Cyprus Political Graffiti

I’ve been in Nicosia, Cyprus for less than five days now, and I can’t help but notice the political graffiti scene. It’s colorful, intense, and everywhere. Nicosia, as the last remaining divided capital in the world, is no newcomer to the outcries and protest.

Nicosia is divided into Old and New cities. In the New city, graffiti tends to be more abstract and less politically divisive. Entering the Venetian walls of the Old city, however, graffiti gives way from flare to blatant political statements.

Since 1974 when Turkey invaded and conquered the northern half, the island of Cyprus has been a divided country, composed of the Republic of Cyprus in the south and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the north. Cyprus has been a member of the EU since 2004, although neither the EU or UN recognize the Turkish Republic as an independent state. Turkey alone recognizes the Turkish Republic, while the rest of the world considers it an illegally occupied territory in violation of international law. Not only is the island divided, but the capital as well. Through the middle of Nicosia runs the “Green Line,” called the “Demarcation Line” by some, and this divides Turkish northern Nicosia from Cypriot southern Nicosia. Seven crossing points are guarded on each side by respective Greek and Turkish soldiers, while there exists a UN buffer zone in between, stretching as little as two meters at points and sometimes reaching up to six kilometers.

Southern Cypriots, almost entirely Greeks, view the division as the utmost offense and when speaking on the issue, are still very emotional and passionate. More than 200,000 Greek Cypriots were forced to flee their northern homes when Turkey invaded in the 1970’s and they still consider themselves refugees in southern Cyprus. Unable to return to their homes until 2002 when border crossings were first opened, they were shocked and traumatized to find their prior places of residence altered completely, demolished, and inhabited by Turkish families. Land that Greek Cypriots owned in the north was given freely to Turkish Cypriots and mainland Turks and to this day, no Greek Cypriot has received payment for their properties or been allowed to return home.

Given the situation, although not violent, it is only natural that a certain amount of vehemence and resentment course through the city, often showing itself in art form. Graffiti becomes particularly abundant in areas nearest the Green Line, where key spots render the most visibility for artists.

FAUX FREEDOM – On a wall on the Greek side near the Green Line in Nicosia, Cyprus, one artist perfectly expresses the feelings of many southern Cypriots.

Numerous corners and walls near the Green Line have quickly scrawled expressions such as “Fuck Turkey,” “Free Cyprus,” and “No Borders,” such as the sign below.

Calls for peace are also seen, such as the following image on a street corner.

The following pictures are from the Giris border crossing, one of the seven crossings along the Green Line. A sign declares Nicosia “the last divided capital in the world,” while a mosaic advocating peace was cleverly placed by one anonymous artist just to the side of the border crossing, which almost no passerby can miss.

One last thing: as a symbol of their conquest, the Turks in the northern half of Cyprus erected an enormous flag symbolizing their Republic. It’s similar to Turkey’s flag with reversed colors. While Turkey’s flag is red with a white moon crescent, this copied version is white with a red moon crescent. During the day it’s not as visible, but at night it lights up, and you can see its spiteful face looming over most parts of Nicosia from the Turkish mountainside. It’s the most outwardly obvious piece of political art in Cyprus.

 

 

Surveillance Saturates London Streets

This piece was unfortunately painted over by British police, but it marks one of Banksy’s most audacious stunts—a three-story high protest against Britain’s surveillance society just feet from a CCTV surveillance camera.

EYES ON THE STREET - Banksy's work protests the ubiquity of surveillance cameras present on streets and in public places in London.

The guerilla artwork appeared one day on a wall above a Post Office yard in central London. It features a boy in a red jacket painting the slogan “One Nation Under CCTV” in stark white capitals. His actions are filmed by a policeman next to a barking dog.

The secret work is made more impressive by its height, which would have required Banksy to erect temporary scaffolding—all of which went unnoticed by Post Office employees and the London police, despite being watched by a CCTV camera.

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According to the London Evening Standard, London reportedly invested in more than 10,000 CCTV cameras in the late 1980’s in a publicly-funded 200 million euro crime-fighting push. The cameras are erected all over the city, but their effectiveness in stopping crime is widely debated. The Standard reported in 2007 that, “a comparison of the number of cameras in each London borough with the proportion of crimes solved there found that police are no more likely to catch offenders in areas with hundreds of cameras than in those with hardly any. In fact, four out of five of the boroughs with the most cameras have a record of solving crime that is below average.”

BBC News later reported in 2009 that, “Only one crime was solved by each 1,000 CCTV cameras in London last year, a report into the city’s surveillance network has claimed. The internal police report found the million-plus cameras in London rarely help catch criminals. In one month CCTV helped capture just eight out of 269 suspected robbers.” BBC further claimed that “there’s been little or no change in London’s crime rates since they [the cameras] were more widely installed in the mid 1980s.”

