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Where graffiti thrives as expressive street art

By | Dec 7th 2008 | 2 min read

By Emmanuel Mwendwa

Urban Kenyan youths have gradually earned a reputation for been expressively aggressive. Music is arguably the preferred communication platform and medium for self-expression.

Some choose to vent their suppressed rebel tendencies, opinions, views and, at times, orthodox ideas in a lyrical way through songs or rapping.

But an emergent, underground movement of street-driven graffiti artists have been edging into the local creative circles.

It is no longer uncommon to encounter boldly expressive and creatively executed murals or writings adorning bare walls in residential neighbourhoods.

Youth culture

Although this genre of urban youth culture remains a widely unappreciated art form, there are evidently positive indications the public is changing its stereotypical and negative opinion of street art.

Nairobi graffiti artist Uhuru Brown says the street art medium is shedding off its underground status. Over recent years, it has taken up its rightful space in the public domain and society — as a formidable forum for expression especially among the urban youth.

"It is important to point out that graffiti is no longer shunned as being some form of hooliganism perpetrated by idle and lazy ruffians merely writing names or scribbling on walls as a medium to display rebellion. Rather, it is a serious creative artistic technique," remarks the artist.

Indeed, his liberal views would resonate with many graffiti art connoisseurs in other parts of the world, where this form of popular art thrives in the streets and underground subways.

Major cities

The genre is particularly celebrated in major cites across the USA, the Far East and Europe. But in many parts of Africa and developing countries, the development of graffiti as an artistic genre is still in its infancy.

In China, the evolution of graffiti is traced back to Mao Zedong, who as early as the 1920s used revolutionary slogans and paintings in public places to galvanise the country’s communist revolution.

To date, Mao is credited with an unbroken record for the longest piece of graffiti, which reportedly features an estimated 4,000 characters.

Germany’s capital, Berlin, stands out as one of the major cities where this vibrant urban culture art thrives — not in the back streets, but prominently on the walls of building located within the central business district.

Public perceptions

Numerous organisations, such as the New Society for Visual Arts have been at the forefront of institutionalising graffiti as a form of creative, artistic expression.

Over the past decade, art historians have insisted graffiti art works ought to be judged individually, as some reflect sufficient creative merit to rank them firmly within the realms of expressive visual art.

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