Last week, my cycling comrade Meg Brennan and I sat down to record our second drunken bike pod cast. The conversation tended to ramble into territory concerning cultures of community resistance to things like capital-driven gentrification. We also discussed how different forms of sanctioned and unsanctioned street art can play a roll in building strong communities, empowering them in the process.
While many make clear definition between legal murals and illegal art, and their respective roles, personally I see the value of both, as they often communicate vastly different concepts and can convey radically diverse sets of values.
As I wrote in a guest post for the Portland Street Art Alliance last year, graffiti’s true power lies in its ability to take control away from the homeowners associations, the city halls, the developers, the capitalists – and return it where where power rightly belongs, in the hands of the people. The mainstream media narrative will likely always be hostile to street art of a rebellions nature, and rightly so.
These are our commons, our spaces. In private property-fetishized America, real estate tycoons may technically ‘own’ the building, but we’re the ones who have to look at them. The external world of urban space must endure as the public commons. Graffiti remains a vital tool to assert our right to this social space.
It’s always intrigued me the way that artists and writers conceive ways to incorporate the physical textures of the city as part of their three-dimensional canvas, much like a performer might in utilizing open space to create their own narrative. Marxist-humanist philospher Marshall Berman articulated it perfectly months before his death, “One voice was the explosion of graffiti on our subways. I loved it! The kids who made it were thrown into a transit system that was far more broken down than today’s. They told the world, ‘We are not helpless, we can make this world colorful, exuberant, exciting.’ I took my mother to the 149th Street subway stop, near where we had lived, with a good view of the trains. She was a very reserved woman, but she said, ‘It’s a rainbow, in a place where who would expect one.'”
Check out the collection of images below, see how many you recognize. All images collected from Tumblr and can be viewed from their source.
Follow graffiti artist GATS as he risks his safety and anonymity to paint a poem across the East Bay. The final line proclaiming “The City Is Ours” is completed at a community block party, an apt setting to celebrate how street art can be used to make political statements and enrich the culture of a city.