The street provides a space for artists of all standards, from the playful and innocent to the political, aggressive and outlandish. Graffiti is still a controversial issue though it’s making waves in other areas of art, politics and culture. The origin of graffiti is difficult to define; humans have been painting in their habitat since the original cave paintings, Ancient Egypt and Rome. Modern street art bears its roots in Hip Hop culture, and generally expresses underlying social and political views.
Graffiti in Norwich is largely discriminated against; the council offers services for street cleaning and graffiti removal upon request. Artists are frequently described as “menaces” by local newspapers, though the community shows support for the art. Youth clubs offer graffiti workshops with established artists. There are also free walls and spaces allocated for legal graffiti, such as the pedestrian underpass below Grapes Hill dual-carriageway, and the abandoned warehouse near Upper Green Lane. Some believe that legal walls defy the point of street art, though like any form of art, its definition and execution are down to the interpretation of the artist.
Around the world graffiti is not only becoming decriminalised but encouraged. In Queens, New York an entire block, 5pointz, is dedicated to street art. 5pointz is administrated by artist Meres One who reviews work before it is put up for the public. With decriminalisation came freedom; artists gained space and time to create their works and with that came rapid advancements. Better technologies were developed and the nature of street art has since evolved.
It is hard to have an article about street art without mentioning giants such as Banksy or Obey. Obey progressed from commenting on the political world with their propaganda and became a part of it when they created their iconic ‘Hope’ poster, a screen print of Barack Obama for the 2008 U.S. Presidential election. Banksy turned his guerrilla art into a brand and profitable enterprise.
There are, however, hundreds of artists that choose to exhibit their work on city walls rather than galleries or museums, freeing their art from rule or regulation. Tamara Alves, Vhils, Arm Collective, Eime, Paulo Arraiano, Mr Brainwash, Rubin, Neck Face, Gaia and Chicken Boy to name a few.
Beirut, Lebanon, has a huge art scene. Graffiti and street art has become definitive of the city’s identity. Twenty years ago the streets were occupied with stencils and inscriptions relating to the civil war and sectarian politics. In recent years their street art and graffiti changed dramatically and pieces now offer a critical look at Lebanese society with emphasis on unity and humour. Last year an event was held at the Beirut Art Centre called White Wall that was used to display and celebrate the Lebanese graffiti scene.
The Beirut Photo Marathon is another event that exemplifies the importance of street art as part of modern Lebanese culture. The photo marathon welcomes all to take photographs defining the city, and street art is captured on a huge scale as part of the city’s image. Among the artists who work there are Zed, Kabrit, Phat Two, and EPS who once said “We can change the world and make it a better place and if not completely better, at least better looking”.
A new form of art and communication called Dead Drops is a movement that started in New York by artist and architect Aram Bartholl, who plants USB sticks into brick walls where anyone with a USB compatible device can plug in and drop or receive files. Each USB stick contains a readme.txt explaining the project. This form of sharing and communicating is completely free of regulation, much like graffiti.
Unlike exhibits and museums the street is free to the public and the artist. Credit is given to the artists with the greatest skill and competence, every career starts from the same position and authenticity comes at exactly the same price. The cost of true authenticity is often measured in years rather than pounds.