Vieira: Designated graffiti area

Carolina Vieira

It all starts in the Southwest English city of Bristol in the 1980s, a time period marked by a fluidity in popular culture. New York hip-hop was the dominant subculture, and it had a huge impact on music and art, especially in the underground scene. Something else brought back from New York by the artist 3D during those years was an interesting art form referred to as graffiti. Bristol was a place where ideas spread quickly, so, inevitably, graffiti became extremely popular.

It represents the voice of the people; it started movements and revolutions, like the Syrian uprising a few years ago. These drawings can tell you what is actually happening within a community, becoming “the heartbeat of society,” as Edward Martinez puts it (better known as “Scape” Martinez). Graffiti has always acted as a democratic force (shining examples can be seen in Brazil).

Such art pieces were also used as tools to awaken a population. It began around the 1940s and 1950s as a result from economic and social issues, topped off by a general unhappiness with the government. As I explained in my previous column, for every action there is a reaction, which follows a philosophy that satisfies the peoples’ need for liberation from an oppressive regime. However, this can lead to progress. In his book “Human, All Too Human,” Friedrich Nietzsche insists that “out of reaction we have taken a step forward.”

Graffiti gained popularity through the people, not museums and galleries, and that’s exactly what makes it dangerous in the eyes of jurisdiction because it proves to the people they have power. This was exactly the vision Banksy had; he sends deep messages or concepts through fairly simple images. The imagery he adopts is key to his work. We see acts of anarchy, war, politics and humor carried out by iconic images encrypted within a completely different context. 

By painting subjects like the homeless, he made the invisible visible. Banksy took advantage of the street as his own gallery; stakes were high, but because of the size of the audience, it was all worth it. He is so much more than an artist; he is a social activist. His work screams “defiance” and encourages the population to rebel until justice is done. 

Banksy does not limit himself to paint only within the United Kingdom; he also travels around the world. In my opinion, his most iconic trip was the one to Palestine, where he painted on the West Bank Barrier, which separates Palestine from Israel. The piece that stands out to me is the famous flower thrower, also located there.

Here, we are presented with the image of a masked Palestinian man throwing a bouquet of flowers. The painting already represents a powerful concept, but what makes it even more relevant is its placement. By situating this graffiti on the West Bank Barrier, he highlights even more a striving need for peace and order from a population broken by years and years of conflict. 

After such emblematic pieces, Banksy naturally became a high-profile graffiti artist, although he wasn’t in everyone’s good graces (in fact, not long after his fame began to rise, he was given the nickname of “art terrorist.”) 

Authorities started looking for him more thoroughly, and some of his paintings were covered up. Nonetheless, it’s really hard to look for someone without having a face to associate with the individual. Yes, Banksy has remained anonymous throughout his career, and continues to remain so. The fact that we don’t know who he is only adds to this mysterious, disheveled persona he has created. 

It indeed distinguishes this artist from the rest; he is not looking for fame and recognition but rather enlightenment and awakening of the masses to real issues.