Artsy on the streets; illegal spray-on treats

Words by Charmaine Kong
Art by Bridget Melville

Okay, quick English lesson/hybrid disclaimer if you will. Graffiti is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “writing or drawings scribbled, scratched or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public space.”

So, to avoid much confusion, let’s refer to it as street art. The legally sanctioned and euphemistic version!

Street art is a worldwide phenomenon. For artists, it is an opportunity to leave a mark, put out a message to the public, and have their voice heard. The element of anonymity associated with street art allows artists to paint their thoughts in a way that sends a charged message to the casual passer-by without having to explain themselves. Much like a hit and run, but with good intentions.

In terms of Melbourne’s central business district, there are a few things that come to mind. The overpriced but completely necessary brunch culture, the classic Melbourne central clock rendezvous, and OF COURSE the street art. Today, the world’s second (dang it Vienna) most liveable city simply wouldn’t be complete without the wonderful artworks enlivening our once dull urban spaces. Street art has become so inherent to Melbourne’s culture and city landscape, that I’m always ready to be enamoured at every turn whether that be at the colourfully famous Hosier lane or a quirky bar or restaurant.

Millennials get a bad rap for being stereotypically criminal when it comes to street art. People often depict street artists as hooded thugs armed with spray cans. This image is obviously not reflective of the legally authorized unsung artists that embellish our cityscapes today. I thoroughly admire the skill. The tags are mental, and I mean, c’mon…who doesn’t love a funky backdrop for that perfect insta shot. We have these contemporary Picassos to thank!

Today, street artists around the world are using the power of graffiti to raise important issues such as feminism, racism, sexism and more. For women in the profession, a shared concern is that women are marginalised as street artists, their work viewed as second-rate. Venezuelan street artist De La Roca and many other female artists choose to paint under a masculine sounding pseudonym tag so they can be assured their art receives unbiased opinions. In several South American countries such as Venezuela and Columbia, this is the sentiment felt. But it isn’t all sad. The dejected experience of being undermined has sparked tenacity for female artists in South America to break further into the male-dominated street art scene.

Street art inspires political movement and has the power to create positive impact in communities. In Israel, a vagina sculpture was erected in the heart of Tel Aviv leading up to International Women’s Day. This bold take on street art in a country where free speech is subtly discouraged because of traditional religious fortitude in the government, acted to serve as a message against illegal prostitution such as brothels and pimping, and also sex trafficking. Street art gets a conversation going and connects people to enact change.

Banksy’s famous stencil street art pieces are some of the most famous artworks in the world. Banksy paints abstract pieces that are loaded with allegorical messages. Perhaps the most famous piece is the Balloon Girl. This minimalistic stencilled girl is depicted in far reach of a red heart shaped balloon, symbolising the loss of something treasured. However, it also represents hope. Banksy travels around the world stamping his creative mark, leaving provocative messages to inspire others.

Street art connects people and reclaims once derelict spaces. It turns boring places you avoid like the plague into iconic landmarks you revisit again and again. Why not take a trip to the Seattle Gum Wall in the United States? A brick wall adorned (or marred), by the finished chewy of Tom, Dick and Harry.

A bit Extra© you think? Fair statement.

Street art is transforming cities into live art exhibitions which we have free admission to. So, what are you waiting for? Seize that opportunity to discover new street art on display!

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