Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Graffiti (Treat on the Street)

Oaxaca has a vibrant tradition of what I like to call "street art." That's the catch all term that I used when Paloma, who is seven, asked me to explain the difference between graffiti and murals.

Mural for a local business

Most businesses here advertise with a mural - a sign painted directly on the wall, rather than on a board affixed to the wall. Murals are bought and paid for, and some people make their living painting them.

Well, some murals, anyway. Other murals are just art.... or kind of polite graffiti. High class graffiti?

mural downtown during the 2010 general strike

Then again, what's graffiti, anyway? Sure, some of it is just gang tags, scrawls legible only to insiders. The lowest common denominator of graffiti- it's information, but it isn't art. Even fervent defenders of graffiti can probably agree that some of it has no redeeming artistic value. 

But then there's also other kinds of graffiti that surely are art but which don't rise to the level of the mural. Little stencils, here and there. There's a particular artist who cruises certain areas of town spray painting amazing birds. That's all he does, birds. They all look pretty much alike, and they are all awesome.

There's a lot of political graffiti in Oaxaca, and it runs the gamut from the banal to the sublime. After the recent elections there was a lot of black, spray painted slogans denouncing the PRI around town; that all got painted over pretty quick. On the other end of the spectrum, during the great teacher strike of 2010 amazing full-scale murals depicting protestor/police battles sprouted up all over town.

sign for a downtown business called "the house of the angel."

a recent addition: imported graffiti

Shadow Cat - or is it a Chihuahua? 

Skulls on the sidewalk. It's a little disconcerting to walk over them. 

You can see why Paloma's question became more vexing the more I considered it. Finally I told her that murals and graffiti were both a kind of street art. There's lots of art on the streets, I said, and some of it is official and permitted, and some of it is unofficial and gets painted over. But it's all people expressing themselves through paint, so it's all art.

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