Top 5 politically inspired street artists

My recent Kulturcast episode with Dave the Chimp got me thinking.

Dave’s very much into the idea that art should be created for a reason. To highlight an issue, offer support to a cause, or just to use your voice. But not for self-publicising.

The political side of street art is one that’s very interesting, few other art forms have the potential to reach so many, especially now in the age of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

So whose art has been some of the most powerful? I pulled together my top 5 chin-scratching, politically inspired artists and their murals from near and far, recent and long ago.

Escif, Sweden 2015

Escif’s work is almost entirely politically motivated in one way or another. His murals have made clear his position on a number of issues. In this one he sets out support for Greece’s recently elected left-wing Syriza party, and the nation.

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This mural hooks onto the ancient Greek tradition of breaking plates against marble floors of to ward off evil spirits with the clatter of broken crockery. Was this gigantic plate enough to ward off western Europe’s politicians? Only time will tell…

Blu, Berlin 2008

Blu is like the street art Yoda of political muralism. His razor sharp observations emblazoned on the biggest spaces in Europe and across the world. Of his many, many inspired paintings, my favourite is definitely the East/West mural (sadly no longer) on Berlin’s Cuvrystrasse.

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"A Berlin Wall"

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As a self confessed Berlinophile, I loved this mural for 2 reasons. The first, being it’s relation to of one of the most fascinating times in European history. And secondly, the sly East and West hand symbols, with each character representing the waryness of Berliners to their counterparts over the wall.

Banksy, London 2016

There’s a lot of Banksy-bashing going on these days.

Many accuse his work of being a bit tired, symbolising everything that’s ‘gone wrong’ in street art. Basically that his art is now so sought after, people will fight among themselves to be the first to crowbar it off a wall, like it’s some Willy Wonka-esque golden ticket to a hassle free existence.

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Banksy French

The ongoing refugee crisis, which seems to have dropped in newsworthiness from the mainstream media recently, is highlighted here via QR code (incidentally, about the only time these have ever been useful).

The link takes you to a video of the French authorities inhumanely bulldozing camps and using tear gas in Calais refugee camps.

Those who dislike Banksy’s work surely can’t have much to say against this important awareness raising piece.

Stik, London 2010

Stik’s one of my favourite artists. His style is simple, clean and colourful which really appeals to me. What’s impressive is that his work generally consists of 6 lines and 2 dots – but their real beauty lies in the powerful, and often sad, messages they put across.

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Many of his paintings deal with the issue of gentrification in London, especially in areas such as Hackney.

This piece highlights the sadness and ultimate pointlessness of the destruction of the creative hub, the Foundry, on Old Street. The open art space used by a young Banksy, Faile and Invader was bought over by property developers before being left empty. Seriously…

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Special mention to this piece as well, I couldn’t mention Stik and only choose one after all! This one demonstrating togetherness, at a time when some politicians in the UK seem determined to undermine and undo the multicultural melting pot our country has become.

Dave the Chimp, London 2016

Finally, the man who planted the seed for this blog in my head! Dave the Chimp’s not one for wasting an opportunity to get his opinion heard.

As part of the #notacrime project, his work helped to raise awareness of the mistreatment of people who follow the Bahai faith in Iran – many are banned from teaching and studying purely because of their religion.

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Dave’s ‘human beans’ support the Bahais and aim to raise awareness, via the ‘#notacrime hashtag, of this unbelievable persecution of Iranians by their own government.

Let’s chat!

So, there you have it, my current favourite politically inspired artists and their murals.

Who are your current favourites? Do you think street art is the place for political commentary? Share your views with me over on Facebook, Twitter or comment below.

Steven
UKB

Choose blogging (and also UKB, please!)

Well, it’s hardly believable, but it’s been a full 12 months since the last UK Blog Awards public vote.

And, to coincide, it’s my annual plead for voting favours! As with each UK Blog Awards so far, the public vote determines the top 10 blogs to make it to the final, so every vote really does count. This is where you have all so generously lent a hand in the past!

