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Though Art has often been accredited to changing the world, Street Art believes that it does something different. What Art does is, it changes the way we see the world, but it does it by creating interaction between people and their surroundings. In other words, the street does no changes the world, it simply changes the way, by which we see the world. Street Artists today do not claim to make the world a better place, but a better-looking one. In this piece, we are going to take a look at five important contemporary and famous street artists and their contribution to the world of Street Art.
Banksy, BRISTOL, ENGLAND
The recent alleged arrest of Bristol-born street-artist Banksy caused severe dread amongst his fans. The apparent discovery of Banksy’s true identity was seen by most not as a victory but as a defeat. Fortunately, Banksy’s arrest was a hoax. It is not the quality of his pieces but the tone and delivery of Banks’s messages that have gotten him his well-deserved credit. Banksy is political while comic, mocking while kind, omnipresent while elusive.
Banksy’s work has traversed multiple domains. He is not only a stencil artist and street painter, but he also executes performance art, while remaining anonymous. Banksy is known as one of the top street artists, whose elaborate works of performance shake people up and keep them on their toes. In all his art, Banksy has been seen to express contempt for consumerism and large-scale industries. The glaring examples of this is his mural of a naked crying girl flogged on both sides by Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald, or works like “Drunk Mickey” on the corruption and exploitation caused by consumerism and capitalist industries. In October 2006, Banksy installed dummies of Guantanamo Bay prisoners on the railings of a rollercoaster in Disneyland. The objective of this artwork was to shake people of the artificial wonderland that they came to experience in Disneyland. The installations were successful and scaring both children and adults, who screamed as they came down the rollercoaster to find standing replicas of Guantanamo bay prisoners. Though this was seen by some as a cruel joke, all Banksy was trying was to transform an experience in real life to a political shock. Through this artwork, like most, Banksy looked to bring attention to the evils of the American state, which are effectively hidden behind its capitalist enterprises.
ROA, GHENT, BELGIUM
ROA – street artist from Belgium has a different take to street art. He unlike Bansky is not anonymous. Neither is he outrightly political. ROA’s work is massive murals of animals that are native to a city. Often these animals are shown in states of decay or deterioration, emphasizing the pain that human civilization has caused to other forms of life. ROA’s art does not romanticize; his animals are sometimes picturesque and sometimes grotesque. One of ROA’s most important works is the giant narwhal in Stockholm, Sweden.
“Their tusks make them a unique example of a species; in a way, the narwhal is a mythical sea creature; the unicorns of the sea,” explains ROA in an interview. Narwhal whales have been hunted for centuries by Inuit people in the Arctic waters surrounding Canada and Russia. In this piece of street art, by illustrating a young narwhal caught in a fishing line, ROA draws attention to how they and many other water-species have become subject to hunting and potential extinction. Until the mid-20th century, narwhals and other sea mammals were integral to Inuit existence. The tusked whales provided meat and blubber for food, oil for fuel, and raw material for everything from thread and tools to tent poles and sledge runners. Inuit hunters took only as much as they needed. However, as the Inuit began moving to civilization, narwhal tusk ivory became coveted as an exotic item. As the number of whales being killed by the Inuit increased, the narwhal became a resource of luxury instead of survival. By painting a narwhal whale in a city like Stockholm, ROA wishes to alert young Scandinavians about the impositions of civilizations and capitalism on other natural species.
Italian street art has been in existence since the 16th century and it is only in modern times that painting on the streets was forbidden in Italy. In Naples, the city most known for its street art, residences believe that cities constantly evolve and civilizations themselves are works of art. Blu, a street artist born in Bologna in the North of Italy has a distinct style. His artworks have a childish, almost cartoon-like feel to it but his themes are intensely political.
In 2005, Blu travelled to Nicaragua, Spain, where he painted “Hombre Banana” which might be his most important piece.
Hombre Banana alludes to the terrible conditions of workers in banana plantations in Central and South America. Companies such as Dole Foods, apparently ethical, have been accused of violating human rights conditions in their farms and factories. In 2010, Dole’s bananas were seen to destroy natural ecosystems and poison residents and workers with pesticide-induced sterility. By painting a large monster made of bananas, BLU brings attention to the poor condition of human rights in multinational capitalist organizations.
London born Swoon a.k.a. Caledonia Dance Curry, is a famous street artist, who specializes in life-size human cut-outs. Her prime material is a wheat paste, a liquid adhesive made from starch and water. Swoon believes that the change, that public works undergoes, is a critical part of their nature. Evolution in street art is important to this artist.
The above work is characteristic of Swoon’s style. She uses human faces to illustrate political messages. In this, a young girl sitting between huts aims to bring to light both poverty and childhood. The young girl is looking at something far away with a curious expression. In this street art, Swoon is illustrating the presence of children in today’s world riddled with unfair poverty. Swoon is an important artist because she is one of the few women in the world of street art, and also for her sentimental, but the emphatic style of painting.
Shepard Fairey, AMERICA
American stenciler Shepard Fairey is one of the top street artists, commonly known as the prince of street art, the professional, the alleged sell-out. In an interview, Fairey states as a matter of fact — “I don’t consider myself an artist or an activist, but merely a populist”. Shepard Fairey is known for his political campaigns. He started the sticker campaign of “Andre the Giant has a posse” in 1989, which later evolved into the OBEY campaign.
Fairey connects OBEY with Heidegger’s phenomenology and says “The OBEY stickers are supposed to arouse attention, to make someone question their relationship with their surroundings”. Through OBEY, Fairey looks to call people’s attention that they do in fact, obey. Since the 2000s, Fairey has been plastering OBEY stickers wherever he goes. About this campaign he also says— for those who have been surrounded by the sticker, its familiarity and cultural resonance is comforting and owning a sticker provides a souvenir or keepsake, a memento.
Though differing in nature, what all these top street artists have in common is their defiance of normality. And this is what makes them famous street artists. Street art dissolves boundaries between high and low art and brings art to the people. The artist does not advocate the celebration of the art. It brings art out of galleries into the ordinary, making its spectators as important as the artist himself. By doing this, street art is political. It stirs people and forces them to look at their surroundings from a different perspective. It forces people, as Banksy said in an interview, not to think outside the box but take a knife to it.