The Art of Banksy and more: Celebrating street art across the world
With an eye on notable festivals, we look at global hotspots that celebrate street art as a potent medium for social change.
In the world of urban contemporary art, the name Banksy is held with the manner of regard that is accorded to few other artists of this generation. The British artist from Bristol is perhaps singularly responsible for bringing ideas of street art and graffiti into mainstream consciousness. While his true identity remains a mystery, Banksy’s efforts continue to make regular headlines, most recently for a series of murals that cropped up overnight across parts of Paris. In many ways, Banksy’s subversive style helped foster new initiatives and public art interventions across the globe.
A number of street artists and collectives engaging in urban art projects are gaining prominence for their work closer home too. The St+art India Foundation, for instance, a Delhi-based non-profit art movement, hosts the country’s most widely attended street art festival, and has been hailed for its work — a potent combination of social activism and urban design — in the cities of Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bengaluru, apart from the capital.
A handful of other groups are making a significant mark on the social and art scene for their activism-based work, frequently engaging in community-based initiatives for development and upliftment — such as Maraa, a media and arts collective in Bengaluru; the Kadak collective of South Asian women working with different forms of graphic storytelling in Mumbai; and The Fearless Collective, led by the artist Shilo Shiv Suleman. Groups like Junta, in Goa, meanwhile, are building a network of artists, encouraging collaborations aimed to create social impact and change. The Bengaluru-based Sandbox Collective extends their public art initiatives into the realms of theatre and performance arts, even as cultural embassies such as the Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, Pro Helvetia, British Council and Alliance Française regularly conduct multi-city initiatives, working closely with both visiting guest artists and local groups. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale too has notably provided platforms for a number of street artists and collectives involved in site-specific installations and social interventions. The festival, interestingly, also witnessed Banksy-style protest art by artists like Guesswho.
Apart from being a potent tool for public protest, street art expositions such as in the neighbourhood of Hauz Khas, in New Delhi, present colourful vistas to the city, melded with socially relevant messages. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that street art has become one of the most powerful mediums
to effect change on the faces of cities from London to Miami and Berlin to Toronto. In many ways, the hyper-media world is turning into a global community for art. With that thought in mind, and an eye on a few remarkable street art exhibitions set to open in cities across the world, we present a roundup of street art hotspots for the globetrotting art enthusiast. So, the next time you come across a piece of graffiti or street art, you might consider it to be a part of a larger cause.
The American neighbourhood of Wynwood, in Miami, Florida, a former industrial and warehouse district that now stands as a prominent entertainment district, speaks for the transformative power of street art. This is where art at a community-wide scale, in the form of murals across entire rows and colonies of buildings, changed the image of the neighbourhood, which had descended into notoriety in the 1970s through the ’90s. Today, Wynwood is among the world’s most Instagram-worthy spots, where every nook and corner, every garage, every pavement, every park, and every street breathes art.
It was, in fact, the interest of Tony Goldman — the real estate mogul and art patron, who was also a force behind the revival of the SoHo and South Beach neighbourhoods — that spurred the art scene in Wynwood, since the mid-2000s. Goldman, with art dealer Jeffrey Deitch, began the Wynwood Walls in 2009, inviting artists to collaborate on the project. Wynwood is now a favourite area among artists like Ryan the Wheelbarrow, who along with another local artist, Pedro AMOS, formed the tour agency, Miami’s Best Graffiti Guide (available online). It’s a handy guide to taking the coolest selfies, against walls that present a riot of colours mixed with strong social sentiments. A visit to Miami is incomplete without a walk down the streets of Wynwood, which can arguably be hailed as the world’s largest exposition of contemporary street art.
Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York
While New York is a true mecca for street art and graffiti, a train hop to Bushwick in the borough of Brooklyn is well worth the ride. Named among the world’s most fashionable neighbourhoods, Brooklyn brims over with stories of colourful makeovers. The Graffiti & Street Art Walking Tour in Brooklyn (every day at 10.30 am, duration two hours, cost $32) explores the district’s exciting mix of street artists and graffiti taggers, taking viewers past some incredible murals.