You can cast your vote below, or by clicking on Edinburgh’s famous miscreant, Mark ‘Rentboy’ Renton, here outlining some of the good bad and ugly of blogging…

VOTE FOR UKB

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UKB again is entered into the Arts & Culture category and has some great competition, including one of my favourite blogs, and last year’s runner up, Hookedblog. So if you are willing to spare your votes (more on that in a bit) for UKB, it would be HUGELY appreciated.

This year, there’s an additional twist. Every day until the deadline on the 25th of January you can cast a vote, so if you really want to give your backing to the blog you can vote every day, if you were so inclined! No pressure mind you, just if you’d like to.

Just one of your votes would be a massive boost, so if you’ve ever liked a blog, or a post on Facebook, or retweeted on Twitter, or double tapped on Instagram, it would be amazing if you could cast your vote for the blog.

That’s enough for now, in the meantime, thanks for reading the blog and supporting it throughout the year, it really means a lot!

Steven
UKB

Kulturcast episode 1: Interview with Fraser Gray

It’s been a long time in coming, but finally I’ve gotten round to recording my first ‘real’ interview podcast, and accompanying video, this week with Fraser Gray – Dundee-born visual artist and arts educator.

As a blog that aims to help promote Edinburgh’s growing public art scene, it felt appropriate to begin with Fraser as one of an increasing number of artists transforming select walls and shutters around the city and its suburbs.

At his new studio at Edinburgh Palette we touched on his roots in graffiti, which led to a Fine Arts education at Dundee’s Duncan of Jordanstone College. These days his work can be found painted onto prominent city centre spots in Leith and Abbeyhill.

We also spoke at length about the creeping marketing influence on murals by larger multinational companies, and the resulting subversion of current advertising laws that are beginning to make some quarters increasingly suspicious of ‘street art’.

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I guess you could say we covered a lot of ground, some specific to Fraser’s work, others less so, but it was all very interesting – a good time and beer was had!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this first episode. Any feedback and suggestions for future podcasts, as ever, gratefully received.

Thanks once again to Fraser and his studio-mate Kyle for allowing me to be generally annoying with my camera and equipment for a good few hours!

Steven
UKB

Currently showing – Meadowbank Velodrome Graffiti Facelift

It was back in September that the WIPE (Work in Progress Edinburgh) group set about giving the tired looking wooden Meadowbank Velodrome in Edinburgh a graffiti-style facelift.

The group of independent artists, creative practitioners, urbanists and activists work collaboratively to improve urban environments, support communities, and make better use of public and vacant spaces through creative and temporary projects – and this was one of their biggest collaborations to date and certainly the most unusual.

So, I hear you ask, why did it take until September to cover one of the more unusual street art projects in my own town. My answer? I was…ummm…letting the paint dry? No, wait…

Nah, I’ve got nothing.

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Anyway, I did finally make it along to check out the work that was on offer from the jam, and shot a short film as opposed to a gallery of photos. Particularly epic was Chris Rutterford’s cycling octopus. Cycling, for obvious reasons, was one of the recurring themes, so it was cool to see a common thread in some of the pieces.

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Largely letter work, the whole site is pretty much covered now, and it really gives the creaking wooden velodrome a more contemporary feel. It’s a real gem of a spot, and it would be a tragedy for this to be lost completely.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video and get to see one of Edinburgh’s more unusual locations in a whole new light. Nice work, WIPE! Looking forward to the next big project.

Steven
UKB

Currently showing – Berlinstyle [Legal graffiti documentary]

A week or two ago, I was contacted by Kai Imhof at Motion of Styles, about a new 15 minute documentary, Berlinstyle, he’d been producing. Back on the Sunday night doc-trail, I fired it up to see what it had to offer.

Berlinstyle documents the passion to create and the current developments within the legal graffiti scene in Berlin.

The short film follows 4 artists living and working in the German capital at the moment, and delves into their different styles and approaches, all effectively spawned from one place, traditional graffiti roots.

