Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Graffiti: vandalism or art?

Art in the Streets, The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Photo by Gregory Bojorquez, Courtesy of MOCA
The Arts Beat section of the New York Times wrote about the cancellation of a graffiti exhibition  at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibit, Art in Streets, is presently on view at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. To the dismay of the LA police and others, the show has caused some impromptu art work to appear on dumpsters and buildings nearby. In LA, the art director Jeffrey Deitch explained that graffiti is "the language of youth culture: the vandalism couldn't be helped," though the museum added security for the neighborhood surrounding their facility and paid for a clean-up.

It is an interesting contrast, this controversy over the cancelled exhibit in New York to the way Brazilian favelas use street art to promote tourism in their slums, create solidarity in the community and keep kids away from crime and drugs (read my posts, Urban Street Art: the Museu de Favela in Brazil and Hello Brazil: favela tourism in the time of the Olympics). Indeed, in Afghanistan, graffiti is a political movement supported by an international artists' group (Urban Art in Kabul). 

In countries of South Asia, it is routine to elaborately paint buses, trucks and cars with social, religious and political imagery. Buildings in Kabul and Brazil are today covered with political posters and advertising slogans. In the US, graffiti in anarchy: it conjures images of gangs and violence, particularly in LA, and spray-painted subway cars in New York.  If graffiti were to be validated with an art show in a major museum in Brooklyn, would new work on city buildings be perceived an act of inspiration or an act of violence (the latter, of course)?  Street art in the cities of the US, Brazil and Afghanistan is criminal, cultural and political, respectively. Different contexts, different realities. That's what we call 'culture.'  

For a look at African American and Chicano street art in LA, check out Wallbangin': graffiti and gangs in LA by anthropologist Susan A. Philips.

The full post of "Brooklyn Museum Cancels Graffiti Show" from Arts Beat is here.

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