We’re so used to seeing graffiti in forbidden, almost impossible places such as bridges, overpasses, and other hard-to-reach spaces. These locations are referred to as heaven spots as they require guts and a whole lot of risk. Many graffiti artists have lost their lives trying to spread their art and messages hence the slang term. It’s easy to mark a lamp post at street level, but showcasing art on an abandoned billboard is an entirely different feat. Marking difficult areas may boost a sense of pride for the artist or expand viewership.
There is, however, a reason why graffiti is illegal. Often times artists will tag public spaces with inappropriate phrases. It’s easy to confuse graffiti with street art as the public eye views both concepts as forms of vandalism. Graffiti is word-based and usually a form of self-expression while street art draws inspiration from the graffiti style, ultimately choosing to spotlight an overarching message for its community.
While the stigma revolving around graffiti remains, street art is a practice steadily gaining acknowledgment within the art community. Professional artists are featured in museums and events, others commissioned for community wall murals. The Bushwick Collective located right in Bushwick, Brooklyn (between Troutman Street and St. Nicholas Avenue) is an annual celebration combining street art, music, and local vendors. Artists are welcome to paint anywhere within the several blocks designated to the Bushwick Collective, created by Joseph Ficalora back in 2012. There are few restrictions: nothing offensive to children, women or local businesses. Words aren’t allowed either— tagging (simple signatures or phrases) are viewed as egotistical because of its lack of purpose. Artists donate supplies and time while building owners offer their wall space. Ficalora’s project attracts artists from all over the world such as Argentina, Russia, Singapore and South Africa.
Graffiti can be more than thoughtless acts of vandalism. Graffiti, like various other art forms, experience movements and challenges— which is why the term has evolved into street art. Artists take advantage of the free spirited nature in this art form to make political statements and “interrupt” a community, pushing to move in different directions so that art progresses. For many artists, street art represents an opportunity to receive recognition and payment for their work.
Image by Mikayla Jahia Roces