Gaffiti is Democracy

In Yangon, Myammar, Arker Kyaw, graffiti artists stood at the front line of an ongoing debate over their currant freedom rights.  Arkar Kyaw created a mural of President Obama, the US leader smiling against a drop of American and Burnese flags. In a developing democracy civil freedoms and self-expression go hand in hand. A week after the mural was created; the government decreed a nation- wide ban on street art. Myanmar has decades of history of oppressive rule, and many issues regarding free speech where it is not permitted. With so many issues with freedom of speech, many have turned to street art to express their concerns in Myammar. The government does not grant artists access to work on public spaces.


All around the world in developing countries people have been struggling with their right of freedom of speech. Artists have turned to street art to gain their countries governments attentions. More rules and regulations are being put in place to stop the street art, but these artists are not backing down and want to be heard. In Thailand, which is close to Myammar a group of young artists, is standing with the people of Myammar. They are saying, “The government has no respect for the laws, religions or the country’s youth.”


In Zimbabwe, women have been arrested for road painting to express dissatisfaction with the socio- political landscape. In Palestine, graffiti rebel politics includes messages, phrases, slogans, and images from religious and culture groups. In Lebanon graffiti has become modern and stylized, with inclusive messages to unite the masses rather then divide the politics. Everywhere around the world, people are speaking out with art.

Sara Spiegel

Discourse Around Graffiti in the Media


MTA (Metro Transit Assassins) are a major LA ‘tagging gang’ kept a close eye on by police

US media and news outlets practice agenda-setting, which is defined as “ability of the news media, to influence the salience of topics on the public agenda.”  They chose to mold and twist stories to make them more interesting or to alter the publics view of a certain subject or conflict.  Historically the news media has been incredibly influential during times of war and times of political importance in molding our views and dementing our own ideas.

Graffiti has historically been jumbled into the category with criminals, minorities, and inner cities ‘gangs’ or ‘punks’.  It has been categorized as vandalism, with ideas that suggest a decrease in property value, or in turn very poor areas.  Rachel D’Cruze from hackwriters, explains that “Rather than look at graffiti as a form of urban expression it has generally been seen as a sign of urban decay, the decomposition of middle class values.”  The media morphs our mind to believe that graffiti artists are linked with these predators, whose actions completely violate the law.

The only stories depicted on national news are those that depict the gang related violence associated with “tagging gangs”.  None of the good that has been done through graffiti is explained, and the success of graffiti movements are often ignored.  These news reports coincide with how news media usually reports crime by depicting mugshots of minority members and grouping all taggers together into a category of violent, disobedient, members of society.


Graffiti in an art gallery in NYC

Modern artists in cities such as Miami, are embracing graffiti as a legitimate art form, trying to enhance the reputation of graffiti artists.  These art movements are empowering the youth instead of discouraging and revitalizing community alliance.  Although modern graffiti is now becoming a commodity, most will still not recognize the form as anything other then vandalism.  If the discourse around graffiti became more positive, we could minimize racist policing in the US relating to these tagging gangs.

–Erika Hoekstra

Graffiti for Social and Political Resistance – Democracy?

Defining terms for what a ‘democracy’ is, tell us that freedom, equality, choice, and justice should be the words we live by and for.  Controversies like the student debt crisis, health care, poverty, and the state of our economy, force us to question if these ideas are really at the forefront of our politicians agendas. I challenge the idea of freedom, and who the freedom is really given to in our country.  A country whose citizens drown in debt, unhappiness, and hours of advertisements that are pumped into our brains.  I question graffiti control simply because, if thousands of billboards can cover our cities, why can’t our art and ideas be expressed without it being a felony?

Example of a simple stencil graffiti, expressing thoughts and frustration with democracy in the United States.

Example of a simple stencil graffiti, expressing thoughts and frustration with democracy in the United States.

Consumer industries take precedence over our own ideas, and that is a key problem in our society today.  Are we really able to carry out these democratic principles we so proudly call ours?  Why don’t we have the same freedom to put our thoughts on the walls of our cities as McDonald’s does?

LA crimes street art detail

“LA Crime Street Art”

Bradley Bartolomeo states that “Graffiti writing is one of the easiest and most efficient ways for individuals and opposing groups to register political dissidence, express social alienation, propagate anti-system ideas, and establish an alternative collective memory. Groups can use graffiti to push their agendas or generally to make their presence felt, for it is an extremely easy means of communicating ideas and establishing a collective identity with the masses by putting a government on notice that anti-system sentiments exist with a definite historical memory. Given by the circumstances of doctoral regimes, graffiti communication can be, if recognized by groups and if organized sufficiently, an important medium for breaking the dominant control and censorship which authoritarian governments exercise.”

In the video below, a group known as Cyrcle from Los Angeles, have battled with the LA City Council and other political groups on the issue of illegal billboards and street art.  They express frustration with what they believe should be democratic versus what the city of Los Angeles allows the be scattered across the city.  Movements in the US are becoming more real and possible due to groups like Cyrcle, who recognize their rights as US citizens and are determined to change things.

–Erika Hoekstra

Graffiti On Social Change

Graffiti is directly influenced by an adaptive society, meaning as society evolves and is ever changing so does the art. Graffiti is a direct reflection and our response to the way we interpret the world around us. It is the outlet and driving force of social issues, a voice that remains nameless in a world where branding and commodity is the principal of capitalism. Yet Graffiti doesn’t need any of this. It has no recognition, artists create free masterpieces for our eyes to interpret.

