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06 November 2008


Graffitti: Is it a a form of expression or public anarchy and nuisance?

In a growing city like Galway we have ever more graffitti on our walls, parks and often on windows... Who are the artists and, like most other modern cities in the world, do we need a place for this form of modern art to be expressed? Maybe some of our walls should be cleared white for new graffitti artists to make their mark?

Firstly, it is important to note the difference between graffitti art and what is known as 'tagging' which is essentially a way of leaving one's mark, nickname or 'trag' by spray painting it on any and every available surface. This has been likened to dogs marking their territory, and has no real artistic or creative value, nor makes any statements of note. It is often also very detrimental to the appearance of a town or city. Here in Galway for example, one lone tagger did untold damage to businesses in the city centre when they tagged various buildings using a form of liquid acid. This can take up to 20mins to show on a building or window, and when used on glass there is no way to repair the damage short of replacing it. It is behaviour like this that makes people unkind towards the idea of graffitti, but when used as a form of expression, and in agreed areas, it can have a meaningful and beautiful impact on the viewer and the surroundings.

Ireland has a long, albeit little known history for graffitti art. In the North, both Unionst and Republican graffitti was used as a means to communicate from the underworld, to air politcal views, hopes and grievances. The communities then could freely talk and express the underlining feelings of their people on the ground. The things featured in many of these pieces often spoke a truth not realised until later, from when problems of the 70’s first came to light and also in the run-up to the peace process of the 90’s. Around the marching season people still look to the graffitti lining the roads as an indicator of public sentiment.

So what about Galway? Previously we had boards at City Hall which were open to use for graffitti and it was great to let this form of art to be expressed. However this is no longer in place and to my knowledge there is now no public space in Galway that is used for this purpose. There is some space around the playground on Father Griffin Road that has been set aside for murals and graffitti art, this is well laid out, but almost full, and we could use more of the same.

So what have cities like London , Barcelona and New York done in this situation? Well they realise that graffitti is part and parcel of modern living. In New York it is zero tolerance other than on designated areas. London and Barcelona are somewhat more lenient than NYC, but do try to restrict graffitti artists to predetermined areas. Available space for graf artists to work in goes a long way towards making it more acceptable, although the draw of the forbidden is temptation to both taggers and legitimate graffiti artists.

Galway is growing with more houses and developments every week; the city is expanding in every direction. We should question in a case like this whether amenities are being put in place to help groups like graf artists perform to their utmost potential. It is a case of asking the planners of our city to think in the future… like where will Galway be in 5 or 10 years time. Have we given enough thought to the social consequences of not providing space for these people? We call on our youth to express themselves in life, to find themselves, to be themselves. Where in Galway do we give them the forum for this in graffitti? Oscar Wilde once said: “Youth is the King”. Maybe our ever growing cosmopolitian multicultural city needs a Graff wall! For starters...

If you are interested in finding out more about street art and graffitti, give these sites a try: - The website of French street art pioneer Blek le Rat. Blek was one of the first to use stencils in his graffitti, and his work is skilled and thought provoking. Kieran Herlihy is a young Irish artist working in Limerick who is heavily influenced by street art Banksy is a UK street artist who has helped bring street art into the mainstream. His work is often a great source of satire and social comment. The Wooster Collective was founded in 2001. This site is dedicated to showcasing and celebrating ephemeral art placed on streets in cities around the world.

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