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.

 

 

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.

CCTV Security Pros is a leading supplier of security cameras and surveillance systems.

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.”

Bomb It Follows Graffiti Around the World

From the graffiti capital of the country, New York City, to the streets of Berlin, where graffiti is called ‘spraying,’ from the slums of Capetown to the sewers of Sao Paulo, Bomb Itsplices together images of graffiti around the world to create a world mural of the art.

BOMB IT - Jon Reiss' documentary explores graffiti around the world in all of its different forms, specifically looking at its use as a political medium.

A documentary produced by Jon Reiss, Bomb It follows political graffiti everywhere it flourishes.

The film opens with a night scene of graffiti writers sneaking around a train yard in New York City, whose graffiti scene has surpassed Philadelphia’s, the former graffiti capital of the country. The man attributed with starting the movement in New York, Corn Bread, comments in voiceover that “art is a weapon,” a sentiment reiterated by one artist seen scribbling “voice of the people” on a New York subway map. In places like the Bronx, a labyrinth of run-down areas that at best resemble cities in the aftermath of World War II, graffiti murals are thought to brighten up an otherwise dismal environment.

The camera then turns its attention to a series of European cities, beginning with France, where the artist Blek “focuses on the misery and poverty of the poor in Paris.” A proponent of the school that believes “art must serve a political and social cause,” one of his most touching pieces is of a homeless man sitting on a street corner. Blek began his career drawing rats along the bottoms of the walls, symbolizing the misery and filth the poor endure.

A PICTURE OF POVERTY - French graffiti artist draws the poor and homeless.

RAT CITY - Blek began his artistic career drawing rats around the walls of France, symbolizing the filth of the cities.

In Amsterdam, a teacher by day turns graffiti writer by night. Her work always includes a pair of watchful eyes in an I-see-everything-you-do Big Brother fashion. In London, a soldier having returned from Iraq turned to the streets to express his frustration with the war. One of his political works displays picket-like signs exclaiming, “Stop the War,” “No War,” and “Fuck Party Politics” with the underlining question “Still think you’ve got a say?” Not strictly a political writer, he also did a lovely interpretation of the woman from Lord Byron’s poem, “She Walks In Beauty,” on a busy street corner.

WAR! WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? - Having returned from fighting in the Middle East, one graffiti artist in London turned to the streets to express his frustration through art.

LITERARY GRAFFITI - Not purely political in his work, the same London artist draws an interpretation of the woman in the famous Lord Byron poem.

Back in the U.S., the talk turns to the fads of train and subway graffiti. Described as “museums on wheels,” trains and subways are top-notch spots for graffiti writers because their work is ensured a high degree of visibility. One New York artist sticks to the subway tunnels, writing angry (and less than artistic) messages on the walls: “NYC is my toilet bowl,” “The poor bail out the rich,” and “death feels like an old friend.” The same artist regularly writes “F You” on NYC police cars.

SLIGHTLY LESS ARTISTIC - One New York graffiti writer confines his work to messages and words lacking color or design.

In Berlin, where graffiti writing is called “spraying,” an artist says he was inspired to take up the art because “the current social situation is fucked up.” His reason is seconded by a Tokyo artist who says that although Japan is a well-controlled country, there is still resistance to the government: “If there was no rebellion, we’d be stagnant.” Such resistance is often reflected in graffiti messages and murals.

A man in Barcelona ensures his resistance to the government will be permanently felt by chiseling his work into walls so that it cannot be painted over. In Cape Town, graffiti was a powerful tool during the apartheid regime.

PEACE - One example of graffiti calling for peace during the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

Artists who wanted to “help toward something” began what they called artistic guerilla warfare by spray painting political demands by the dozen: “Africa: Freedom in Our Lifetime,” “Free South Africa,” “Free Our Leaders,” “Free Mandela,” “Peace,” and “From Pieces to Peace.” One artist attests that his artistic efforts made him “more socially and politically aware.”

DEMANDS - An art piece along a highway advocates for Nelson Mandela's release from prison.

A CRY FOR HELP - Another Cape Town image demands freedom.

In Sao Paulo, another artist seeks to raise awareness about urban deterioration and poverty by painting in the most deteriorated places in the city—landfills and polluted tunnels underneath the city, home to many of the city’s homeless.

The documentary wraps up in Los Angeles by featuring Shepard Fairey’s Andre the Giant/OBEY campaign, an effort to remind the public not to exercise blind obedience to government.

 

OBEDIENCE AWARENESS - Shepard Fairey's OBEY campaign is intended to make the public less likely to practice blind obedience to government.

Rallying Signs: Vietnam Posters Express Outrage

Few things have caused a greater schism in American society than the Vietnam War.

The 1960’s encompassed a time of political, racial, social, and cultural unrest as the U.S. became polarized between those who advocated continued involvement in Vietnam and those who wanted peace. Central to the conflict was the fact that many did not understand the origins of the Vietnam War or the reasons behind the U.S. decision to intervene. To a majority of Americans, the war seemed futile and pointless, and it left the nation questioning the policies of a government it had always trusted.

The movement against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War began with demonstrations in 1964 and grew in strength over the next few years, peaking in 1968. Many in the peace movement were students, mothers, or anti-establishment hippies, but there was also involvement from educators, labor unions, clergy, journalists, lawyers, military veterans, and ordinary Americans. Expressions of opposition ranged from peaceful nonviolent demonstrations to radical displays of violence.

In terms of peaceful nonviolent demonstrations, a large number took place independently on college campuses, while national demonstrations took the form of Marches on Washington, which drew hundreds of thousands of people and continued up until the war’s end in 1975.

Out of these demonstrations arose countless posters and political signs harboring anti-war messages and slogans. Some are direct and simple, a call for something; others, with sharp and severe messages, prompt a double-take; some are sad, while others mock through ironic jokes and a biting sort of sarcasm; still others are vulgar and obscene, placing blame as they look for a scapegoat and search for someone to blame.

Here are some particularly poignant rally signs and posters from various anti-war demonstrations:

CALL FOR ACTION - A fairly generic rallying sign calling for the end of the war and the return of U.S. soldiers.

DESPICABLE DRAFT - The poster reads "I don't give a damn for Uncle Sam" and protests the draft. Uncle Sam was a familiar character on recruitment posters.

MASTER PUPPETEER - This photo shows two protesters, one labeled "Saigon Puppet" and the other "U.S. Imperialism."

A SIGN TO LAST THE AGES - A rallying sign featuring one of the most familiar and famous messages of the 1960's: make love, not war.

COME WITH ME - A sign calling for those opposed to the war to participate in a protest march.

A NEW HITLER? - One of the more darkly labeled rallying signs, this poster compares President Nixon to Hitler, substituting a swastika for the 'x' in Nixon's name.

DOUBLE JEOPARDY - This poster suggests that the war's effects are not only taking a toll in the U.S.

PROTEST POSTERS - A group of protesters walk with rallying signs reading: "Bring the Troops Home Now," "War No More," "End the War in Vietnam Now," and "Self Determination for Vietnam."

LEADING THE WAY - This rallying banner leads a group of marchers protesting the Vietnam War.

Watch this video for a deeper look at Vietnam War protests. 

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.