Despite numerous reports detailing unimpressive facts concerning the city’s security system, the number of surveillance cameras has continued to rise over the years, and British citizens are now being watched by an estimated 51,000 police-run CCTV cameras. (The same amount of public money could have funded 4,121 new police officers). However, when including the number of privately-owned cameras and cameras situated in other public places like train stations and bus depots, the estimate is closer to 1.85 million cameras throughout the city.

A FAMILIAR SIGHT to the London populace, this sign warns that CCTV cameras are overhead.

An article published by the Christian Science Monitor in February of this year says that, “Privacy activists are worried that Britain will become the bleak totalitarian society George Orwell painted in his classic novel “1984,” where citizens were spied on and personal freedom sacrificed for the benefit of an all-powerful state.”

The article continues, “The civil rights group Liberty estimates that the average Londoner is captured on camera around 300 times a day while BBW claims Britain has 20 percent of the world’s CCTV cameras and only 1 percent of the world’s population.”

Stencil Speaks On Immigration

There are disputes over whether this piece is a Banksy graffiti or not, and not that I’m any expert, but given the distinctly stenciled design, I’d wager it was.

Reportedly, the first instance of this work appeared in Bristol, England in 2007 but spread to other cities over a period of months. A deal of controversy arose when in 2009, an instance of the artwork in Glastonbury, England was painted over by volunteers as part of the town council’s anti-graffiti agenda. Being a supposed Banksy, the work was allegedly valued at 5,000 euro, and the owner of the wall on which it was painted, Julian Chatt, had requested the image not be painted over.

The stencil pairs Paddington Bear, a classic fictional character in English children’s literature, with the message “Migration is Not a Crime.” Whether the artist is Banksy or not, the meshing of a serious theme with a children’s character is clever. While the message is clearly intended to be political, it is dampened significantly by the presence of Paddington Bear, a harmless persona. In this instance, the visual innocence is a trump card, making it difficult for anyone to get too riled up about the art or the message.

BANKSY OR NO? - It's disputed as to whether this stenciled work is a true Banksy or not. Regardless, the pairing of an innocent Paddington Bear with a serious message is a clever move by the artist.

This is quite a feat considering immigration is a rising global issue today: a problem with no clear solution, or at least not one escaping a swirl of controversy.

Perhaps I’m making the artist out to be cleverer than even he knew, but I find it interesting that this theme of migration, or immigration, is paired with Paddington Bear, who is evidently known in stories for his capacity to find trouble, despite his always “trying so hard to get things right.”

Issues and disagreements surrounding the policies of immigration are not even closely resolved in the United States and in many other countries. But perhaps this artist is proposing that government officials working on immigration laws, restrictions, and requirements take a lesson from Paddington Bear—just try hard to get things right, even if complications inadvertently arise.

Maybe a far-fetched connection.

But maybe not.

Freight Train Graffiti Gets Political

Riding the rails: this three-part series of freight-car graffiti murals sees a lot of landscape—and spreads a message everywhere it travels.

BAILOUT - The first in a series of three boxcars with graffiti, this one expresses anger over the economy with the all-caps "Bailout" and the words "consolidating power" to the side.

The all-caps pieces spell out “BAILOUT,” “IMPEACH,” and “POVERTY,” but are accompanied by some instances of smaller type reading: “Secret Prisons,” “Liars, Killas, Cronies,” and “Consolidating Power.” The cartoon character Scrooge McDuck appears at the end of the “POVERTY” mural with bags of money at his feet, at once adding contrast and irony to the mural itself.

POVERTY - The boxcar with the word "poverty" on it features an ironic Scrooge McDuck with bags of money at his feet.

According to the Minnesota Independent, a small newspaper having run an article on the graffiti, the murals were done in 2009 and express outrage over the state of the economy. They were drawn by the Abe Lincoln Brigade, a politically-motivated crew of graffiti writers who target trains as mediums on which to express their protest over various current events.

IMPEACH - The final boxcar reads "Impeach," perhaps a solution toward improving the nation's economy, as viewed by the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

In fact, die-hard graffiti artists consider freight cars the ultimate canvas, right next to high-flying billboards, overpasses, and the sides of bridges. Trains provide a moving, never-ending art exhibition of talent and effort that never gets old and is impossible to equate with more traditional graffiti avenues. Unlike stationary works on buildings and walls, train murals are not familiar—they’re new to someone different every day. Furthermore, so long as artists are careful not to paint over railroad identification numbers or the name of the rail line, their art is likely to be left on the boxcar. Graffiti is expensive to remove, and rail companies simply can’t afford to have a boxcar out of service for any period of time.

But the best part of writing graffiti on freight trains? What you create always comes back.

