Is the graffiti in the streets of Istanbul the work of bored teenagers, or is it something much more provocative, the pursuit of free expression in a country that is violently suppressing speech?
We are told who the great artists are and the genres they developed or espoused: da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Mannerism; Pollock, Bourgeois, Baber, Abstract Expressionism; Dalí, Kahlo, Magritte, Surrealism. This is art for the powerful, for the well-educated, for the privileged.
I find myself drawn, however, to the art that is not in museums: the graffiti scrawled across walls, the designs on t-shirts worn by the masses. This art is ephemeral, consumable, and temporary. But it can be powerful.
For example, is the graffiti in the streets of Istanbul the work of bored teenagers, or is it something much more provocative, the pursuit of free expression in a country that is violently suppressing speech? Surely it is not a “safe” pursuit, so I strongly suspect the latter.
Similarly, the designs featured in Medellín, Colombia’s upscale Sie7eCu4troSie7e appear at first glance to be developed merely to catch the eye of skaters and the urban young.
The designs are, however, the expressions of Juan Camilo Londoño and Felipe López, artists whose work, always in black, recollects Medellín’s recent violent past, a past that robbed both artists of their fathers at a young age.1 Rather than hiding from their city’s history, they celebrate the strength that springs from adversity.
Some of the art we find in museums will have had similar revolutionary origins, the context long since lost on most present-day observers. It is valuable, but certainly no more valuable than the art surrounding us, an ongoing embodiment of our power to resist, to recover, and, to paraphrase Sie7eCu4troSie7e, to transform our reality.
In Medellín? Be sure to visit Sie7eCu4troSie7e at Carrera 34 #8A-01, an uphill walk from the Poblado Metro Station.
Pictures of graffiti are from Medellín, Colombia and Istanbul, Turkey.
1 As reported in Universo Centro no. 94, “La Luz Arrastrada” by Simón Murillo, February 2018.