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Political Street Art

Updated on January 15, 2011

Political Graffiti

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Political Street Art

Political street art has become a well respected medium for expression amongst the underground art scene. It's origins far predate the current incarnation, with large cities often serving as major hubs for activity ranging from Berlin, Germany, Bristol, England, London, England, Melbourne, Australia, Sao Paulo, Brazil, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, to name a few.

The prevalence of it's use to explore the political and social context of it's creators environment has grown alongside general protest during times of unrest and war. With the explosion of the graffiti art form into the mainstream corporate companies as various as Sprite and Scion have adopted it's visual flair to boost ad sales to a younger demographic. Along with the general acceptance of an art form comes more general practitioners.

The use of Street art to express a political agenda is a powerful and subversive one that has not been antiquated by it's corporate acceptance as an element of design. While a corporate company may in fact utilize the aesthetic of graffiti and street art in their ad campaigns, you would be hard pressed to find any hard line slogans like "No Blood For Oil" or "Stop War Now" spray painted in their advertisements. The true core of rebellious street art lies not in it's design elements but in it's very ethos. A "writer" as an artist of graffiti will often call themselves, does not create graffiti strictly for economic gain. The writer writes as an expression of their hopes, their fears, the very ether that all artists express from. The separation line between mainstream artists and street artists stems from the writers chosen mural, often a public place and a privately or state/federally owned piece property.

When an artist from a dangerous region of the world spends his or her life surrounded by the danger of war, poverty, drugs, and crime, he expresses his view point on the very walls of the prison that encapsulate him. The environment in which the writer lives becomes his canvas. In a climate where anti governmental messages could be met with harsh punishment, the only recourse for the artist is to strike in shadow, and to paint urban landscapes with a message of their choosing.

The power of political graffiti lies not in it's economic value when commercialized, but in its reversal of the social power structure. It serves as a calling sign, a warning, a billboard, and a sounding board for a message or belief that may be contrary to the actions of those in power.

When used consistently, repeated images and messages have been shown to have powerful subconscious effect on the public consumer. The transition of name brands to household items originally based on the products usefulness and subsequent success have grown into marketing powerhouses branding images and company messages into the viewers minds.

Political Graffiti is the voice of those less powerful used to express their own message. The value of the inherent danger, risk, and illegality that accompanies the creation of an act of political graffiti can only be weighed by the perpetrator of the political street art themselves. While often a law states that it is illegal to deface property with graffiti at any time, it goes without saying that the artist has chosen to ignore this warning. As time has shown, it is neither the conditions of authoritative force nor economic slavery that spawns or ends the use of political street art, rather it is the need to express, be heard, or project an message of importance to the artist that induces it's use.

If you would like to Make Your Own Political Street Art:

This article in no way intends for it's readers to participate in any unlawfulness, including but not limited to vandalism and or graffiti.

The first thing you want to do is come up with a message or a theme. What are you trying to say about the state of the world you live in? Contemplate on what injustice or societal structure you wish to critique or attack. There are a variety of ways to approach the topic. Do you want to be direct, or satirical? Do you want to be thoughtful, or hit them over the head with your idea? Each method has its pros and cons

  • The immediacy of a "NO WAR" slogan is a powerful message and has instantaneous meaning expressed. There is no guess work involved with the motivation for this project.
  • Using something a bit more sophisticated such as an image or logo, perhaps an illustration depicting a situation that makes evident the idea you are trying to bring into the subconscious social discussion, can be equally effective. This direction might speak to a different type of potential "reader", one that is absorbed visually, allowing the message to sink in and the meaning to come about as they ponder the art. In juxtaposition to a straight ahead message with only words, this approach can be a bit more sneaky.
  • Combining both of the above methods allows for immediate as well as subconscious effect. Experiment to find what you feel is most powerful.

Once you have an idea with a message, you can choose your physical delivery method. Are you an aerosol artist armed with a can of Montana Gold spray paint? Or are you a stencil artist, with a pre-made image cut out of material which you can spray paint over to create an image repeatedly? Are you both?

Repetition has time and again been shown to be the strongest form of advertising. While using a can of spray paint free hand is incredibly artistic and much more likened to creating a painting on a canvas, using a stencil allows for speed and efficiency in providing a message repeatedly.

Other things to consider:

Scouting locations. Are there any legal areas in your city to paint street art publicly? If there are, sign up and put your work on display by creating it on this space.

Often, illegal locations are dangerous, difficult to reach, and require advanced planning. If a location can be reached in shadow in a desolate place and at a low traffic/pedestrian travel time, but will be highly visible in the day, then this location would be considered a high priority for the advantageous political street artist looking to take a chip out of the current Zeitgeist in power. However, due to the illegal nature of painting such a target, it would be ill advised to recommend you approach such a challenge.

Who is the more politically thought provoking street artist?

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