Street art is thriving more than ever globally. From strictly graffiti tags and slogans to elaborate large scale murals, there is an insatiable need by artists to get public spaces to speak for their people. Why is there such a creative boom on the streets of Athens and what does it mean for the artists and city that hosts them?
Athens is an eternal ‘street art’ city. It has been continuously inhabited for 6,000 years and was the cultural and social hub for ideas such as democracy and philosophy. The word graffiti derives from the greek word “graphi” which means writing.
Much of the ancient knowledge we enjoy to this day, was found on ancient marble inscriptions which were then deciphered by archaeology experts. It is also known that in ancient Greece public art played a significant role in shaping collective thinking and appreciation of beauty. The examples are endless in architecture and statues, which had mankind at the centre of its creation, marrying the secular with the sacred. In fact, most ancient art, science and philosophy was human- centered which was a breakthrough at the time.
The reason why us, modern Greeks, make allusions to our ancient past so frequently is partly because we’ve had a strong sense of collective identity throughout history. An astonishing fact if we consider the long troubled history of this land, where some of the fiercest conquerors such as the Persians and the Ottomans stayed here for centuries. One of the most vital channels that link us to our history is the greek language, both verbal and visual, which has survived and continuously transformed for more than 3,000 years. And with it, the collective feelings of hope, justice, beauty and a higher ethical purpose for humankind among many others.
Which brings us to modern day Greece. An 8- year- long austerity program imposed on the Greek people has led to extreme social pressure and the annihilation of the working and middle classes. With high unemployment rates thousands of young scientists flee abroad in the largest brain drain the country has faced in recent times. A scary number of families can no longer feed their children or may lose their home as both parents may be out of work. Politics has been entirely degenerated on the land it was conceived and developed and has been replaced by banking systems.
And the streets of Athens start boiling with creativity. Countless streets fill with colorful graffiti, political and social satire, and painting murals which inject beauty and color in grim concrete areas. Artists express their defiance of a system which seeks to deprive of social awareness and hope on the street. Quite the opposite is happening here. These art attacks’ impact is immediate and strong as the Greek people identify with that collective feeling of innate hope for change and beauty in life and, in a way, get some strength to go on no matter what.
“We are all victims of a terrible propaganda”, says INO, an internationally acclaimed street artist from Athens and one of the most popular in Greece.
Such is the acceptance by the people in Greece of these street murals that the State, as well as private building owners, have decided to give permission for the creation of works of art, a large opportunity for large- scale work.
From political to purely aesthetic art has sprung ‘like mushrooms’ and Athens gave tribute to philosophical dialogue and beauty appreciation on its streets yet one more time, since antiquity.
Alexandros Vasmoulakis has created massive murals of smiling faces in various spots in Athens, in his distinctive style. Here, the aesthetic overrides the political.
Woozy creates colorful, dreamy murals, full of life to bring beauty into grim school yards and neighborhoods.
If you’ d like to look further into the world of street art and graffiti art in Greece we recommend the following links with articles and pictures. Enjoy the dive!
The featured image is called Praying Hands by Pavlos Tsakonas and can also be found on Pireaios Street in Athens.
The SpARTakos web team