Among Egypt’s pro-democracy protesters, graffiti has played an important role in the communication, providing a
platform for free speech under military rule. The Associated Press reports:
Graffiti has turned into perhaps the most fertile artistic expression of Egypt’s uprising, shifting rapidly to keep up with events. Faces of protesters killed or arrested in crackdowns are common subjects — and as soon as a new one falls, his face is ubiquitous nearly the next day.
The face of Khaled Said, a young man whose beating death at the hands of police officers in 2010 helped fuel the anti-Mubarak uprising, even appeared briefly on the walls of the Interior Ministry, the daunting security headquarters that few would dare even approach in the past.
Other pieces mock members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the council of generals that is now in power, or figures from Mubarak’s regime.
While this artistic movement in the Arab Spring puts the importance of freedom of expression in sharp relief, we of course more typically see graffiti and street art in freer societies where the act is often seen not as political uprising but as mindless vandalism. As a big believer in the power of property rights, I feel like I should be against street art as clear violations of building owners’ rights. However, it’s hard to argue that illegal street art doesn’t add something valuable to cities both visually and culturally, in times of peace as well as times of civil uprising.
It would be nice to suggest that a signalling mechanism could show artists on which buildings their work is permissible, but, not knowing much about the culture of street art or graffiti, I imagine that decriminalizing this art form would destroy it. What do you all think of unsanctioned street art? Does it make a difference if the building is industrial, retail, office, or residential?
Does it make a difference if it’s high brow street art like this?
(Who wouldn’t want a Banksy original on their wall?)
As opposed to more chaotic graffiti like this?
What do you all think is the appropriate response to graffiti from law enforcement and communities?
P.S. On the subject of city streets, thank you to Charlie Gardner and Flickr user hazer2006 for adding some great photos to the Market Urbanism Flickr Group.