Graffiti: Vandalism, Art or Political Commentary?

Dancing Girls GraffitiAfter much debate and wrangling, work is finally beginning on the development of the old Gloscat site as part of the Greyfriars redevelopment. Clearly not everyone is delighted by the plans, however.

Negative views about the Greyfriars development have been voiced in various forums over recent months, but the most recent is the appearance of “aggressive graffiti” scrawled on the hoardings that now surround the site.

I’m a bit behind the times with this story: it featured in the Citizen on 18 May and the graffiti had apparently been in place for some days before that. I blame my holiday for my tardiness, but felt the need to comment anyway.

Generally, being the law abiding citizen that I am, I don’t condone acts of vandalism, but I find it hard to be too po-faced about graffiti. When done well it can be a great art form: just look at the success of Banksy.

Even as the hoarding was going up it crossed my mind that it would be a great canvas for the creative talents of the city’s graffiti artists.  Hoardings of this type are ideal surfaces for the cause and, as they are only temporary, no real harm is done. I have seen them decorated to good effect in many cities. I remember many years ago a hoarding of this type in Cheltenham being decorated with a long and humorous depiction of Cheltenham races. That was probably a bit more formal than graffiti, but the more spontaneous kind can be just as good if it has some talent behind it.

Sure enough, almost immediately some graffiti began to appear: Banksy-esque dancing girls: not a bad start.

The ‘aggressive’ messages in question, however, are not of the artistic type: the hoardings have been daubed with messages scrawled in big red letters saying things such as: “Welcome to the City of Ruins” and “Greed is Killing this City”.

This causes me a bit of a dilemma. I am a staunch supporter of Gloucester, so I hate to see it disparaged. I also generally believe that as someone is finally getting around to doing something to develop the city we should stop whinging and carping and support the plans.

Having said that, I am unconvinced by the Greyfriars plans. I tend to agree with another of the slogans: “Demolition of this Building is a Crime” – it does indeed seem a crime to pull down a building with history and character to put up something soulless and modern. The plans, at best, seem unimaginative and pedestrian.

Barry Leach of the Gloucester City Centre Community Partnership. is quoted as saying “It’s a shame that people have to express aggressive views on hoardings in the middle of the night. If they think what is happening on that site is wrong they should come to meetings and forums to explain why.”

This sounds a bit naïve and patronising to me. Some people like nothing better than to get involved in meetings and forums. Some people are pre-disposed to spray painting hoardings in the middle of the night. I suspect if you were to produce a Venn diagram of these two demographics you would find very little overlap.

Perhaps I am being overly flippant: I agree that views should be aired in the proper manner. However, even if you are pre-disposed to sitting through meetings and forums, it is not always possible. Maybe you don’t hear about it in time and/or maybe they take place in the day when most concerned citizens are at work.

Even if you do get to a meeting, reports that I have heard suggest that contrary views make little or no difference. They certainly don’t make the front page of the Citizen.

U Will Not Silence The PeopleSo, is the use of graffiti a valid means of expression? I certainly think that the Gloucester City Centre Community Partnership should take the views on board: they are clearly expressing deeply felt local opinion. The preferred option, however, seems to be to cover it up and ignore it: when I passed the site yesterday the graffiti had been painted over in a drab, uniform battleship grey. It’s not working though, the spray painters have been back. One of the new slogans reads: “U Will Not Silence the People”.

In summary then, I think the Gloucester City Centre Community Partnership should listen to criticism in whatever form it comes and that the spray painters should go to art classes so they can take a more aesthetic approach to making their views known.


About Darrel Kirby

I am what I am.
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One Response to Graffiti: Vandalism, Art or Political Commentary?

  1. Pingback: Art in the Eye of the Beholder « Darrel Kirby's Blog

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