Cale Waddacor, Iain Ewok Robinson and Sven Christian got together to talk about urban spaces and urban art. “Graffiti opens up a conversation,” said Waddacor, and indeed it was a catalyst for discussing broader issues. Here, we look at the bigger picture.
Anthea Garman kicks off the debate with a fiery start, asking “Where are the women?” Street art is male-dominated terrain, with only 5-10 female urban artists appearing in Cale Waddacor’s book, Graffiti South Africa. However, this may be changing as urban art increasingly includes stencilling, stickers and murals.
2. Anonymity in art:
The identity of an artist can change the way you perceive the art. With street art, however, you see something on a wall and can’t tell the age, gender or race of the artist.
Graffiti can teach you a thing or two about your privilege. According to Ewok, part of his privilege allows him to paint whatever he wants, and then leave that area, and people are just grateful that he has painted something. He doesn’t have to confront and deal with that painting on a daily basis. Street artists that go into communities need to consider this privilege, and the responsibility that comes with it.
4. Subjective realities:
When an artist paints in an area, attempting to evoke a sense of community the reality of a situation, is this really the experience of the community? We need to question whose community and whose reality is being sprayed onto a wall, and the process of consulting with people in those spaces becomes more important.
5. What constitutes space:
“There is no space without human beings attached to space,” says Garman. We cannot talk about urban spaces as just buildings and structures without considering the people that inhabit it.
Graffiti is a lot like other community work. There’s a lot of work being taken to the townships and involves going into communities to do something, but not enough talking back of the dialogue into more privileged spaces. No one is going into places like Umhlanga, painting graffiti and having the same kinds of conversation.
Like any other underground culture, graffiti is being appropriated for commercial uses. While police are cracking down on street artists and labelling their work as vandalism, graffiti culture and images are being appropriated by big companies on t-shirts, Playstation games and anywhere where it can be seen as “cool”.
8. Human nature:
A large part of graffiti is simple to say, I was here. From the kids scratching on school desks to scrawls on toilet walls, everyone wants to make their mark. For some who don’t know what the next day may bring, their street art is the legacy they leave behind.
9. The need for recognition:
“What sort of society breeds a desire to make their mark and say I exist?” asks Ewok. Perhaps what we need to worry about is a society of people who don’t feel listened to and acknowledged, and their need to make themselves heard.
10. Fighting back:
In Naomi Klein’s book No Logo she says that “It is one of the ironies of our age that now, when the street has become the hottest commodity in advertising culture, street culture itself is under siege”. When talking about urban spaces, we cannot ignore the fact that despite the street being a public space, it has been taken over by private companies as we are bombarded with advertising on light poles and giant billboards along the highway. Graffiti and street art is a way of reclaiming the public nature of that space and making it ours again.