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RawsRaws

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Following the “old schooler”, Dejoe (who started his journey into the world of graffiti in the ’80s), the “new schooler”, Raws (representing the newest generation of writers), illustrator Stereoheat (well known for his detailed female characters), and painter Base23 (whose work adapts classic graffiti styles into abstract robot animals), we are treated to a wide range of views and thoughts on graffiti, demonstrating how diverse the scene can be, and how the term ‘graffiti’ can be used interchangeably but refer to a ever widening spectrum of artistic styles.

As you’d expect, some really nice examples on display, great visuals and a cool soundtrack make this a really enjoyable 15 minute watch. Check it out and connect with Motion of Styles on Facebook or watch more productions of theirs on Youtube.

Steven
UKB

The St+art of something big in India?

A conversation with the creative minds behind India’s largest street art festival.

Colourful and chaotic, fragrant and fast-paced, spiritual and social. Just a few of the ways to sum up life and culture in India, a country that can’t help but leave a mark on those who have experienced first hand the sensory overload of its streets.

But despite its rich heritage and frenetic urban expanses, I reckon that contemporary art (in the form of what we now call ‘street art’) is not something that many of its 1.25 billion citizens would raise as a part of city life. Well, at least in comparison to those living in the European equivalents such as Barcelona, London or Berlin.

So when I was invited to check out the making of ‘India’s largest mural’ (check out the full video here) a 120×150 foot mural of Dadasaheb Phalke, the father of Indian cinema, I was surprised as well as impressed to find that it was the showpiece from St+art Mumbai 2014 – a street art festival, now thrown annually, with India’s most populous cities as the constantly changing backdrop.

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I had the chance to chat with the St+art India team who are aiming to bring another dimension to the country’s already loud and proud public spaces in the biggest edition so far of this ambitious festival, St+art Delhi 2015.

Giulia Ambrogi, Festival Curator, and I batted back and forth on this project as well as the state of the street art scene in the country. Here’s what I found out…

UKB: What is the St+art India project?

Giulia Ambrogi, St+art India: The St+art India Foundation was born two and a half years ago thanks to a project called “Khirkee Extension” which was practically the first street art project in India, held in Delhi in the neighbourhood of Khirki.

A few artists and some small walls, but it got great feedback from the people in the neighbourhood. There was great energy around it, proof of the need to act in the urban fabric in a new and unconventional way.

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Mattia Lullini’s mural for the Khirkee Extension Street Art Project

Arjun Bahl, Hanif Kureshi, Akshat Nauryal, Thanish Thomas, and myself (Giulia Ambrogi) the co-founders of St+art India Foundation, met on this occasion for the first time and decided to create something much wider.

From scratch, the aim was to establish a platform to promote urban and street art on the Indian landscape by providing a collaborative ground for artists from all over the world. The goal of the project is for art to reach a wider audience while having a positive impact on the community.

UKB: So why set up a street art project in India?

GA: Why not?!

All kidding aside, India is a country in which street life is among some of the most bustling in the world. Everything happens in the streets. Vendors of all types of goods, food, tailors, barbers, cobblers and unfortunately the homeless…a vibrant life in which it’s necessary to give a contribution, to open new perspectives, to involve people and redefine their spaces.

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A typical lively street scene from the last time I set foot in Mumbai

Culture, especially contemporary art culture, is something always perceived as inaccessible. In India even more because of the lack of public museums and institutions. Over here art is mostly spread by galleries. This makes it closed and sterile when instead should be open to everyone, being so important as a tool for a social and cultural growth.

“…It has been truly challenging because of the characteristics of the city itself. More traffic, more chaos, and difficulties commuting…”

UKB: What lessons did you learn from the inaugural event in Delhi in 2014? What was successful and not so successful, and how did you use that to build the 2015 edition back in the Delhi?

GA: It has been truly challenging because of the characteristics of the city itself. More traffic, more chaos, and difficulties commuting.

When you have several sites simultaneously open in 4 different areas in the city, 25 artists to manage in one month, 2 indoor exhibitions, 7 workshops, a graffiti jam, a b-boying workshop and contest, and 3 talks and the city doesn’t help you…everything becomes even more difficult!

