Sometimes the best art is displayed outside museums and galleries, right on the city walls
1. Buenos Aires
As with most art, street art in Buenos Aires traces the city’s history from the stifling dictatorship of the ’70s and ’80s to the recession of the 2000s. Authorities here have a very relaxed attitude towards murals and often if the owner of the building gives permission, turn a blind eye. The result is towering images, entire buildings that turn into artistic statements featuring pop cultural references, urban art, psychedelic iguanas, and soccer idols. There are a number of excellent graffiti tours, recommended if only to unravel the very colourful histories and circumstances that led to some of the works.
2. New York City
NYC fights with Chicago to claim the title of the ‘city where graffiti was born’ and a walk through Queens will convince you that NYC holds the true legacy. The different forms and styles and their evolution are displayed in all their Technicolor glory. There have been documentaries devoted to these walls, entire buildings dedicated to them. Look for Shepard Fairey’s Obey Giant stickers and in complete style contrast, Swoon’s intricate portraits. Tats Cru, a duo haunting the Bronx with advert mashups is the current favourite, and you’ll find their work in 5 Pointz, the warehouse dedicated to graffiti artists. It is time you explore New York. Check flights to New York that suit your time schedule and book tickets online.
Melbourne is a young city in every way, and graffiti falls under that purview as well.
It’s only in the last decade or so that the publicly artistic side of Melbourne exploded. Colourful walls became such a hit that the city now hosts an annual stencil festival, and has even earned the nickname of the ‘stencil capital of the world’. One of its most popular artists is Vexta whose trademark image is of two skeletons kissing. This motif can be seen all over the city in pink, black, neon green and red. Drop in at Café Hoboken at Hosier Lane – it’s a perfect spot to take in the massive variety, but don’t miss the Union Lane murals, Yarra Street and ACDC Lane and Duckboard Place (although the latter does have a few murky corners).
Banksy might be the most famous street artist, and clearly the most successfully hidden as well, but London’s walls display a massive variety of artists. In fact, feuds between artists — like the one between ’80s star King Robbo and Banksy — have led to valuable works by themselves. The two stalwarts have tried to outdo each other with clever artwork – Banksy painted a worker who seems to be putting up a wallpaper over Robbo’s mural. However, their notoriety doesn’t take away from Ben Slow’s moving portraits, Slinkachu’s delicate figurines, or Adam Neate’s portraits on cardboard that are often distributed free. Already eager to visit London and want to find out more? Book flights to London online and have a great experience.
The old heritage buildings of Portugal, some of which are falling apart, have become canvasses for some of the best graffiti in the continent. It’s best to sign up for a tour – how else will you decipher the stories behind the art? It helps that a lot of these tours are free. Lisbon’s most striking work is on the main road. It has been created by Os Gemeos, twin brothers from Brazil who, like other artists, have used the massive curves of the building and the window facades as features within the work. A lot of the work is political and satirical in theme – like the massive corporate oil mogul sucking the world through a straw.
People with pieces of the Berlin Wall also carry with them mementoes of great graffiti, the relics of East Germany’s subversive mode of expression. Tours will take you through the most famous spots and the first thing you’ll notice are all the signatures. Blu’s gigantic monsters, Faile from Brooklyn’s stencilled signatures, Kriope’s fists, El Bocho’s cut-out paper dolls and, of course, plain vanilla signatures as well. In this city, the artist is as important as the art, and the UNESCO City of Design displays multiple works by the who’s who of the graffiti world. It is time you have a closer look at the Berlin City. Check the list of flights to Berlin and book online to have a planned travel.
Historically, this is probably where it all began. Records from over 2,000 years ago speak of disgruntled citizens complaining, announcing, and marking spells. The BerlinBrandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities holds 180,000 inscriptions of this sort. Today, though graffiti is outlawed, it continues to manifest in the most colourful form. The city authorities have gone a bit cuckoo cleaning off bits of walls, but have dedicated six miles of wall for graffiti artists. Look out for works by Borondo, Blu and RO.BO.COOP’s reinterpretation of Botticelli’s ‘Allegory of Spring’, a reproduction of the Renaissance painting with the figures in surgical masks. If you are an art lover, Rome is a city you must visit atleast once. Look for flights to Rome, check availability and book online.
8. Cape Town
District Six is where you can trace the history of Apartheid, the oppression, the injustice, the cruelty, all laid out in stark and haunting images. But not all of it is soul crushing. Interspersed through history as idols and symbols for hope are Nelson Mandela Steven Biko. The Human Rights Media Centre recognised the potential of street art to inspire people, and commissioned some of the more prolific artists to build pride. Faith47, along with her son, has painted most of the evocative figures, which are accompanied by witty slogans. The suburbs of Oranjezicht and Gardens and the City Bowl are good places to scout for great art work. Look for international flights to Cape Town and book early to have a smooth travel.
You’d think that China’s strict policies would extend themselves to graffiti artists as well. Ironically, the police are very tolerant of artists, and even dedicated part of the Great Wall of China to them. During the Olympics, graffiti artists were also invited to go crazy on a 300-metre long wall. The city centre doesn’t have much but the further out you move, the better it gets. Some of the best works are at Golou, and along Line 13 near Wudaokou. Wenshui Road of Shanghai showcases 1,000 sq m of work, earning it the title of the world’s largest single-themed graffiti wall.
Graffiti art here is so prolific that there are multiple festivals and exhibitions designed around them. A number of them are messages of protest, against the government, religion, and oppression of gender. Voina, a group of artists, painted a giant phallus on the Liteiny Bridge during the International Economic Forum – for which they won a prize, but were jailed. They were eventually bailed out by Banksy. The latter even had a counterpart in Moscow – Pavel 183 painted and used mixed media on walls and bridges in a manner similar to Banksy. To have the true feel of the art in this city, visit Moscow. Book flight to Moscow and plan your stay so that you can spend your time to explore this amazing city.
Do a bit of research and sign up for a tour that also offers to teach you some skills. There are some that show you how to wield a paint can, stencil and leave your own mark.
Best time to Visit:
Graffiti tours are best enjoyed in sunny weather, so head to the cities in summer to avoid biting cold weather or showers. June to August is a great time for Argentina, where the heat dissipates and makes way for a pleasant winter in Buenos Aires. March-May and September-November are perfect for graffiti-hopping in Melbourne.