The Bushwick tour brings to focus the true transformative power of public art, while building awareness about artists who are bringing wallscapes, buildings and entire city precincts alive with their vibrant creations. The tour winds through streets pulsating with creative energy, as visitors get to experience why Brooklyn is hailed as an avant-garde destination for postmodern art and design. The tour allows visitors to get immersed in the culture and lifestyle of urban contemporary artists from as far away as Europe, South America and even Asia.
On display are diverse styles ranging from murals, spraypaint and wheatpaste posters to tags (words written in spray paint on walls, storefronts, signs or doors) and stencils. In this hipster haven, there are almost 100 blocks to explore art, in and around the Bushwick Collective area, NYC’s premier hub of aerosol culture. The highlight of the tour is an outdoor street gallery of the collective, which begins on Jefferson Street and continues on Troutman Street towards Saint Nicholas Avenue. Works of note are by the artists Sheryo & Yok, Sticks, Icy & Sot, Prvt, Nychos, Smithe, Zimad and Blek le rat, who is often described as the father of stencil graffiti.
East Side Gallery, Berlin
In the Peaceful Revolution of 1989, the year that the internet or the world wide web was invented, the people of East and West Germany came together to dismantle the Berlin Wall. The broken remnants of the wall are now spoken of as the most visited street art gallery in the world. If you’re looking to catch a train from the main line railway station at Ostbahnhof in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, you’d see the abrupt beginnings of the partially dismantled wall. The landmark Berlin Wall stands as testament to riotous abstract expression, in striking colours and thought-provoking messages. This stretch in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is known as The East Side Gallery, where artists have dedicatedly documented the socio-political winds of change that greeted Germany after the wall’s collapse. Artists like Thierry Noir and Keith Haring found a limitless canvas on the Berlin Wall, turning it into a rich tapestry of artistic expression. Here, you will also find the much talked-about work named, ‘Fraternal Kiss/Kiss of death’ by Dmitri Vrubel, inscribed with the words, ‘My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love’, recreated from a photograph clicked by Regis Bossu in East Berlin on October 7, 1979. Dubbed ‘the socialist fraternal kiss’, or just ‘The Kiss’, the picture shows Russian premier Leonid Brezhnev and East Germany’s head Erich Honecker embraced in lip-lock, to mark the 30th anniversary of the Democratic Republic of East Germany. This piece of wall art is now more famous than ever as a backdrop for selfie hunters.
East End, London
London is a prominent hub for urban and outdoor public art, with newer works — many of them collaborative — sprucing up the city’s street views and walls with everything from miniature bronze statues to murals that stand several storeys high. If you’re visiting London’s East End, you will get to see some of the ever-popular works of the mysterious and unseen artist, Banksy. An initiative named the Street Art London Tour takes visitors on art tours that last for about 1 hour 30 minutes through this neighbourhood, which is often described as “an ever-changing canvas for street art”, filled with vibrant painted shutters, graffiti art and community-wide murals. At the end of each tour, the guides join the visitors in a historical local pub or cosy cafe, where you can continue to enjoy London’s most vibrant cultural quarter. Apart from Banksy, also look out for works by the artists Roa, Invader, Ronzo, Conor Harrington, Don Smith, and C215 (moniker of Christian Guémy, hailed as ‘France’s answer to Banksy’).
The Chilean city of Valparaíso is well-known for its graffiti, and is alive with avant-garde culture and vibrant street art. Graffiti and street art are, in fact, deeply intertwined in the identity of this port city, a sort of mini-Berlin by the seaside. Don’t miss the Valparaiso Chile graffiti walking tour
which explores the town’s beautiful street art and graffiti, looking at amazing views walking up and down the hills and old stairways of the town. As the glorious and, in many cases, monumental public artworks do their bit to lend a tremendous boost to the character of Valparaíso, with every turn of a corner presenting a photo-worthy painting. The gorgeous hillside port is also often called the ‘Jewel of the Pacific’, and with considerable support for local art from the local government, street art and other urban art initiatives have become abundant in recent times. Many cafes have surrendered their walls to artists, while many new graffiti tours offer to take tourists on expeditions of the city, to see its best instances of graffiti and wall art.
