Good writing practice is to start off with an idea, develop a plan then fill in the content; Graffoto finds that approach way too systematic and normally has no idea at the beginning what the content will be at the end. An attempt to structure this post into a series of political themes was immediately frustrated by Donald Trump going pan-issue. There is hardly a niche in the political agenda where Trump has not been demonised as a pariah to street artists and for most, simply being anti Trump says it all.
How many pieces of pro Trump street art do you think we have observed in London? Brace yourselves for a shock, the answer is none. Not fake news.
Kennard Phillipps produced what was either a Trump faced drone or a drone arsed Trump, either way, “not here” thanks.
A glorious piece of Bambi stencilism meant we will never forget that cringey moment when Donald grabbed Theresa by the hand and flaunted the first international visitor of his presidency in front of the press.
Fanakapan used his amazing painting skills to link Trump’s German origins with certain political tendencies
The artist then known as Sell Out saw a similar connection in a fascist nightmare of Hitler, Trump and May as winos.
The recent British general election confirmed something that politicians first understood from the American presidential election in 2016, what you said in the past or what skeletons you might have in the closet no longer matters. A point satirised nicely by Rider and in this instance conspiring with an adjacent Subdude label for neat emphasis.
Street art’s political output is huge, street art can respond incredibly quickly to contemporary events and it comes from activists and ordinary citizens who otherwise might not have a platform for political wisdom and calling out power on its frequent aberrations and abuses. Simple strong emotion doesn’t always need complex imagery.
Loretto got a lot of exposure for his beautifully executed band of despots
Climate and environmental concerns escalated through the decade as leaders signed up to up to the Paris COP 15 agreement, only for the “It’s a hoax” leader of the western world to withdraw America in 2018.
Banksy started the decade with art reflecting concerns on climate issues and it ended with his Venice refugee child unintentionally becoming a siren call illuminating forthcoming climate disaster as Venice floods immersed the child up to her waist.
Refugee Child Not Waving But Drowning, Banksy, Venice 2019. Photo courtesy Banksy Instagram
Extinction Rebellion took a much more radical approach to forcing climate action up the political agenda and in doing so inspired a very decentralised and usually anonymous art culture.
Jane Mutiny executed a stunning medley of endangered species literally disappearing right before our very eyes.
The Extinction Symbol itself was designed by an East London street artist right back at the beginning of the decade
Greenpeace initiated a three pronged campaign to raise awareness of the destruction of rainforests in Papua New Guinea by commissioning legal murals around the world; having activists paste up colourful images of Birds of Paradise and encouraging other artists to join in putting up their own versions. More details on Graffoto here. The coordinated global pursuit of political objectives for a specific geographic issue using a combination of commissioned and illegal street art was pretty punchy.
The politics of overseas countries, like those Papua New Guinea rainforest concerns, is often the subject of art on London’s streets. Visiting artists and activists and also the local ex pat communities all use our outdoor gallery for protest signalling and awareness enhancement.
In 2019, Subdude produced art supporting the Hong Kong pro democracy movement whilst at the same time making fun of Chinese imperialism, art which usually was disfigured by parties opposed to those sentiments. The great Unknown Street Artist placed up a flowing illustration supporting the pro democracy side featuring the umbrella symbol of the movement.
Greece subcontracted the economic management of its economy to Germany in return receiving multiple debt bailouts.
Regional political stress has resulted in humanitarian crisis in many parts in the past decade leading to migrations fraught with danger, uncertain outcomes and inhospitable receptions en route. Immigration has been a key issue in recent Australian elections and Adelaide artist Peter Drew made a huge impact with his “Real Australians Say Welcome” campaign against treating refugees like criminals. When he was living in London he produced satirical paste ups riffing on issues of immigration and colonialism, highlighting with some humour the fact that the majority of non aboriginal Aussies hostile to immigration owed their prescence to an earlier wave piece of social engineering.
