Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw wherever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big businesses. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall- it’s wet. (Banksy 2006)
Why pay for public space when it’s yours free of charge ?
Just how benevolent the intentions of your average street artist are is a matter that is up for debate. There is little doubt that many of those who read this article are at this point conjuring up vivid memories of unsightly graffiti tags spread provocatively on a concrete wall. Many of these tags are little more than self-referential scrawls and untidy scribbles that do anything but decorate or add aesthetic value to the walls upon which they are etched. Unfortunately this graphic connotation has become a synonymous association in the minds of many people who hear the utterance of the word graffiti. Again, what graffiti is and whether or not it adds value to a concrete wall is up for discussion. What is not up for debate, however, is the right of individuals to freely and openly engage with their natural environment. This is a claim that is true of the indigenous tribes of the Amazon, as it is true of farmers of the vast endless open countrysides. It is a claim that is truer still for the inhabitants of our cities.
In The U.K alone, it is estimated that up to 92% of the population will be living in cities by the year 2030. Cities are the hubs from which the majority of us operate, they are our lifeblood, our natural environment, our homes. As such, it would seem logical to assume that we should all have a say in what goes on in our cities. Why then is it that every free public space in numerous capitals around the world is plastered with a glittering array of flickering billboards, neon lighting and ream upon ream of paper posters all placed by companies and advertising agencies encouraging people to buy their products? More importantly, why is not allowed for you and I as city residents to draw / sketch / colour or shade the walls, roads and public spaces of our cities ? Companies pay for the rights to horde advertising space but what they don’t pay for is the infringement upon the civil liberties of the individual and in any case, since when was public space an entitlement that required people to cough up astronomic sums of money in order for them to be a part of it ?
The British street artist, Banksy whose work until very recently remained anonymous, so as to emphasize it’s meaning over its identity has, as a point of departure, aimed to reclaim public space for the individual in society. Banksy’s thought-provoking images, primarily via the use of thick stenciling and powerful epigrams have raised awareness and challenged the status quo the world over, from London to New Orleans. The Bristol-born artist’s work has triggered numerous thoughts in the minds of people the world over though ultimately none of these are as provocative as the eternal question of what art really is.
The redefinition of street art is evident in many a Bansky piece, from his emotionally-charged work around New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in 2008, to replicated Che Guevara faces splashed on overpasses around Camden Town, London. His reclamation of public space as his own creative studio doesn’t stop here however. Banksy has repeatedly made his way into revered art galleries such as the Tate modern and either hung up his work without the consent of the curators or made minor changes to the work of existing artists, in a daring attempt to redefine the essence of art. Bold maneuvers such as these have, amongst other things challenged the notion of modern art being the trophy cabinet of a few well-off individuals in society who’ve somehow conspired to keep market prices at exorbitant prices out of the reach of ordinary people.
Reclaim your city today
The idea of art being accessible to all and being made by everyone is an idealistic notion pursued by many in society. It is needless to say that this is easier said than done, though what art is has never been as disputed as much as it is today. Artists like Banksy and many others have challenged the use of public space by reclaiming it from advertising agencies and redefining it for the masses. Street art and within it, graffiti has pushed for its right to exist as a non-profit statement in the backdrop of
This said, imagine once again a colourful city sparkling in a myriad of glittering shades, each with finely carved intricate artistic details etched emphatically onto them. Imagine a city of smiles and pedestrians clad in creative apparel- a city in which each individual is unique and sports a flamboyant hairdo- from the bald and bold to the bold and the beautiful; everyone conforms to the self sculpted image of themselves and does away with social constructionism. Their diversity forms the paint palette for the beautiful canvas patchwork that they each paint, draw, scribble and smudge on. Imagine all the possible shades of colours you can think of and imagine them spread in no apparent or planned manner, like the brightest stars of the sky on the canvas of the dark night. Imagine that this was your city and that you could paint and draw anywhere you wanted to.
“The people who run our cities don’t understand graffiti because they think nothing has the right to exist unless it makes a profit…
the people who truly deface our neighborhoods are the companies that scrawl giant slogans across buildings and buses trying to make us feel inadequate unless we buy their stuff….
any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours, it belongs to you ,, its yours to take, rearrange and re use.Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head..” Banksy