The Politics of Street Art

It is the message on the streets that hides in plain sight in the underbelly of cities all over the world. Street Art shunned, criminalised and feared. It remains the singular unmoderated art form and I, Lauren Knight went to investigate why.

Contemporary exhibited art has become desensitized and a product of the machine that has silenced the artists’ independence; Street Art is coined the resistance. To some it is pretty pictures, to others it is vandalism; but for a few they can see that in actual fact it is much more politically rooted.

Bee Gifford is a third year fine artist studying at Norwich University of the Arts. She often bases her work around the human body – first she will take the photo of her subject, then blow it up and paste it to a wall. She will then paint over the image.

She recognises that much of her imagery makes people feel uncomfortable, but she says that this is the importance of it.

She said “We are not used to seeing the real body  any more, if anything we find it offensive to look at now, which is ridiculous!.”

It is a unison of an oppressed society, it is the medium of artists to communicate with the general public and make known the invisibility of ideology and speak up to fight against the inequalities the everyday masses face.

Beirut; the breeding place of contradiction has given birth to a swarm of small images deposited throughout the city; its population’s response to the war and conflict with Israel that has torn their home apart. It has made known their struggles, to the many travellers that pass through and observe the murals decorating the city’s streets.

Similar fluctuations of visual culture have donned buildings in Russia, to mark the protests of the people against Vladimir Putin’s regime against LGBTQ rights and in demonstration of the Pussy Riot case that took place in 2012.

Bee has been inspired by many of the students she has met at the university, in particular the people she lives with because of their courage to get their work out there because of how important they believe it is for people to see it, even when the methods of doing so has sometimes proven difficult.

She will often display her work in the ‘highest, loudest and most obvious place’ she can find.

Often this is part of the challenge for the artists, as they compete with other to find the best spaces to display their work.

She said: “I leave them in places that I know people are going to see them, , I think that it’s an important part of it for me, I think once it’s out there, it’s something to be proud of, it doesn’t give you the option to hide  behind a perfect image.”

Globally, street art has been used as a medium of inequality to capture issues relevant to our contemporary society, such as stability, monopolization of state and is the voice of the minority speaking out against racism, sexism and homophobia.

In Medellin, Columbia Street Art has become a cohesive part of their lifestyle. Triggered by the death of graffiti artist Diego Felipe Becerra in 2011, who was killed in the San Javier underpass whilst spray painting his signature ‘Felix the Cat’ by police. The public outrage that followed has changed the community’s view of Street Art and they legalised that people could decorate certain walls in the city.

Many of the images are the artists’ own statements in response to the act that took place and seemingly, following the events of 2014 and the cases of police brutality that have come to light after the death of Michael Brown; and our re-evaluation that racism never truly disappears, it would seem these messages are still prevalent.

Street Art has also been used in the past as a great weapon promoting awareness of sexism. In a world that has normalised the rape culture scene and serialisation of women and that have become unaware of the equalities of gender that still exist, Street Art is the reminder to all of us, everywhere, that it is still very much alive and that we need to still be fighting. The leaked nude pictures, of over 100 celebrity women for public entertainment states all is not well.

Public outrage and protests led to the city’s change in attitude toward street art as well as the arrest of the officers. Certain walls became legal for graffiti. Artists were hired to do beautiful murals – mostly with political or social messages.

Its hopes as an industry are to make the individual artist’s message become one of the people by placing controversial art work within the public domain and allowing freedom of expression that is not being guided by an institutions idea of what constitutes art.

Bee believes there will never be a meeting ground between a gallery and the Street Artist, but she doesn’t think this a bad thing.

She said: “Street Art is not in a gallery for people to nod their heads at and mutter or tut to each other about, it has no price tag on it, it’s not there for money-making reasons. It is usually there to gain recognition or to make a statement.”

It is not a practice limited to only one corner of the world, it is a community that has spread from mid-60’s Philadelphia to infect every city all across the globe and become the weapon of a creative youth and a speakerphone of the ignored.

She believes Street Art is important because it allows people to create their own platform to speak from, as they wouldn’t get it any other way. By putting their work in as many places as possible they demand to be heard and noticed.

The only reason people see it as vandalism is that authorities have told them to view it that way. Many people use art and Graff as a way of commenting on different issues, but the negative view many people have of it is simply that the canvas has become the city they are trying to comment on.

Miss Gifford said: “the main aspects of being a street artist is claiming territory, claiming  walls, and against  others will not being given a space or a boundary  to work within.”


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