Graffiti and Street Images in London






Question 1: Analysis of Graffiti or Street Art Images in London

Question One:

Find and select three distinctive and closely related (in style, theme, form or location) graffiti or ‘street art’ images (stencilling, fly-posting, subvertisements) in London. Photograph them yourself, and be sure to record their immediate urban context. Conduct a close analysis of these images.

Street art of graffiti can be described as an amorphous style of art that is either found or inspired by the urban environment. It entails setting up creative pieces of art at strategic locations in public places such as building, walls, parks, and other similar places. The graffiti may either be stencil graffiti, street installation, pop up art, or wheat pasted posters aimed at communicating certain information to the public or sections of the population (Droney, 2010, P. 102). In most instances, graffiti maintains a rebellious and anti-capitalist or anti-establishment tone (Dickens, 2010, P. 77). Those who support it consider it to be a democratic form of popular art. In most cases, street artists are not commissioned or requested to post their images and calligraphic writings. Therefore, it is considered as an illegal or criminal activity. Most of the street artists are generally unpredictable in terms of identifying their next location to showcase their art (Hoak-Doering, 2010, P. 103). However, there are certain streets in urban centres that are often looked upon as hubs or hives of street art.

This paper discusses street art in London in terms of their meanings, contexts, and the analysis of the broader subculture of graffiti from a theoretical perspective. As such, the paper identifies three distinctive pieces of street art in London streets for the analysis. The three selected images for this analysis are the Sweep it under carpet image by Banksy, the snooting copper image drawn by Banksy, and the bomb hugger image also drawn by Banksy. The three pieces of art have two main issues in common. Firstly, despite being in different locations around London, the three images were drawn by one artist, Banksy. Banksy is one of the most reputable and famous street artists in London, having been in the scene since the early 1990s. His numerous pieces of street art have earned him global recognition as he has also drawn powerful images in other cities across Europe and the US.  The other common thing in all the three images is the theme they all share, that of good vs. evil within the society. Banksy uses the images to describe various social ills happening in the society through simple images.

Street art of graffiti has graced the streets of London and other major urban centres around the country for over twenty five years. It began in the early 1980s as a subculture among urban youths, who found it necessary to express themselves through art. It was also a major component of the Hip- hop movement that emerged from the United States in the late 70s (Scheible, & Ojala, 2009, 337). Essentially, street art entails inscribing artistic impressions in public places such as buildings, public parks, and at strategic places along city streets. Initially, this kind of beautiful onslaught of creativity was considered a criminal activity and likened to vandalism. However, in as much as it was reprehensible to some people, it was very well embraced by many others who related to the emerging form of art in London (Fotios, Unwin, & Farrall, 2015, P. 459). Also, some people consider it to be a colourful, witty, and artistic way of expressing one’s ideas and thoughts; others view street art as a provocative method of self-expression.

Nonetheless, street artists were able to perfect their art in the 1980s, making graffiti a major urban phenomenon in London throughout the 90s to date. Most of the artists were forced to operate using pseudonyms in order to hide their identities. Furthermore, they also did their work at odd hours and in hiding in order to avoid clashing with legal forces.

Today, street art is a very unique aspect of London streets and in some instances, graffiti is ubiquitous. However, there are still masses of peoples opposed to graffiti hitherto.  The appeal of street art is based on its unpredictability, creativity, illegality, challenging authority, and the altruism of the artist. For those familiar with the ravages of the urban life, street art is regarded as a delicate, transient, fragile and beautiful piece of art (Dovey, Wollan, & Woodcock, 2012, P. 32). As a matter of fact, is done well, street art can be an important tool of communication and understanding the youths in terms of appealing to their souls and emotions.

