by Shreya Parikh

For many artists, graffiti has become an expression of popular culture by the people aimed at the people. Originally, art was accessible to everyone through various forms. Today, it is often bound inside elaborate structures. Why are citizens becoming forced to buy culture, to pay to enter museums? When did art become so exclusive?

Artocracy: Ordinary Tunisians in portrait

Graffiti and street art was born out of this need to make art inclusive. It also gives art a popular dimension because it is a voice to the people. It has evolved into a tool that addresses political and social issues, making average walls the host to huge exhibitions in themselves. The works of 2011 TED Prize winner artist JR are a direct reflection of this movement. In his recent project titled “Inside Out: Artocracy in Tunisia”, portraits of hundreds of ordinary Tunisians were pasted on multiple politically-symbolic monuments in Tunisia. Initial attempts at the project were failures, but after collaborating with locals, JR and his team achieved the collages they were aiming for. The goal of the project was to create a space for open debate amongst people, which was a success both in Tunisia and elsewhere, as seen by the TED award.

Another example of the political-play that graffiti can be seen in the anti-Gaddafi graffiti that has become a viral phenomenon across the Tripoli walls, with slogans and caricatures portraying the dictator and people’s wrath against him.

Lebanon, where local graffiti art has been a part of the political movement as well, there has been an evolution in terms of what the art is expressing. As Tala F.Saleh, in her book Marking Beirut, puts it, “Through their appropriation of graffiti, the communities of Beirut transformed graffiti into unofficial forms of propaganda and mass communication used to mobilize masses and keep audiences aware of the political and social spatial divisions.”

Graffiti has certainly brought down the walls between art and politics by using the walls themselves. The potential of its ability to grasp the popular voice remains infinite and still much has yet to be explored.

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