‘Pushing Boundaries With Cans of Paint’

While the Olympic themed street-art of England’s eminent and anonymous pop-cultural delinquent may soon disappear from the walls of London, Voice of America interviews graffiti artist Wang Mo on the chic and seditious sides of Beijing’s developing graffiti scene:

“In China when you look for the word graffiti in the dictionary it is defined as ‘scribble.’  Graffiti is actually a form of art which came from America to Europe and then to China.  The government and police don’t understand it at all,” he stated.

[…]Wang and his friends are now invited by fashion brands and galleries to take part in promotional events. Even the government has allotted some city walls as official public spaces for graffiti art.  But for Wang, these small liberties take away from the meaning of his work.

“This is not real graffiti!  Graffiti should mean that you can paint anywhere you want even if it is illegal.  We want more and more people, whether they are adults or children, to join us,” he added. “We want them to go outside instead of painting on a canvas.  They should go out on the street and paint whatever they want.”

In a country that limits self-expression, these young Chinese are pushing boundaries with cans of paint.

Earlier this summer, a piece from The Atlantic’s Cities website talks more of designer graffiti’s popularity among China’s stylish. While the VOA report stresses subversion in the works of China’s graffiti artists, this piece explains how they must take pains to tread lightly in a society as politically sensitive as is China’s:

In China, a place not known for encouraging dissent, graffiti is a little less in your face.

[…]The writer who calls himself Tin points to a carefully painted creation with a black background and stylized Chinese characters in red, orange, and yellow. “It says, ‘You see it but you don’t know the meaning,'” Tin says in Mandarin translated by his wife, Rity.

Westerners think of graffiti art as actively thumbing its nose at the establishment, but this is about as subversive as it gets inside the People’s Republic of China.

[…]What Chinese graffiti writers do shy away from is making political statements in their art or talking politics.[…]
A recent BBC article about how Weibo has changed lives in China interviewed a Chengdu based graffiti artist on the efficacy of micro-blogs in the development of a subculture. An older piece from BBC News contains a series of photos sampling the works of Beijing’s street artists. The article briefly mentions the historical roots of graffiti in China, and how some modern artists (again represented by Wang Mo) see their artform being recruited into propaganda campaigns:
[…]It began with Mao Zedong in the 1920s who used revolutionary slogans and paintings in public places to galvanise the country’s communist revolution.

[…]In a quiet street in north-west Beijing, a 730m-long wall of bungalows is covered by paintings and images that the authorities encourage people to spray on. The local government wants to show it is a city that can showcase different ideas.

But Wang Mo is dismissive. “It is not graffiti, just propaganda paintings,” he says. Nowadays, revolutionary slogans have made way for slogans about the importance to China of the Olympics.

In Beijing, American expat Lance Crayon recently debuted Spray Paint Beijing, a documentary about the city’s graffiti scene.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMfSjagb36s]

For artist profiles and images from China’s graffiti scene, see Fatcap’s China page. Also see prior CDT coverage of street art, graffiti, and hip-hop.


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