Mainly we learnt: “Go bigger, go slower”!

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Rukkit‘s work in progress at Gol Market sub station in New Delhi (© Pranav Mehta)

This is the reason why we decided to stretch the Delhi 2015 project over two months, February and March, working with two or three artists each week. We also decided to act in the city in a more organic way focusing on specific areas at specific times.

UKB:  How popular or appreciated is street art in India? What’s the legality of ‘graffiti’ at the moment and is it prevalent?

GA: It’s kind of unbelievable how fast is growing the street art community in India after St+art Delhi 2014. Just over a year and a half ago.

Artists as Harshvardhan Kadam or Amitabh Kumar are starting their own projects in their hometowns of Pune and Bangalore, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (the first Contemporary Art Biennale in India) opened the door to street art interventions, and the Goethe Institute in Chennai organized a street art festival a few weeks ago.

It’s blooming, exploding, because people especially youngsters are enthusiastic and the ground is ready.

“…there is a wide variety of styles and techniques which are hard to explain with labels and in most of cases, deeply rooted in Indian culture…”

On our website we have and application online to be part of the crew or to submit as an artist and it’s mind blowing the amount of emails we receive daily. We have now more than 25 volunteers who are collaborating with us every day full time and many more who join us when free from their jobs.

Without them this project wouldn’t be possible and it’s just awesome to be supported by young citizens and street art lovers who want to make the difference. This participation is important for the Foundation as education and activism are crucial goals.

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Amitabh Kumar in Fort Kochi for Kochi-Muziris Bienniale

Concerning the graffiti scenario in India, there are more and more graffiti writers who are illegally painting in many Indian cities.

There is a law against illegal expression on walls which is pretty old and born for a different reason, but at the same time the phenomenon is not yet so vast to be recorded as “dangerous” or outrageous and be widely prosecuted.

UKB: Is there an underground art, street art or graffiti community in India? How would you compare it to say those in London, Berlin or Paris and what styles are popular?

GA: As I said, there is. It’s growing, but at the moment it’s not as big as those European cities because it’s at the first stages. It’s still small but there’s a fertile circuit in which many of the oldest members belong to the same art college, Baroda University, which is now one of the hubs for the upcoming street art generation.

There is a great variety of styles and techniques which are hard to explain with labels and in most cases is deeply rooted in the Indian culture whether in the concepts and actions in the city such as Daku, or in the styles and stories as in the case of Harshvardhan Kadam Amitabh Kumar and Harsh Raman.

This aspect is particularly interesting, making the difference among the too often homogenised and globalised expressions and languages.

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An example of Harshvardhan Kadam’s work from Mumbai in 2014

UKB: There’s a lot of involvement from local communities in this project. How important was it to make this more than an exhibition and include the locals? How have people been encouraged to get involved and how have they benefited from the project?

GA: We try every time to gel with the community in which we work. It’s essential not to invade places but to create new spaces to give to the people of the neighbourhood.

Most of the time it is a natural involvement that starts from the permissions process, in which we explain the project, and continues with the direct interaction between us, the community and the artists.

“…above all it’s key to work with a view to changing something in the common awareness of what public spaces are, and can be. It’s not just a matter of beautifying the cities or being a cool festival…”

It’s a real time practice, a work in progress in which the dialogue with the people of the area is always stimulating. For the artists it’s a way to understand, even in few days, a different reality and include some of its elements in their work.

We want to trigger a sense of belonging to the artwork itself, it’s the best way to preserve the piece . Above all it’s key to work with a view to changing something in the common awareness of what public spaces are, and can be. It’s not just a matter of beautifying the cities or being a cool festival.

Other times we organise specific workshops with the communities, as we did in Dharavi (the biggest slum in Asia) with groups of kids, as we are doing right now with Olek.

We are involved in three different communities that we wanted to give a voice to and participate in the realisation of all the crochet pieces which Olek has designed and will create for her installation.

