed as angels and superheroes, and politicians struggling to make sense of it all, it’s an essential form of political commentary. “Artwork, even street art which is not permanent, plays a part in society, in culture and in history because it can paint a picture or tell a story about a particular time and place,” says Mabo, who painted a mural in a Brisbane locale infamous for its racist history with colorful birds representing Indigenous peoples and colonizers as rabbits, a pest introduced to Australia by Europeans.
Quote of the Day
“If I paint a wild horse, you might not see the horse... but surely you will see the wildness!”
— Pablo Picasso
How do you feel about graffiti on your streets? Share your thoughts, send us an email at email@example.com!
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