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Street Art and Graffiti - Evolving into a True Form of Artistic Expression


“Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing. And even if you don't come up with a picture to cure world poverty you can make someone smile while they're having a piss.”

― Banksy, Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall (Book by Banksy)

Banksy, Girl with Balloon (London, 2004)

Graffiti and street art has become a mainstream art form that is widely appreciated and respected all around the world. Although these two terms, Graffiti and Street Art share a lot of similarities, there are some fine distinctions between both. Graffiti is mostly referred to text-based art, it is an earlier form of street art. Street art is more visual with illustrations and stencils. Most people use both these terms to define street art in general.

Early forms of Graffiti found on trains and walls in the streets of New York.

Street art, as we know it, has come a long way. Until recent years it wasn’t even an accepted form of art. Street art first emerged in the 1960s along with the birth of Hip-hop. New York was famous for it, gangs and territorial wars. It might be hard to believe, but Graffiti was a by-product of this. Gangs would use spray cans to ‘tag’ their territories with their names, their symbols or emblems associated with their group. It became an integral part of the community. Taggers from each gang would mark their territories and would get more points for tagging places that were harder to reach. This also prevented other gangs from overwriting and ruining their graffiti. Despite strict police action against vandalism, they would paint on public property like cars and the windows of apartments. The thrill of doing graffiti lay in the fact that it was a statement against the system. There was a sense of achievement that accompanied it when you could tag as many places as you could.

Cornbread is a graffiti practitioner from Philadelphia. He started tagging with his friends in the late 1960s. In 1971 Cornelius Hosey was killed in a gang war, the newspaper falsely identified him as Cornbread. After the incident Cornbread, tagged “Cornbread Lives” on an elephant at the Philadelphia Zoo for which he was arrested. He was identified as Darryl McCray from North Philadelphia.

Examples of how the 70s graffiti style was.

Evolution of Street Art

By the 1970s graffiti became a part of popular culture. A lot of teens turned to street art and graffiti to express their distrust in the establishment. It had become a powerful medium to convey their feelings. These decades were an important turning point in the history of street art. This was mainly a subculture where young people started creating a movement in response to their socio-political environment. This subculture slowly garnered enough respect and acceptance with time and became a true form of artistic expression.

Crack is Wack by Keith Haring

In the 1980s there was a shift from text-based works of early graffiti to a more visually conceptualized street art. Keith Haring was a notable name during this period. Street art was also a way for artists to bring art closer to the public. Soon the movement spread from the streets of New York to Europe. Street art became an integral part of the Bristol Underground Scene. One of the mainstream artists that influenced street art and its evolution into the art movement was Banksy. Banksy is an anonymous English Street Artist who uses his original works as a medium to comment on the socio-political issues that are happening all around the world.

Love is in the Bin by Banksy

For artists like Banksy street art has always been a way to critique systems and state their opinions. That is also why it has become so popular in Europe. Recently, one of Banksy’s canvases- The Girl with the Red Balloon-was auctioned off for around 1.4 million dollars. Soon after the auction, the painting fell from the canvas and through an in-built shredder. The prank was to make a statement to the world. Banksy even released a video showing how he installed the shredder years before the auction took place. On his Instagram, Banksy posted the video with the caption "The urge to destroy is also a creative urge" - Picasso.

Street Art in Bangalore

Artwork at MG road Metro Station Bangalore

In Bangalore, street art is more about creating awareness and making the city look beautiful. If you look at all the major street art in Bangalore, it is interesting to note that these works are commissioned. Artists are either permitted by the government or a private property holder to work on their walls. The government uses street art to make the city more appealing and to prevent people from dumping garbage there. Everywhere you look - the metro centre at Church Street, Chinnaswamy Stadium and so on - you can find street art that is commissioned by the government. The street art in Bangalore is about creating awareness among the people about various issues with society.

Some works that stand out from this category. Artists like Baadal Nanjundaswamy and Guess Who Graffiti are trying to bring street art as a mainstream media. Their works have been widely recognised and appreciated.

Baadal Nanjundaswamy planted a life-sized crocodile in the middle of a road after civic authorities failed to repair a pothole.

Guesswho says: 'On the day India successfully sent a spacecraft into orbit around Mars, a tweet with a picture of female scientists celebrating was an inspiration.'

Street art has reshaped itself in these spaces. They are a reminder of power-structures rather than a critique of them. It’s very difficult to find street art that is making a statement against the social structures and institutions. Those that do exist are rare and often removed. Street art in Bangalore is a government-funded form of social activism that everybody has somehow accustomed themselves to.

Street art has taken many shapes and forms in different regions. What started as territorial identification has been redefined and is recognised as a powerful and deeply moving form of art. Yet, in some spaces, it is turning into a tool for conservatism rather than rebellion.

As the freedom of speech and expression is being curtailed, it is all the more important for artists to dissent and expresses themselves. Street art has always been about breaking tradition and making statements. As it evolves, it will find new ways to convey messages and address socio-political issues.

Russian artist Dmitri Vrubel’s ‘My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love’at the Berlin Wall



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