What does street art activism mean? Examples of 2022 artists & cities

street art activism messages

In order to fight against any injustices, we must speak up and raise our voices to be heard. Moreover, those of us capable, we need to represent those who still cannot defend their rights because of prosecution. That’s one of the main reasons why the street art activitism in necessary in the XXI century, and for the future generations.

In that sense, Cooltourspain’s team members take the leading role during the street art tours in Madrid. However, it just takes a small effort from every single individual contributing to solidarity.

Be the change you want to see in the world- Mahatma Ghandi

They wanted to bury us, they didn’t know we were seed- Dinos Christianopoulos

Today’s article will illustrate what’s happening in several worldwide cities, and what are the local & emergent graffiti writers and street art artists doing:

Why could the street art activism help changing people’s lifes?

To start with, we should mention that street art activism is just one of the many possible ways with which people protest. Furthermore, there exist several advantages that we may think of. For instance, raising the debate about topics which affect people’s daily lifes: inflation, the cost of living…

  • Injustices and intolerance
  • Lack of equity and empowerment
  • Gentrification & housing issues

In order to raise awareness, emergent and well-known artists develop outdoor murals for festivals and other culturally related events. At times, their artworks are later featured in the news, and that’s how they could get people’s attention. Do you happen to know of any decoration which talks about those specific themes?

City walls as a tool for freedom of expression

feminist street art activism
One of the demonstrators in front of the feminist mural in Madrid, Spain

It’s true that there is room for improvement, but local city councils and private projects are somehow doing great efforts to create a better world. At times, they commission feminist projects which include messages against domestic violence. Unfortunately, there are other citizens who are totally against those slogans, and destroy them without any regrets.

What would you prefer, observing a grey and boring wall, or admiring a colorful decoration which contains a social and powerful message? That’s the reasoning that lies behind the majority of the artworks developed with a permission. Still, you could observe political graffiti. What’s your favourite one?

We are also concerned about what could happen to artists who talk about controversial topics such as the monarchy and their privilege. For your information, there are several musicians in Spain who have been prosecuted and even taken to prison because of what they sang. Is that the kind of democracy that we want for us?

What’s the analysis that we could carry out of the street art activism?

blu's hidden messages
Blu’s walls are mindblowing! Have you seen his interpretation of our minds?

Despite the differences that may exist between graffiti and the street art activism, we could open the debate if we stood in front of any given mural. As a matter of fact, while some people could observe one artwork with a certain point of view, few others could check it differently. The most important point here is to respect others. Don’t you agree? That’s what we do during our guided visits.

If we dedicated part of our time to be less selfish, and care more about others, the chances that people have about suffering injustices may lower down. It’s just a matter of building a castle out of a piece of sand, because every single amount matters. You should not only worry about what others do, but what could you put from your side to change the world. For instance, we run free tours in Madrid for those who cannot afford to pay a ticket.

Consequently, the contribution that graffiti artists provide to the streets, will only be visible and achieved if people stop at them to think about the message. How does that affect their personal life styles? Similarly to what happens in cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, there are other worldwide cities who feature these connotations.

Have you heard of the expression “think global, go local”?

street art activist, JR
Artwork created by JR on the Mexican side of the border.

The Scottish planner and conservationists Patrick Geddes coined the term in 1915, and since then, the quote has been adressed under many different circumstances. For instance, within the street art activism. A clear example of that would be the different feminist slogans that are created on the planet for the 8M, International women’s day. Woudn’t that be such a nice case scenario where to see it?

Thousands of people, even millions of women and men marching on the streets, while at the same time you can see arworks with an empowering message. Chile, US, France, Spain.... These artworks are visible thanks to the hardwork and effort of local activists. Are you part of the movement too? Have you ever created a stencil with recycled materials such as X-ray films?

Lastly, you should know that there is a huge community within the paste up and sticker lovers. In that sense, you don’t need to travel abroad/overseas as to have your artwork displayed, you can send them by airmail to other fellow artists. That’s a creative and smart end of becoming notorious.

Where could we find examples of street art activism?

Generally, people could find this form of expression in any surface of format. That means that street art activism could be performed with different materials, whether it’s plastic, wood or other resources. Ever seen ‘canvases’ created out of small tiles, newspaper cutouts or recycled elements?

These creations are achieved by artists such as JR, a French artivist (art + activism) who travels to other countries that feature migration problems and other social issues. Did you see his performance on the US-Mexican border? It talked about the horrible journeys that many migrant families may have lived in order to seek a better life in a foreign country.

Even on the most remote areas, you’ll be able to photograph amazing protesting artworks. In the same vein, it’s in the medium towards low socioeconomic local neighborhoods where the artists perform. So great to check that creators are also supporting and integrating pieces about the climate change, emigration, gentrification, food banks…

The example of Madrid as a socially involved city

art decoration in Lavapies district
Boa Mistura painted this beautiful mural right across Lavapies metro station

Using the quote “think global, go local” would take us to discover the best murals in the Spanish capital city. Artists, with permission or not, decorate on the streets around the city center, which are usually their preferred spots. Regarding them, we would suggest visitors to concentrate around Lavapiés and Malasaña districts. They are not only known because of their street art activism, but also because their local atmosphere.

In this case, we chose as the paragraph’s cover image an illustration painted free hand by a crew of artists called Boa Mistura. It means ‘great mixture’ in Portuguese language. This 12 people group started painting black and white decorations, but they turned their project into one of the most colorful ones in Madrid city. They even decorated at La Cañada Real, the cities’ most famous drug dealing area (located in the suburbs).

The quote makes reference to Eduardo Galeano, a great journalist and writer from Uruguay, who contributed with his social messages to equity and empowerment. His main job was developed in South America, the reason why the artists painted, in different colors, leaves from plants and trees that you could find around the continent.

Where’s the best street art activism in Spain?

The figure of former Spanish king Juan Carlos
Artwork created in Barcelona by Roc Black Block about the former Spanish King, Juan Carlos I

Eventhough we may affirm that countries such as the United States, Portugal or England feature more street art activism than Spain, travellers will find Barcelona, Valencia and Málaga as key locations for the emergent scene. Thanks to young artists, the debate is still on the streets. Have you heard about JWarx, Ze Carrion or the Catalan Roc Black Block?

As you may check on the picture above, the artwork concentrates on the face of the former Spanish King, surrounded by words like “dictator”, “assassin” or “thieve”. Consequently, the question here lies on a thin line. What’s art and what’s vandalism? Could the artwork be prosecuted? What about the investigations that are currently undergoing in the British law system against him?

Other murals and projects around the world

BLM street art activism
Imagen tomada en Washington DC, por Elvert Barnes

Likewise, artists’ contribution is spread all over the world. Two of the main followed movements are ‘Black Lives Matter‘, and ‘Me Too’.African American citizens and women mostly represent them, and these groups demonstrate and protest against police brutality and/or domestic violence. They raise their voices for the ones who are not any longer with us, such as George Floyd.

There exists no commercialism that could take benefit out of this. The artworks on the streets are created for the cause, and at times, charities make special events to raise funds. In this case, the money obtained will be later used to accommodate the needs of the most vulnerable groups in our society. Paradoxically, it’s often the foreign communities who majorly require the help.

Cooltourspain’s opinion about the street art activism

Our society needs the street art activism. We need brave people who fight for their rights. Cooltourspain team members believe that despite the efforts of different city councils to promote urban art and graffiti, at least Spain, should count with legal walls where artists wouldn’t need to worry about police prosecution. If only we educated, instead of chasing, we would benefit from contemporary art.

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