A Picture of Illusion

Greeting passerby crossing at the Giris Checkpoint in Nicosia from the Republic of Cyprus to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is a striking example of political graffiti.

BORDER ART – These words greet citizens crossing from the Republic of Cyprus to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus at the Giris Checkpoint in Nicosia, Cyprus.

The piece, impossible to miss, covers a slab of metal tin situated in the UN Buffer Zone between the two regions, an area forbidden to citizen entry past certain hours.

Referring to the Cyprus Division, an issue which has plagued the small island nation since 1974, the writing expresses sentiments common to many Cypriots. While the majority of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots are willing to reunite as one country, the opposing governments have different aims. The government of Turkey in particular, which controls the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, refuses to acknowledge any talk of reunification. Having relocated thousands of their own citizens to the island, the Turkish government is unwilling to give up both the acquired land and the strategic position in the Mediterranean granted to them with occupation of the island.

The sign then suggests that the supposed hatred between the two ethnicity’s–Turkish and Greek–is invented, an illusion constructed by the governments which prevents two nations who “want to live together” from the freedom to do so.

 

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.

 

 

Political Graffiti in Nairobi Demands Attention

Out of Nairobi, Kenya, this politically-charged wall protests political instability, corrupt government officials, lack of reform, high unemployment, and rising prices. The wall spurred a feature cover on February 29, 2012 by NTV Kenya, the largest broadcasting station in Kenya, covering a wide region across the country.

The art lists a slew of problems affecting the country, including: land grabbing, political assassinations, tribal clashes, drug dealings, famine, tax evasion.

Perhaps the most powerful image is of a corrupt politician sitting on a throne with a box full of money chained to his seat—a symbol of how politicians use money to reel in votes. To add to the picture of corruption, the politician’s thoughts are articulated in the words, “I steal their taxes, grab land, but the idiots will still vote for me.”

One section of the wall has a bullet list of characteristics of the type of leader the people desire: visionary, patriotic, intelligent, honest, competent, courageous, and in touch with the people.

A final section of the wall recalls the corrupt and undemocratic elections that took place in December of 2007. With the words, “my voice, my vote, my future,” the artists assert that this is how the democratic voting process should be—responsive to the people.

Kenya has experienced political problems since 2007, when a crisis erupted after disputed elections. Violence erupted across many regions, particularly in the slums, and protests raged in Nairobi.

Watch NTVKenya’s coverage of the street art:

Vietnam Era Spawns Countless Protest Posters

With a vividly graphic design, this poster makes no qualms about protesting the Vietnam War. As turbulent sentiments arose from the American public concerning the purpose and justice of the Vietnam War, countless posters were created in political protest.

SPEAK OUT - This protest poster makes no qualms about objecting to American actions during the Vietnam War.

Interestingly, when the Vietnam War started, only a small percentage of the American population opposed it. Objections to the war came from people with left-wing political opinions who hoped for an National Liberation Front (NFL), or Viet Cong victory; pacifists who opposed all wars; and liberals who believed that the best way of stopping the spread of communism was by encouraging democratic governments rather than employing force.

The first march to Washington against the war took place in December, 1964. Only 25,000 people took part but it was still the largest anti-war demonstration in American history.

As the war continued, more and more Americans turned against it. People were particularly upset by the use of chemical weapons such as napalm and agent orange. In 1967, a group of distinguished academics under the leadership of Bertrand Russell set up the International War Crimes Tribunal. After interviewing many witnesses, they came to the conclusion that the United States was guilty of using weapons against the Vietnamese that were prohibited by international law. The United States armed forces were also found guilty of torturing captured prisoners and innocent civilians. U.S. behavior in Vietnam was even denounced as being comparable to Nazi atrocities committed in World War II.

The decision to introduce conscription for the war increased the level of protest, especially among young men. Students in particular began protesting at what they considered was an attack on people’s right to decide for themselves whether they wanted to fight for their country.

In 1965, David Miller publicly burnt his draft card and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. His actions inspired others and throughout America, Anti-Vietnam War groups organized meetings where large groups of young men burnt their draft cards.

Protest reached a peak point later in 1965 when the U.S. began its heavy bombing of North Vietnam. Anti-war marches, especially those organized by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), attracted an ever-widening base of support, culminating in 1968 after the successful Tet Offensive by the North Vietnamese proved that the war’s end was still a long time coming.

Between 1963 and 1973, 9,118 men were prosecuted for refusing to be drafted into the army. The most famous of these (an interesting tidbit in my opinion) was Muhammad Ali, the world heavyweight boxing champion.

This poster, with its clearly agitated subjects calling out yells of dissent, perfectly captures the protest, instability, unrest, and tumult felt in America during this time period.