The situation in Syria since 2011 led to civil war by 2013 and massive displacement and a humanitarian crisis, an issue not missed by street artists in London
Denial of basic human right to education featured a couple of times in large murals in London.
No other artist in the world has the power to illuminate a political cause with quite the effect that Banksy achieves. How many of us would not have seen the footage of French police tear gassing refugees in the Calais camps otherwise? Empirically my gut feel is not many of us.
The slaughter of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and writers in their office in Paris was perceived both as an assault of freedoms of the press and an attack on artistic expression, consequently #JeSuisCharlie got major support from street artists.
Intense single issue focus can lead to street art spots seeing large volumes of campaigning street art, such as the cause to end knife crime, of which there is a crazy amount in London.
Expanded Eye produced infrequent but impressive political street art such as this composite figure symbolising the toxic combination of oil, money, guns and politics and least there be any doubt, which UK party wears blue ties? How impressive is it to drive-by stick half an oil drum to a wall?
Aida was a one woman guerrilla girl engine staging art and events addressing many issues. Concern for the plight of artists in rapidly gentrifying Hackney Wick led to a mass art takeover of the disused Lord Napier pub. Among the artists participating were Himbad, Mighty Mo, Donk, Edwin, Dscreet, Aida, Goldpeg, Mobstr, Type (RIP), Rider, Malarky, Goodchild(with apologies to anyone omitted). Notice also a pre Extinction Rebellion appearance of the Extinction Symbol.
Shithole To Penthouse, Hackney Wick 2016
Painter extraordinaire and street artist Dan Witz twice executed brilliant political campaigns in London, highlighting brutal treatment of prisoners held at Guantanamo and then “Empty The Cages” in support of PETA
On the theme of animal welfare, the government sponsored badger cull flared as political hotcake of the day in the rolling agenda leading up to the UK’s 2015 general election, artist Clancy came up with a whole host of clever badger awareness puns all curiously executed on what looked like freezer room insulation and installed up high. TB or not TB is based on the political argument that culling was necessary to prevent cross species spread of TB.
Poverty, inequality and abuse of privilege lead to the global Occupy movement and as usual activism resulted in art, if actually very little else.
The best and the worst has been kept until last, mainly because the issue now at this precise moment in time leads to nothing more than a sense of flat despair and helplessness. Fucking Brexit. Fucking Brexit will take every other serious problem the UK faces and make it twice as bad which is ironic as the country voted for it twice. In the lead up to the 2016 referendum the issue got almost no attention from British street artists. And why would it, at the time who imagined that anyone would seriously contemplate cutting the ties to the rest of humanity, to trade, even to the relative peace which had prevailed since two huge wars devastated Europe in the first half of the 20th Century. Well, only about 16.2 million people saw it that way, 17 million thought this would be a good thing. Street artists have got on the case for the three years since.
The most impressive Brexit artwork unsurprisingly came from the genius of Banksy, a monumental brilliant piece in Dover seen from every vehicle entering the most important sea link to the continent. http://bit.ly/2plxH4w
In December 2018 then Primte Minsiter Theresa May faced a vote of no confidence in her leadership brought by her own party. She survived the debate but within 2 days Joe Bloggs had put up this brilliant satirical product design.
Benjamin Irritant’s rabbit interrogates Donald on his achievements but it will also continue to question the Brexiteers about the state of Britain for many years to come.
All illegal street art is political to some extent by virtue of its unauthorised hijacking of the public visual realm. No one is saying street art has changed the political landscape or achieved tremendous change, what street art does is provide oxygen, it breathes life into truth. If you do nothing you are complicit. This post features a small sample of artists Graffoto saw do something in the second decade of the century.
Graffoto Blog: Brexit Street Art
Graffoto Blog: Take Back Control – Group Exhibition
Graffoto Blog: Banksy on Brexit – About Time
Shoreditch Street Art Tours Blog: 2015 How Do Street Artists Vote?
Shoreditch Street Art Tours Blog: 2017 General Election Street Art