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Olek leading a group of residents in preparation for the unveiling of her most ambitious crochet project

A group of refugees, one from a village on the outskirts of Delhi and another from the crochet community of India, are collaborating together to make the project happen. This is also a way to bring a piece of work and a tradition which belongs to the women and which is made in the indoor hidden spaces, into a public space. Empowering those women in the collaborative creation of something unique.

We can enhance those communities and make their territories important in the geography of the cities, switching on lights on neglected areas to create new cultural centres and areas of interest.

UKB: How did you select the local and international artists to be involved? What was it about these artists that you felt would fit with the Delhi landscape?

GA: India is still a virgin territory for street art hence we are working on bringing a new “visual education”. The selection starts by considering the style of the artist and his or her capability to merge with the different surroundings, to be influenced by the context and dialogue with it.

Figurativism and use of bright colours are some of the criteria that we consider but mostly the site specific approach which in some artists is pretty marked. Each artist is giving a particular and unique touch to the landscape of the city, we are excited for each one of them!

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DalEast’s birds at the Lodhi Colony in Delhi have attracted the now expected level of awe and acclaim from observers 

UKB: How did you come to pick the locations for this year’s edition?

GA: The current edition of the festival is in deep collaboration with the government in order to interact more with the fabric of the city and with all the elements that represent and mark the city itself. Iconic buildings, flyover pillars, underpasses and government buildings are the main locations we are working on.

Plus, as always, the focus is on some neglected areas such as homeless shelters, with the objective of enhancing their visual appeal and also help give more visibility to the people who live in those areas.

UKB: What would you say will be the highlights of the Delhi edition of the festival? Any particular project you are most proud of or looking forward to most?

GA: Each one has its own specificity and importance, just to give you some insights:

Axel Void’s piece in Azadpur, the biggest fruit and vegetable market in Asia, on the Delhi Cold Storage. This area is one of the poorest and bustling in the city, an incredible variety of people cross this place every day and the building lies on a packed main road through Delhi.

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Axel Void’s impressive mural at Azadpur for St+Art Delhi 2015

The building itself is humongous. This piece, a classical, extraordinary still life, reminiscent of old masters as Caravaggio or Goya, in this context it’s a visual and cultural revolution.

Okuda in Khan Market: This is one of the fanciest markets in town, and painted on a government building. A sort of untouchable, apparently unchanging, high class spot completely transformed by his explosive piece.

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Okuda matching the colours of India with this large scale piece at the city’s Khan Market

Lady Aiko and DalEast in Lodhi Colony: They started the transformation of an entire neighbourhood in what it will be an open air gallery.

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Lady Aiko (above) and Dal East brought their inimitable styles to Lodhi Colony

Olek at the family night shelter in the Sarai Kale Khan area of New Delhi: 184 night shelters give protection and a place to sleep to many homeless but they seem invisible to the most. She will make it visible by wrapping it in her crochet work, turning the light onto a social issue, which is easier not to look at.

UKB: What’s the long term aim of St+art India, or is it more short term much like these ephemeral artworks?

GA: There is absolutely a long term aim. The idea is to go to different cities in India, also to go beyond the walls by doing temporary and permanent installations, to expand our organization by collaborating with urban designers, architects, the traditional hand typographer painters. Check this out – www.handpaintedtype.com.

Basically to re-think spaces and re-design our cities by creating new networks with various experts who are active in different fields but working on the same ground.

UKB: Are there plans to take the festival elsewhere in India in 2016?

GA: Definitely. Stay tuned…!

The St+art Delhi 2015 festival runs until the end of the month, and you can keep up to date on all the artwork as it goes up by giving them the thumbs up on Facebook, and following them on Instagram.

There’s something quite exciting about seeing public art like this in India, and I’ll be interested to see further reaction as the festival draws to an exciting end, with Olek’s work due to appear in the coming days.

Finally, I’d like to thank the whole St+art India team for considering my questions, and answering so fully at a time when they are sure to be insanely busy!

Best of luck guys!

Steven
UKB