13th Arrondissement, Paris
Situated on the left bank of the River Seine, the 13th Arrondissement of Paris is a locality that has become a hotspot for street artists, and is spoken of as an open air public museum, featuring sprawling frescoes and majestic mosaics such as one by American artist Shepard Fairey, emblazoned with the French motto, ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’, alongside recent works by French artist Invader, and Irishman Conor Harrington. In the east of Paris, the districts of Oberkampf, Belleville and Ménilmontant are fertile in street art, while the facade of the Pavillon Carré de Baudoin is repainted regularly by well-known artists. Don’t forget to take a stroll down the Parc de Belleville (20th Arrondissement), where the works of artists like Seth, Kenor and El Pez embellish the pillars, walls and street corners. There are many street art workshops held quite frequently too — look up the Street Art Paris graffiti mural workshop, conducted by Parisian graffiti artists. Here you can learn to paint or pick up basic techniques of how to spray a can, and make a large-scale graffiti mural as a group. Another recommended stretch is the Rue de L’Ourcq, in the 19th Arrondissement, noted for its streets filled with brightly coloured walls.
The city walls of Toronto, with their kaleidoscopic storefronts and magnificent murals — including a few pieces by Banksy — are renowned for the open canvases they present for some of the world’s finest street artists. Prime spots to explore include the Graffiti Alley, the downtown ‘hip strip’ of Ossington Avenue, the Keele-Dundas Wall between the Dundas West and Keele subway stations, and the cultural melting pot that is Kensington Market or Chinatown.
Montreal is another city with some prized, spectacular street art that reflects a blend of Canadian and Québécois cultures, with a heavy French influence. Noteworthy spots include the precinct of the Plateau, and the Downtown neighbourhood, apart from the area of the Saint-Laurent, and the avenues of Rue Sainte-Catherine or Rue Saint Dominique. Saint-Laurent Boulevard is Montreal’s main arterial thoroughfare, and a heritage hub that also hosts the public festival titled, Festival Mural — Festival d’Art Urbain. A stated purpose of the fest is to revitalise The Main (the street’s nickname), short for ‘Main Street’, and La Main, in French. The event has gone a long way to establish this route as a prime hub for cultural, gastronomical and social avant-garde movements.
Global street art festivals
The Art of Banksy
This exhibition offers an enchanting journey with the famous street artist, who’s variously described as an artistic genius and a prankster, and is easily among the most mysterious artists in the world. The works on display were sourced from curator Steve Lazarides’ own collection and other private collectors. At Bikini Berlin, Berlin. Until January 15, 2019.
Upfest, Urban Paint Fest
Billed as Europe’s Largest Urban Arts Festival, this event brings together artists from over 50 countries and all over the UK to paint live on 40,000 sq ft of surfaces, including a NY-style subway train, skate parks, buildings, theatres, camper vans and hundreds of boards, with over 50,000 visitors across the weekend. At Bristol, UK. July 28-30.
Beyond The Streets
A premier exhibition of graffiti, street art and beyond, Beyond The Streets is a multimedia showcase of paintings, sculpture, photography, installations and more, curated by Roger Gastman. featuring works by Shepard Fairey, TAKI 183 plus Dennis Hopper and Takashi Murakami, among others. In Los Angeles, California. Until August 26.
Beyond Walls is the initiative of residents in Lynn, Massachusetts of business owners and public art/placemaking enthusiasts using grass roots efforts to create a sense of place and safety in the heart of the city. Their second annual Mural Festival will extend their mission to promote activities that foster an economically viable and sustainable community. In Downtown Lynn. August 6-19.