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Street Art

The Little Girl with the Balloon, 2002, London
Photo: Dominic Robinson

Street art is a unique, boundary-breaking form of visual expression. Artists have harnessed the raw potential of public spaces, such as building walls, streets, and other unconventional surfaces, by turning them into their canvases. These artists have demonstrated that street art has no limits and manifests in diverse styles and mediums, including graffiti, monumental murals, stickers, and thought-provoking installations.

The roots of street art stretch far back in time, echoing humans’ primal urge to mark their surroundings. Ancient cave paintings are distant ancestors of this movement. However, modern street art as we know it today owes its emergence to graffiti, which found its earliest voice in the gritty urban landscape of 1920s and 1930s New York that is often associated with notorious street gangs. In this environment, graffiti became a symbol of defiance and identity.

As New York City continued to grapple with social unrest and economic struggles throughout the 1960s and 1970s, graffiti evolved from an act of rebellion into a full-fledged artistic movement. It provided an outlet for young people and social activists to channel their creativity and frustrations onto city walls. In doing so, they birthed a cultural phenomenon that would transcend geographical boundaries.

Initially viewed as an illegal and subversive activity, street art gradually gained recognition in the 1980s. It transitioned from the streets into galleries and museums, establishing itself as a legitimate art form. Since then, it has not only maintained its underground roots but also become a global sensation. The influence of street art has rippled through contemporary culture, extending its reach into fashion, advertising, design, and various creative industries.

Beyond surface aesthetics, street art serves as a potent medium for socio-political commentary. Artists use their work to address pressing issues, provoke thought, and encourage dialogue. Much like the artists who painted on cave walls millennia ago, today's street artists continue to communicate, inspire, and challenge the world, enriching our urban landscapes and collective consciousness in the process.

Keith Haring
We the Youth, 1987, Philadelphia
Courtesy of Mural Arts Philadelphia
Photo: Steve Weinik

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