The Truth About Freedom

This piece of political art, stamped on a metal surface (perhaps a post office drop-box) in Manchester, England, uses the famous phrase, “Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau to make a statement.

CONTRADICTION - This stamped message uses a famous quote from French political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau to send a message about the truth of freedom.

Rousseau, a French political ideologist of the 1700’s, originally coined the phrase while referring to governments at the time, which were organized under the divine-right theory. Under this structure, rulers were thought to have been appointed by God, and being so appointed, were given authority to do virtually anything. Rousseau was one of the first philosophers to openly disagree with this model.

With this rather cryptic phrase, Rousseau asserted that states at the time were in fact repressing the physical freedom that is the peoples’ birthright and were doing nothing to secure civil freedom for citizens. In other words, while man was free in theory, the number of social, political, and civil restrictions placed on him could not amount to true liberty.

The use of the phrase in modern society carries the exact same meaning: freedom isn’t really as free as it’s advertised.

Author of The Social Contract, Rousseau theorized about the most appropriate relationship between individuals and their government. Legitimate political authority, he suggests, can only be derived from a social contract agreed upon by all citizens for their mutual protection. Individuals assemble into a political society only after agreeing to abide by common rules and accept corresponding political duties to ensure a long-term effective government.

ON GOVERNMENT - Rousseau's highly influential book, The Social Contract, theorized about the best possible and most effective relationship between a government and its people.

Rousseau deems the collective group of citizens the “sovereign” and claims that it should be considered in many ways like an individual person. While each individual has a particular will that aims for his own best interest, the sovereign expresses the general will that aims for the common good. The sovereign only has authority over matters that are of public concern, but in this domain its authority is absolute.

Rousseau’s Social Contract outlined four basic premises:

1)     Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.

2)     The Sovereign, having no force other than the legislative power, acts only by means of the laws; and the laws being solely the authentic acts of the general will, the Sovereign cannot       act save when the people is assembled.

3)     Every law the people have not ratified in person is null and void — is, in fact, not a law.

4)     The legislative power belongs to the people, and can belong to it alone.

As is clearly evident from the premises, The Social Contract argued against the idea that monarchs were divinely empowered from God to rule and legislate. Rather, only the people, or the “sovereign,” are granted this all-powerful right. Rousseau’s ideas inspired political revolutions in Europe, particularly the French Revolution in France.

Furthermore, Rousseau’s social contract theory of government played an important historical role in developing the idea that political authority must derive from the consent of the governed, a principle regarded with the highest degree in American political ideology today.

STOP! In the Name of War…

It’s a sign.

This is clever art. Think of it. Think of the idea formulating in the back of the artist’s mind. Think of the him planning a perfectly-cast shadow. Think of him etching in the letters “W-A-R” in the same font and height as the word “STOP.” There’s just something intriguing about the process of creating this. And a note of jealousy too—like wishing you’d been the one to think of it.

STOP! IN THE NAME OF WAR - Using a shadow concept, this anonymous artist created a clever piece of political art with a strong message.

Some degree of respect deserves to be awarded to this graffiti artist. Rather than haphazardly scribbling “war” on the stop sign, an act which most assuredly would be considered common vandalism, he created a piece of art.

In effect, more than a sign.

The Propaganda Remix Project

“Propaganda is the use of magic by those who no longer believe against those who still do.” – WH Auden

And Micah Wright, an artist specializing in the remix of old propaganda posters, is a magic master.

Wright has created an ongoing poster project known as the Propaganda Remix Project, a satirical collection of old military propaganda posters repainted to feature modern anti-(fill-in-the-blank after the dash) messages.

After 9/11, Wright became interested in the work of WWI and WWII poster artists and the patriotic messages they extolled. While this interest contributed to his idea for the project, he didn’t officially begin the Remix project until after seeing posters from the Bush Administration which reused old Nazi propaganda imagery.

Wright has worked in videogames, film, television, animation, graphic novels, and comics. He has released three books of political commentary which also feature his graphic posters: You Back the Attack, We’ll Bomb Who We Want!; If You’re Not a Terrorist, Then Stop Asking Questions; and Surveillance Means Security!!

His work has been featured in the New York Times, The Progressive, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and on Fox News.

Below are some of his remixed and re-messaged posters.

Wright's line, “a message from the Ministry of Homeland Security," adds a laughable satirical touch.

OPINIONS ARE DANGEROUS - A poster urging citizens to keep quiet.

A typical anti-war poster of Wright's, this one protests spending for the War in Iraq.

Another anti-war poster makes a mockery of U.S. policy.

Another poster comments on soldiers' usage of their GI bills.

A World War era support-the-home-front poster remixed to reflect modernity.

To view more of Micah Wright’s remixed war posters, click here.