Image 1: Bomb Hunger by Banksy

Banksy, (2003) found on a wall in London’s East End

a)    Meaning and context

This is notably one of Banksy’s most famous pieces of street art. The image is a spray paint drawing that Banksy produced in 2003. The image features a young and innocent girl hugging a bomb. The bomb in the image is the type that is usually dropped by military planes during wars. Banksy used the image to illustrate the horrors of war in the contemporary society. Today, there are millions of people exposed to wars despite the fact that they are civilians. The young girl in the painting represents the purity and innocence of civilians, mostly women and children, who become victims of war. On the other hand, the bob hugged by the girl represents the evil nature of wars and criminal gangs, who do not mind the innocence of others, but only focus on killing them.

The main theme of the image is to relate the issues of war such as the consequences of war with the impact it has on the population. From another perspective, the fact that the innocent girl and the bomb are all in one picture embracing each other represents the ironic state in which the society finds itself in today. War and peace are two sides of the same coin (Powers, 1996, P. 170). In as much as people want to preserve peace, there are always forces of destruction close enough.

The image was also drawn at the height of the global war on terrorism after the 9/11 attacks in the US. The United Kingdom was a very close ally of the US as frontrunners in initiating war in Afghanistan and subsequently in Iraq. Many people lost their lives in the war while thousands others were injured and displaced. Banksy may have drawn the image to show his displeasure with global events revolving around the global war on terror and other destructive forces that targeted innocent people in the society.

b)    How the Image Changes the Sense of place in its location

London’s East End, where the image is located, is a very popular place in London, attracting many people. The area has many popular Sunday markets that attract huge number of consumers from the East London Region and beyond (Dickens, 2008, p. 482). The huge populations in the area have made it a haven for street artists, making it an important centre for street artists. Besides the bomb hugger image, there are numerous other pieces of street art that have all worked in favour of transforming the region. Most of the images are found in dilapidated or unfinished warehouses and strategic buildings.

In particular, Banksy’s drawing of the bomb hugger is one of the most common paintings in the region. The image was popularized after it was reproduced and sold as a stencil in 2007. The popularity of the image has altered the sense of place in London’s East End a great deal. For instance, the site has become a huge source of revenue for the local government in terms of its capacity to attract tourists. Many people visit London’s East End to view this and other images since they have become a major site for attracting tourists and lovers of street art from other places in the UK and around the world (Graves-Brown, & Schofield, 2011, P. 1389).

c)     Does the image speak to the location in which it is found?

Banksy’s image of the bomb hugger speaks volumes, not only to those around its location, but to others around the world. For the locals, the image is meant to sensitize them on the need for maintaining peace at the back of the knowledge that destruction is always around the corner. Essentially, the image discourages the locals from engaging in harmful activities that are likely to cause injuries or even death to others.

a)    Subcultural or Political Meanings of the Image

Banksy’s bomb hugger image, like most of his other works, has political connotations. Given the contest in which the image as drawn, during the Global War on Terror, where The UK played a vital role, Banksy, may have been expressing his displeasure at the ongoing events. He did not support the political agenda behind the War in Afghanistan and Eventually in Iraq. Therefore, this image presented him with a great opportunity to voice his displeasure by showcasing how dangerous war can be, to the point of talking destruction close to innocent children who have nothing to do with the arguments put forward for the war.

Image 2: Snorting Copper by Banksy

Banksy (2005), Snorting Copper Waterloo Station (Leake Street)

a)    Meaning and Context

This is one of Banksy’s paintings that target the police as a section of the population. The image of the snorting coppers appears in several places in London as well in other public places around the country. This implies the extent to which the artist wanted his message to reach out to the public. For example, the same image can also be found along Curtain Street at Shooreditch. The image appears to show a snoring officer, perhaps hiding away from vicinity in order to conceal something. The image was definitely a dig at the rampant immorality that characterizes the police force in London. There is a perception among the members of the public that some police officers are corrupt and often abuse their powers of office to enrich themselves (Bush, 2013, 177). In order to maintain a low profile of their immoral and unethical behaviour, the rogue police officers often hide their negative acts as they attempt to conceal everything. Hence, the main meaning of this piece of art by Banksy is to criticize the rot in the police system.

