Urban art is one of the most common forms of resistance art. It consists of transforming a public space, such as the street, into a work of art. This appropriation of the space decontextualizes the artistic piece and helps convey the social commentary more directly. At the same time, urban art implicitly aspires to “take back the streets” or make it clear that public spaces belong to the citizens or the communities, not to the government or to large corporations. Urban art, therefore, carries an openly political message.

Although there are renowned artists who have explored art in public spaces such as Diego Rivera of Mexico or Keith Haring of the United States, the expression “resistance art” implies marginalized, or in some cases, illegal work.

Graffiti is perhaps the most identifiable kind of urban art, but the discussion of graffiti is often tied to a discussion of the difference between art and vandalism. The artists (street writers) see the public space as an enormous canvas where they can express their art. Some cities, such as Berlin, have been receptive to graffiti art. During the Cold War, artists protested against the presence of the Berlin Wall in part through their works of graffiti. Although the wall has fallen, the tradition continues today and street writers from around the world take advantage of Berlin’s openness to present their works in the city.

Some urban artists have made their message of political resistance clear. One of the most recognized is Banksy of Britain. In 2005, for example, he painted a number of works on the wall dividing Israel from the West Bank as a form of protest. One of these works showed a girl about to cross the wall, flying with the help of balloons. Blu, of Italy, has incorporated the painting in his murals in various parts of the world. Many artists celebrate social activism and leftist political movements. More recently, in response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the artist Above painted a graffiti that showed a Cuban boy trying to help the Haitian victims.

Subvertising is a genre of resistance art that tries to convey a message against consumerism. It consists of a parody of well known brands and advertising logos. For example, the famous “Enjoy Coca-Cola” logo is subverted to read, with the same colors and letters: “Enjoy Capitalism.” The yellow M of the McDonald’s chain is inverted into a W with “Work” written below. Naomi Klein has studied the link between subvertising and the anti-globalization movement in her famous book No Logo.

Theatrical art is used to transform a public space into a stage, in which the public sometimes does not realize it is part of the show. Augusto Boal has been one of the most important theorists of this kind of theater. Under the title Teatro del oprimido, Boal includes a series of disciplines that are used to artistically appropriate public spaces. These transformations sometimes imply collaboration by the actor with the public, but sometimes the public does not know it is part of the act (as in the invisible theater).

Author: Alejandro Carpio
Published: December 20, 2011.

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