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Germany, Greece

Protest Art

Graffiti is commonly considered an illegal act of vandalism against public or private property. Another way to think of graffiti is an art form. There are real masters of spray cans decorating the sides of buildings with elaborate murals worthy of display in any gallery. Graffiti is a form of expression favored by the youth of the world. Weapon of choice? Spray can. Some of the most thought-provoking graffiti has been produced by those who wish to passively express their opinions — against war, against their government, or oppression, or an economic recession.

Graffiti as political commentary.

If you raise a wall, it becomes a canvas for one with imagination… or simply something to say but nowhere (safe) to say it. If you raise a wall meant to separate people, then that wall becomes a barrier, or a symbol of oppression.

One of the most famous of these walls is the Berlin Wall, which separated East and West Berlin for 28 years and acted as a barrier to freedom. Immediately after it’s erection, the West side saw its first signs of graffiti. The East side, in start contrast, remained covered in bare white-wash.  Eventually every inch of the West wall was covered with colorful commentary, whether in pictures or words, reflecting the hope and optimism of the West itself.

a message from the West

After the Wall was taken down in 1989, fragments remained and were preserved as a testament to the past. The art — it IS art — on its sides preserved. See a slide show of the wall, 20 years after its destruction. http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/berlinwall/photos/photos-graffiti.html

There is another Wall in the world today. The apartheid wall in Palestine  a.k.a. “Israeli Separation Wall” separates Ramallah from East Jerusalem. More words than images decorate this wall. They are often messages to Palestinians themselves, or to those invading forces. Most simply protest occupation; some scream of hope for the future.  Some of the phrases sprayed on the wall are as simple as “we need bridges not walls” or “no more walls, nor more war”. Some are more humorous, such as “CTRL + ALT + DELETE”, as if one could simply erase the wall with a quick command.

erase the apartheid wall

Some is more hopeful, such as a silhouette image of a girl being lifted by balloons… as if she could just float over the wall peacefully. Perhaps she has family on the other side.

floating to freedom

Some is just blunt — either angry blunt with “F*** Israel” or peaceful blunt with “Make Love not War”.

an oldie but a goodie

Quit the violence and care instead about human lives seems to be the main message of choice. Not just in the Middle East, but also in a place as close to home (for me) as Athens. Athens may have no physical walls of  separation, but it does have a major recession thanks to the economic crisis and political instability, and from these have sprouted strikes and rallies and (sometimes violent) protests. The people are hurting in their pockets and their bellies, and their government hasn’t seemed to help for over 2 years now. And while some of them throw fire or cement or Molotov cocktails… others throw words and images and symbols onto walls throughout the city. They get their message across… peacefully.

You're all Wrong, Just Care

Flowers for bugs, colors and love

Anarchist symbols throughout the city

“Time” magazine has a great photo essay on the graffiti throughout Athens, which is predominantly political commentary against the economic recession and violent protests. http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2099542_2322652,00.html

People are angry and have opinions, but instead of active aggression many choose to passively speak their mind on the walls of [or around… or through] their city.

So maybe it’s time you open your eyes and listen.


About Elizabeth

PhD student in Classical Art & Archaeology at UVA with a focus on Greek heroes and iconography (yet forever awed by Roman 2nd and 4th style painting). Salsa and Argentine tango dancer extraordinaire. Weightlifter and Crossfitter the world over.


One thought on “Protest Art

  1. Word. Check out Banksy at http://www.banksy.co.uk, he’s the guy who did the piece with the little lady floating above the Palestinean wall.

    Posted by blueeyedbrie | December 1, 2011, 9:44 PM

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