Street art can transform even the most drab of urban environments. Travel writer INGA SIBIYA selects her favourite cities proudly adorned with this art form
It was Albert Einstein who said “creativity is contagious, pass it on”. Although the renowned theoretical physicist never picked up a paintbrush, he was certainly onto something, and no other art form “passes it on more than street art. In a way that art galleries or museums can never be, street art is inclusive, accessible and both playfully irreverent and socio-politically powerful.
Nowhere is the resilience of people trying to reclaim their space more evident than while walking through the Korogocho slums of Nairobi. Walls, public busses and taxis are tagged with messages of hope and perseverance. Local artists use the medium to disrupt the status quo and give a voice to the previously silenced.
If you stumble upon murals that resemble Kenyan tribal masks, they’re likely the work of provocative artist Wisetwo whose efforts are to remind Kenyans of their culture, and that it should be cherish, not erased by the West.
You might take a trip to Athens to visit the Acropolis and the Parthenon, but it’ll be the street art that really wins you over. There are many murals that pay homage to ancient Greek art and imagery in areas like Metaxourgeio. More politically charged pieces like Blood Money that speak to the local socio-economic climate are found dripping down walls near an ATM in. the Exarchia neighbourhood.
This quirky city is pulsing with bicycle-riding, craft-coffee drinking creatives who use every bare wall and sidewalk as their canvas. Take a walking tour and you’ll find permanent murals like Alexander Barrett’s Hey Girl at the corner of NE 24th Avenue and NE Glisan Street. Art outside Providence Park never lasts longer than a few days before it’s painted over, but a few thought-provoking pieces have premiered at the popular sports venue.
CAPE TOWN South Africa
The Mother City lets its artistic children scribble on the walls of Bree Street; she indulges them from District Six, through the neighbourhoods of Woodstock where Freddy Scott’s chilling odes to democracy by can be found, past Salt River; all the way to Observatory. Cape Town boasts a look book of murals acknowledging South Africa’s painful past, its fallen heroes, as well as portraits of the diverse landscape.
The colourful hilltop houses that call this coastal city home pale in comparison to the art that decorates the streets. Walk through the Cerro Alegre neighbourhood adorned with collaborative murals by local and visiting artists, stop for a photo-op beside the colourful stairs that weave through the city, and head to Cerro Concepción hill.
Though most of the street art isn’t tagged, and therefore cannot be attributed to any single artist, the outer walls of the open air museum located in Bellavista have been enhanced by the commissioned works of local artists including Eduardo Perez, Maria Martner, Roberto Matta and Nemesio Antúnez.
CAPE VERDE ISLANDS
You might not expect much from this cluster of archipelago islands, but the street art is impressive. Cape Verdeans are proud of their vibrant nation and their art depicts that; walls are adorned with murals of the oceanside and fantastical pieces of imagined creatures that swim in the sea.
Spanish artist, Deih, was invited to create a piece in Santo Antão. It stretches over 10 ft long and draws from a multiplicity of inspirations, including the islands marine life, traditional jewellery and colours from the natural landscape.
Here is a city whose creativity and optimism have managed to outlive the devastations of its past, with grey walls and dilapidated buildings the backdrop to bursts of colour. One of the more famous pieces of street art in Łódź is the Arthur Rubinstein mural near to the local government office on Sienkiewicza street and you should also walk through Róża’s Passage on Piotrkowska street … the experience will render you speechless.
CHRISTCHURCH New Zealand
This city is quickly becoming one of the most artistically expressive places on the planet. There is, quite literally, no street in the city centre that doesn’t have a mural of an indigenous woman painted on the facade of a building, or a playful portrait of a public figure on the wall of a parking lot. You’ll want to walk along Hereford Street, Lichfield Street and Worcester Street for some of the city’s most iconic pieces, and luckily they’re all a few blocks from each other.
Berlin is a treasure trove of tongue-in-cheek graffiti and satirical tags. Kreuzberg is a burrow within the city that will treat you to works like Elephant Playing with a Balloon by S.Y.R.U.S, and the controversial Maneater by an Italian artist called Blu. You’ll want to check out Banksy’s Flower Chucker – the last piece he completed when visiting Germany back in 2003.
For 10 days in April, street artists from all over the world meet in Senegal’s capital city for a graffiti festival – you can only imagine the keepsakes Dakar has collected over the years. The Médina district exhibits some of the most colourful collaborations between local street artists like Docta and Senegal’s first female graffiti artist, Dieynaba.
MOTHER CITY ART TOURS
Cape Town’s streets are teeming with graffiti art that both add beauty and colour to its buildings, and also document the city’s history.
There are a number of guided walking tours one can take to see and hear the story behind each work.
The Street Art & Graffiti Tour
Juma’s Woodstock Street Art and Township Art Tour
Street Art & Community Walking Tour
Woodstock Street Art Walking Tour
Salt River Street Art Tour