Street Art in the Balkans

My mom was pretty shocked by the abundance of graffiti in the Balkans. Granted, there was a lot – and while many walls were covered in nothing more than teenagers’ signatures, I was fascinated by the content of a lot of the other street art. While walking the streets of Zagreb, Sarajevo, and Serbia, especially, I was reminded of an interview I did with Alexis Zimberg in October. Zimberg completed her Masters degree at Georgetown and wrote her thesis about street art in former Soviet countries; in the interview, she and I talked about the politics of street art in eastern Europe. I thought of something she said:

“Everybody has access to a marker or paint or a spray can, and they can write something on the walls. This makes it a very democratic art form and way of speaking. This means that people can say whatever they want – even if that person is racist or anti-Semitic or dislikes Putin or hates war. These people don’t always have a voice in mainstream media. Anytime there’s a power struggle that’s not getting an outlet, I think it come out in the streets.”

Below I’ve added photos of some of my favorite graffiti, though I have many more examples – photographs of graffiti with messages that are political or incoherent or violent; beautiful drawings; messages in all kinds of languages and different alphabets; and examples of graffiti that has been drawn over, either by the state or by those who disapprove of the message.

In the United States, especially in a suburban context, graffiti gets a bad rap. Only thugs or hooligans take a can of spraypaint to the walls of a public space, people think. But it is much different in eastern Europe than in the United States; in eastern Europe, because of the different relationship between the people and the media, the push to reclaim public space and use street art as a form of political speech is often stronger.

(By the end of the trip, my mom acknowledged that there was a lot of street art – but she didn’t sound so upset to say so. This is great progress.)

anti nato

“Death to NATO, Fascism! Revolution!” Seen in Belgrade

people list
we'll never be artists sweet street art

beograd street art heroes 1994
kitty graffiti

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