From London to America, all the way to South America, Graffiti is everywhere. It is a social movement and a source to bring up real issues. Most Graffiti art that is explored in this blog deals with the intricacy of human society, almost a criticism of culture through the outlet of art.The beautiful thing about this is you can get away with anything you want to sa,y feel or act because the true artists are disguised behind the world vandalism. Vandalism is defined as “deliberately mischievous or malicious destruction or damage of property”. Is this what artists do? Do you need permission to paint what you feel. In a society where one sided views are pushed upon the masses, why can’t there be other perspectives in the form of art. Yes, Art. I am not referring to a deliberate damaging of property, or some hateful or mischievous message that often gets associated with Graffiti. I am referring to the art of Graffiti that society does not want to explore. The type of Graffiti where you cant paint beautiful murals without the permission of society. A scripture where you can use the Urban canvass to make your voice heard. You want to change the way society works, have people open their eyes to it. Just like Nike, Gatorade, Samsung and all the other billion corporations making their statements by throwing something in your face, so why can’t artists do the same.Walls, buildings , concrete, I see nothing wrong making art from this. Some will approve or oppos,e however the one thing is clear that the line between Murals and Graffiti is very thin, and the only thing separating them is legality. However in my opinion those who do not ask for permission often find ways to make to make art that is a direct reflection of the environment we live in.

Jasper Thomas

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Reflective art culture of Dran

“Based in Toulouse, Dran is a multi-talented artist who uses a variety of media such as installations, paintings and drawings to convey his ironic viewpoint. After developing his skills as part of Toulouse’s renowned graffiti scene. He is also a fan of the absurd and has published a number of books featuring his funny sketches parodying everyday events with great doses of surrealism”.


The Role of Graffiti in Democracy

Democracy plays a big role in graffiti practices and vice versa. Graffiti, as a social medium, provides people with  a public voice that otherwise may not be heard in a society flooded with personal messages and opinions via blogs, Twitter, and other social media platforms which corporations are beginning to take over. Graffiti is a tool that can promote choice, equality, freedom, etc. People can learn from it. It can act as an educational tool. It can act as propaganda. It can act as art. It is as powerful as public statements and because of its’ function through visual images and words, it can be more powerful and influential than speech alone.

Perhaps the most powerful characteristic of graffiti is its’ ability to evoke emotion. It is an outlet for people to publicly “speak out” in regards to important social and political issues. In response to the bombings at the Boston Marathon on April 15 graffiti artists from all over the country have taken to the streets and produced art in support of Boston and the people whoseboston1 lives were affected by the attack. The words “Boston Strong” are spelled out in bold lettering across the wall of a building on Tremont St in Boston (right). The letter “B” takes up the majority of a graffiti wall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (below). These pieces of graffiti represent what democracy is all about. They bring people together in a time of disaster. They create a hegemonic feeling of national pride and patriotism.

Almost all media representations of graffiti are negative. A handful of powerful conglomerates own a large portion of media outlets in American society. The reason graffiti is portrayed negatively is because it can be used to challenge the status quo, which currently is heavily in favor of corporations in our capitalist Big business executives are getting richer and richer while the middle class shrinks and poverty levels skyrocket. Why would corporate leaders want change? London street artist Banksy created a simple piece of art on the side of a building that read, “If graffiti changed anything, it would be illegal.” Corporations are scared that graffiti has the power to start revolutions, American citizens don’t know that it has the power too.


Graffiti with RISK

Mainstream media and society view graffiti as only a crime, and ignore the meanings behind the art and why it was created in the first place. Graffiti is a crime, but is a crime that speaks out against all that is wrong in the world and messages that are being expressed through street art. Graffiti shows how different places in this world are full of governments that are corrupt, drugs that overwhelm the streets, or an economy that is failing. These cities that are struggling with these issues are painted from top to bottom with huge paintings of graffiti to express the public concerns. Graffiti artists are aware that these works of art are not going to change the world, but getting your voice heard and raising awareness is a step in the right direction.


  The risk that surrounds graffiti is a huge piece of why the artists choose to express their ideas this way. Yes, graffiti is illegal and can be destructive, but it also represents freedom and love.


Street art in Melbourne, Hosier Lane that is a popular tourist attraction. Melbourne allows for all kinds of street art and even encourages it.


Taiwan has a legal gray area with graffiti. Police officers do not get involved and let people express their art all over the city.

To check out other places where graffiti is legal

Sara Spiegel

Art & Democracy

What is  Democracy when it comes to graffiti? Graffiti is intallay the definition of democracy whether it be legal or illegal, the sole purpose of graffiti art is to free your life from the restraints of society and represent your own personal thoughts and values through artwork. Artists put the values, personal morals, and perspectives through their  representative art pieces that reflect what the artist believes in.We cannot argue that mural and street art are demostrations of art that people can admire for free.The Remix Manifesto, one of my favorite movies about the controlling of culture, stated “Corporations are completely taking over our culture, telling us that we can only consume it. We are saying no! We are saying we want to create with it and respond to it. Take it, mutilate it and cut it up. We are saying you don’t ask us when you want to put up a billboard everywhere I go in my town. You don’t ask me if I want to see your Nike logo. You don’t ask me if I want to hear U2’s music every time I go shopping or when I am eating at a restaurant. So why do I need to ask you to take a little bit and make something out of it”(Gaylor, 2008). If you can be creative make something that reflects your aspects of society. If you feel there’s is social injustice and inequality that ravages the structure of our society then express that through,music, art, media, text. Make your voice heard. This is what a Democratic society should be, the freedom of expression. The world is an open canvass that is ready to be creatively explored by anyone and everyone and should not be controlled! So lets come together and redesign America as a nation, and show what it means to be a democratic society.

Jasper Thomas