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.”

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.

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.

‘No Future’ Mural Is Short-Lived

Another piece of Banksy genius…

This mural, done in 2010, features a colorless and rather petulant looking child holding a red balloon which forms the ‘o’ in the phrase ‘NO FUTURE.’ It appeared on the side of a private home in an area of Southampton, England known for its lively nightlife and drinking culture. According to BBC News, the mural increased the worth of the privately owned house by 20,000 euro.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - One of Banksy's most short-lived works, the 'No Future' mural attracted a flurry of attention before it was whitewashed over by an unknown protester hours later.

In 2010, Banksy was still entirely a mystery to the English populace, but his works of politically-charged street art were popping up all over the country. Catching the artist at work proved fruitless, but as people tried to discover the man behind the spray can, it became somewhat of a game to rush to find Banksy’s latest painting.

When this mural was found, it drew the attention of BBC News, the press, the art elite, and pedestrian passerby. Only hours after it was discovered, however, the image of the child was painted over with whitewash and the words changed to “GRAFFITI HAS NO FUTURE.” It is still unknown who censored the graffiti.

As with all of Banksy’s art, the message is quite simple, succinct, and clever while the illustration carries the true message—one of social protest.

It’s a shame, however, that the work was ruined. It only proves all too well that the argument over whether graffiti is art or crime is a potent one. Banksy’s work has on several occasions been called egotistic, with critics saying that his outspoken messages and longstanding anonymity show he has an “I-can-get-away-with-it” attitude and a “look-what-I-can-do” demeanor.

I disagree. I don’t think Banksy is trying to get away with anything. I think, as with all street artists who have social and political messages, he’s trying to let people take away something.