Graffiti and street art

Authored by: Myrto Tsilimpounidi , Konstantinos Avramidis

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Citizen Media

Print publication date:  October  2020
Online publication date:  October  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138665569
eBook ISBN: 9781315619811
Adobe ISBN:


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Graffiti and street art practices inspire media hype, are visually compelling, and have reached almost mythological status among subcultures, art historians and the public. Depending on one’s point of view, these two terms are synonymous with vandalism, marginal youths and delinquency, or seen as signs of free expression. What is important in critical analysis is a sense of the constant tension in which the pieces are often seen simultaneously as either social problems, or political acts, or artistic practices. From the early inception of gang graffiti in New York to the current hype of street art, especially in urban, gentrified areas; the inscriptions and writing on the wall create an extra layer of meaning on the urban fabric. Graffiti and street art appear as visual markers of the shifting, complex discourses of power struggles, marginality and counter-cultures that establish a new reality which must be seen and heard. As art forms, they are largely connected to and inspired by existing social conditions. For example, politically engaged street art has proliferated in Egypt during the 2011–2013 uprising, in the 2008 riots in Athens, and during the Occupations in 2012, transforming the fixed landscape of our cities into platforms for negotiation and dialogue. The city is the canvas and social conditions the paint in an open gallery of multiple urban stories. Finally, the analysis offered in this entry will explore the ways in which graffiti and street art practices are co-opted and thus depoliticized by the neoliberal order and are becoming the new hype in mainstream galleries and museums (e.g. No Respect Exhibition in Athens, Banksy in the Tate).

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