This image seems to propagate the main theme in Banksy’s works that of good vs. evil. Through this image, Banksy is able to show the difference between good policemen and the rogue police officers who miss use their offices or positions for their own benefits.

b)    How the Image Changes the Sense of place in its location

The image has helped enhance the general image of the place within London City. Street art plays a vital role in the beautification process in the city. However, besides just adding to the beauty of the street, the drawing is used to pass across an important message. The drawing has helped raise the profile of the street as more people now visit the street to view the spectacular drawings such as Banksy’s snorting coppers (Mettler, 2012, P. 266). Therefore, the image has helped to raise the profile of the street as well as attracting more people to visit.

c)     Does the image speak to the location in which it is found?

Firstly, the image raises the concerns of the people in London with regard to corruption and immorality in the police force. It is an image that most people in London can relate with, especially given the fact that the question of corruption within the police force has been in public domain for a very long time. Therefore, the image both speaks for and to the people passing along the street. It sensitizes the users of the street against supporting corruption among public officials (Merrill, 2015, P. 373). It urges them to be vigilant in order to identify and report in stances of corruption or any immoral deals done in hiding by public officers.

d)    Subcultural or Political Meanings of the Image

The image touches on issues of governance and morality. The relationship between the police and the public has been dented over the years, driving speculations of increased corruption within the police force. The questions of corruption also come at the backdrop of challenges such as police brutality which has also alienated the police from the public (Lashua, & Fox, 2007, P. 152).

With this background, the members of the public have sought to air their view use art as the basic tool available to them. However, there are many deep issues underlying the message portrayed in the image. For instance, the message expresses a strong desire to air one’s views democratically despite seemingly powerless at the hands of the police who have become extremely immoral.

Image 3: The Sweep it under Carpet Image by Banksy

Banksy (2006) The Sweep it under Carpet

a)    Meaning and Context

This image on Chalk Farm Road in London is one of the most recognizable works by Banksy. The image first graced the North London walls in 2006. It features an adult woman dressed like a maid in a home, ready with a broom and conducting her house chores as usual. A closer look at the image shows that the woman is distressed and disinterested in her work. Therefore, she sweeps the house while heaping the dirt under a white carpet on a visible brick wall.

The image is of great social importance in terms of indicating the place of women in the society, as well as illustrating the political relations between the third world countries and the developed countries. For example, the image shows that most women are not comfortable with being restricted to performing house chores (Mcauliffe, 2012, P. 196). However, since they lack appropriate structures to explain their displeasure, they are forced to do a shoddy job in order to rebel against the patriarchal system in the society.

Conversely, the image represents the unwillingness of the developed world to address the challenges of the developing countries. Developing countries face numerous challenges including the HIV epidemic, hunger, and poor governance among others. Despite the fact that these problems can be manages and eradicated if there is a strong partnership between the third world countries and the developed nations, there seems to be a certain kind of reluctance to resolve anything (Lombard, 2013, P. 260). The developed nations only sweep these issues under a carpet and let the other developing nations to continue to suffer. The image seems to question the morality of the reactions of the developed countries such as the UK to the challenges that the developing nations suffer.

b)    How the Image Changes the Sense of place in its location

The image is very huge and covers a very broad area of the wall along the street. It is very conspicuous and visible across the street. Therefore, it has been very essential in giving the place a new look, addicting to the beautification of the street. Furthermore, the image is also a major tourist attraction as it symbolizes the epitome of creativity of street art and how much it can be used to communicate a wide range of issues. The image has now become part and parcel of the street life along Chalk Farm Road.

c)     Does the image speak to the location in which it is found?

Unlike the other images discussed in the previous sections, this one does not seem to speak to the users of the street where it was drawn. On the contrary, the image passes a very deep message to the governance and political leaders in the country in terms of how they approach the issues of foreign relations with other developing nations.

d)    Subcultural or Political Meanings of the Image

The image is essentially a political expression of one’s displeasure at the country’s foreign policy. Therefore, it represents the growing concerns among youths over the need to establish equality around the world. This can only be resolved if the developed world takes a leading role in helping the developing nations to manage their problems.







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