Street art and social commentary

Being a big fan of street art I often spend time in new cities looking for interesting examples and in Turin I found some really cool stuff. The two best projects I found were the portrayals of Muslim women and an excellent media criticism project. While I realize that many are critical to what they see as a defacement of public space it is important to remember that art can act as a conduit for social commentary, giving voice to those who might not otherwise have one. This is particularly true in the case of street art since the public street is more easily accessible to the artist than the gallery.

In addition to this these public spaces are available to all people without requiring them to enter into the unfamiliar  structured work of “established” art. Many may feel unsure of how “established” art may be interpreted, this coupled with a fear of making a fool of oneself makes it easier to ignore art rather than attempt to participate in the discussion. Street art places no such demands. It is immediate and easily accessible: either you like it, or you don’t. Either it talks to you, or it doesn’t. They are our streets and everyone has a right to an opinion. No hierarchical canon rules our opinions.

The media criticism project was a humorous portrayal of the way in which media controls our minds and makes us into robots.

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The Muslim women project was a colorful and thoughtful portrayal of women in everyday situations. My favorite pictures were the ones were the women are interacting with technology and showing that we are all the same.

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The artist has presented the motivations for his project in the Wooster Collective:

“My project deals with the representation of Muslim women and their social condition. I was been studying and dealing with this theme for years. As you can imagine, here in Turin, my posters are seen as an ambiguous subject. Some people mislead and rip them, while others love them. I would like to make people know that there is nothing strange with this particular subject: Muslim women are equal if compared to Western women. My Muslim women are represented in daily life situations: they are mothers, grandmothers and daughters, smoking, taking pictures and smiling. My message is: pointing out that Muslim women have the same needs and necessities of the majority of Western women. Certainly, the only exception is the veil. The veil changes in different countries, and here comes the sociological aspect of my work: I am very careful in rendering the different types of veil, the Maghrebi veil, the Afghani burga and the Iranian chador.

In my opinion, nowadays it’s crucial to conceive street art as a tool to spread social messages. Moreover, I made a deep research and I discovered that I am the only artist, in the street art movement, that deals entirely with this topic. Isn’t it strange? In general, the woman is the best source of inspiration for artists, why Muslim women wouldn’t be the same? I would like to create a network of artists of all nations, about this subject, eventually to compare the different viewpoints.

My posters are drawn and coloured freehand, each of them is unique. The subjects are not invented but real, I use images taken from newspapers, magazines and websites. Often they are portraits of important personalities of Muslim society (novelists, poets, entrepreneurs, feminists etc…), in order to make Western societies know who they are and what they do.”… BR1 on Flickr

Rest in peace God… but why?

Across the street from the cathedral in Göteborg someone has sprayed the words “Vila i frid Gud” which translates to “Rest in Peace God”. At first I just ignored it. Then I decided to photograph it, but still I didn’t think it was worth much. But the words stuck in my mind. Maybe even more so as an unbeliever.

from my flickr site

The natural connection for me was to link the sentiments that God should rest in peace was that God was dead. This idea has it’s origins in Nietzsche’s “The Gay Science”

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

Nietzsche used his idea of God’s death to present the important idea that theology was no longer able to provide a source of morality for modern society.

But still the grafitti on the wall did not ring true. It took some time before I got what was wrong. If god was dead and unable to provide us with a moral solace what was the point of wishing that he was to rest in peace? The real reason we tend to wish RIP is to act as a comfort to those who are alive, not to the deceased.

But those who do not believe do not need comfort – so what if god is dead? Those who do believe don’t need comfort – they don’t believe the sign! So why bother writing the words on the wall? Just plain vandalism, irony or a fact that the writer does not “get” his Nietzche?

Or maybe I should just stop reading the writing on the wall?

Today is for Sisyphus

Ever since a teacher long ago explained Camus’ use of the Sisyphus myth in his work The Myth of Sisyphus to attempt to reach a conclusion as to why we should all not kill ourselves I have been fascinated by the myth itself and the work by Camus which ends with the words: The struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

In Greek mythology Sisyphus was a king punished by the gods to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll down again, and to repeat this throughout eternity. He has been the image of pointless work and Camus used him as an example in his work to defend the pointlessness of life.

The first days at work after a vacation are never the best…

Found this beautiful image at Agency of the Urban Subconscious the original wall is in Sicily

Banksy unmasked

It was only a matter of time before his growing fame led to his unmasking. The Mail on Sunday reveals the evidence they present to his identity. But… Banksy’s publicist would neither confirm nor deny whether the artist was Robin Gunningham.

