Street Art: The Evolution of Graffiti

Ushuaia Wall, Street Art

Ushuaia, Argetina. This mural portrays the indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego.

Graffiti. Art? Eyesore? Vandalism or outlet of free expression? Does it bring a neighborhood down, or can it raise one up? Moving to New York in the late 80s, there was a “war on graffiti” in full swing, and the subways were being wiped clean of the blight as part of the Clean Train movement. While removing marked-up train cars from service discouraged graffiti artists by taking away a main motivation for their art (that it would be carried through the city and shared via public transit), it also meant the spread of the art to the streets. The movement was eventually carried to other major cities throughout the world, even while local authorities tried in various ways to keep it under control. Still, social and political messages continue to be a common theme world-wide.


Varanasi street art

Varanasi street art

If you’re in NYC soon, New York’s Museum of Modern Art currently has a “City as Canvas” exhibit running (through late August, 2014) featuring works from the collection of Martin Wong. The collection tells the tale of the rise and fall of graffiti in New York.

Glasgow Wall

Tiger beer uses street art to promote its brand in Glasgow.

Later, as respect for some forms of graffiti grew, artists took their craft into galleries. In some cases, such beautiful, high-impact works of art were created that property owners hesitated to take them down. People began to realize the potential value graffiti might hold, and rather than eradication, graffiti was incorporated into revitalization efforts. We’ve been made aware of Atlanta’s growing mural scene lately, and impressed by some of the works created through the Living Walls conference, an annual conference on street art and urbanism that “seeks to promote, educate and change perspectives about public space in our communities via street art.”

Yogyakarta Wall

A wall on a side street in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Graffiti has been around since ancient times. Declarations of love, political slogans and poetry have been discovered etched into rock and ruins from Egypt to Sri Lanka. On our travels, we’ve been drawn to the graffiti we come across. It seems to really capture the voice of a certain segment of the population that may not otherwise have a voice. Sometimes it reflects the current social or political climate. In other places it’s more focused on the art. South America’s graffiti scene has been particularly interesting. Below are links to current and upcoming posts featuring graffiti we’ve seen around the world.

Street Art: Bogota’s Cultural Renaissance

Street Art: Cartagena

Street Art: Medellin


About the author

Traveling like turtles, slowly and deliberately, Tamara and Donny wander together with no cure for their insatiable wanderlust.