Spain's City Surfaces: The Graffitists' Canvas

by Phoebe Southworth on Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Graffiti Madrid

Walking around the streets of many major cities in the world, you will be overcome by the skyscraping architecture, the roaring traffic and the bustling atmosphere of urban life. However, another prominent feature of many metropolises is that which lines many sparse areas of free concrete, ranging from scrawled signatures and political slogans to full scale murals and colorful cartoons.  

Without doubt, the practice of graffitying is not a universally welcomed form of expression. Arguments against the activity tend to revolve around the the fact that graffiti is often illegally painted on buildings and is thus a form of ‘vandalism’ which creates nothing more than an eyesore to passersby. This viewpoint might very well be supported considering that there is graffiti which appears to lack real purpose. For example, following the collapse of the Franco dictatorship in Spain in 1975, graffiti began to emerge in Madrid and many young people started writing their names on walls around the city.

While signatures in themselves are not generally considered a political message, in this case they were part of a social rising among Spanish youth known as “The Madrid Movement” and, as it expanded, “The Spanish Movement”, in which the graffitying of one’s name was a form of liberation and self-identification following the repressiveness of the Franco Regime. This might be seen as evidence that seemingly meaningless graffiti can carry a strong political message. A further example of this is in cities such as Salamanca, where there is an abundance of graffiti related to the economic crisis. For example, a recurring image is a man’s face showing a derisive and mocking expression with the phrase ‘Reforma Laboral’ (‘Labor Reform’) printed next to it. This particular image also demonstrates the internet influence on the types of graffiti witnessed; this image is frequently seen on so-called “meme” websites where internet-users circulate particular images and alter their captions in accordance with what they wish to ridicule.

Although it is generally accepted that graffiti can be used to convey political messages, a frequently-discussed topic is whether or not it should be considered ‘art’. Those who believe graffiti is indeed an art form might argue that graffiti is a form of expression and is no different from an artist putting his paintbrush to an easel. In the light of this, a hybrid form of graffiti has emerged known as ‘political art’ in which graffiti can be used, among other methods, to deliver a political message in an artistic form. For example, a group of Russian political artists known as ‘Voina’ (‘War’) have gained much attention over the years for their daring artistic creations which condemn the Putin regime. These artists were even awarded the 2010 Innovation Prize for visual art by the National Center for Contemporary Arts in Moscow for a graffiti image of enormous dimensions (65 meters high!) which they whitewashed onto the Liteiny Bridge in St. Petersburg. However, the political group maintains that they do not wish to accept any governmental recognition for their work as this would undermine their cause, which is to artistically oppose the current Russian authorities in order to bring about significant change in the country. Thus, Voina might indeed be considered artists and their creations works of art.

Graffitists in Spain and around the world continue to spread their expressive, political and artistic messages through the medium of shapes, colors and images, and the city surfaces remain the canvass to graffiti and political artists alike.

Photo by Arluck.


Keywords: graffiti in spain, spain graffiti, history of graffiti in spain, street art in spain, graffitists in spain

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