Copyright in real life

In the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons they often make strange sculptures out of snowmen. Yesterday I came across this sculpture outside the humanist faculty at the University of Göteborg.

The scene depicts two figures pushing and pulling a huge wheel over a third figure lying down in the snow in front of the wheel. Check out a larger size at my Flickr account.

On a interesting side note – according to Swedish copyright law only public art which is placed in the public sphere on a permanent/constant basis may be reproduced without permission. An interesting question which needs to be addressed first is: Is this installation/sculpture copyrightable art? The second point is the issue of permanent/constant. It can hardly be considered to be placed there on a permanent basis but could we interpret the word constant to mean for the duration of the snow?

If it is to be seen as impermanent copyrightable art then it may not be reproduced. If the photo is to be seen as permanent copyrightable art the photo may be reproduced, but the creators must be named. Actually this is all a moot point since in neither case can this photo be reproduced on the Internet.

So who says copyright is complicated?

Digital Billboard Liberation

The higher philosophy behind billboard liberation is the re-appropriation of public space. It is a reaction against the commercialization of the world in which we live where there is a virtual monopoly on the right to broadcast messages into the public sphere. Individuals and organizations (for example the Billboard Liberation Front) carry out acts of adbusting in order to show that culture jamming is a way in which protest is possible.

In a rare example of digital billboard liberation a hacker known as Skullphone has hacked ten of Clear Channel Communications’ digital billboards in Los Angeles. The to achieve this billboard liberation Skullphone had to hack into the Clear Channel network and insert his trademark skullphone between the commercial messages shown on the billboards.

Update: Fresh information suggests that this was not a hack at all but a paid commercial approved by Clear Channel. More information will be presented as soon as it is available.

(via Supertouch who also has more pictures)

Thoughts in the London Drizzle

Its kind of sad when wifi rules your thoughts and I am pretty sure that their are lots of ways of rationalizing the need for an internet connection but I must admit it is pretty sad. Sad people should be pitied but when it comes to Internet connections they are not pitied they are preyed upon. The prices hotels seem to think they can charge (maybe they can) for a connection are absolutely ridiculous. Amazingly enough the better the hotel the higher they want to charge – it should sort of be the other way around. The hotel last night only had wifi in the lobby and wanted to charge 80 pounds for a 24 hour connection!!!! This was a new record for me and naturally I went without until today when I can scrounge off someone else.

After arriving yesterday I gave a lecture at the LSE on Disobedience and Resistance in Online Environments – it went very well and the students were quick to join the discussion. Today I will be discussing PhD projects with four students and then its out in the London drizzle. Thanks to the Internet connection I uploaded the last of the Ljubljana pictures – the city is a very cool center for innovative street art.

The rest of my photos are on Flickr

Birds Return

In May last year I wrote about the pictures of birds which began appearing around central Göteborg. An example of this was this Jackdaw


The birds gave me an idea and I went out on bird-spotting expeditions and posted my pictures on flickr. Since I only have a free account the birds on flickr cannot be seen anymore – but the good news is that the whole thing further developed my interest in street art.

In a few comments left on this blog today the birdmen of Göteborg, John Skoog and Eric Berglin, (check out their own pictures) tip me off that they will soon be releasing a new publication of some sort (?) – check out their website.

Street Art in Lund

Lund is a small place but it seems to hold an endless amount of students. With this in mind I was curious to see the street art around the city. I must say that so far I am pleasantly surprised. Here are two pictures to give you an idea


The Punch



Love Communism

Graffiti & Copyright

A recent advert posted all around Göteborg features artwork by Banksy. I have written about Banksy earlier in this blog (here, here, here and here). I cannot pass signs like this without thinking about the copyright questions this raises.


The first point that needs to be made is the fact that despite the fact that Graffiti may be illegal the artist has copyright in his work. This means that even though the artist may be arrested his (or her, naturally) work may not be copied and reproduced without the permission of the artist.

Now Banksy is not the artist most concerned about copyright – in his book “Wall and Piece” there is a quote in the beginning “Copyright is for losers”. But what I would like to know is whether or not the the people who printed the poster even bothered to think about the question of copyright.

My guess is that the group probably feels some kind of affinity with countercultures and therefore assumes that they either do not need permission, or if they did need permission they would surely get it. The creators of the poster may actually have asked for and received permission but somehow I doubt it since Banksy tends to be rather withdrawn.

A clue in this direction can be found on his website, where a small popup appears with the text:

“Banksy has not organised or been involved in any of the recent exhibitions of his work”