The African Street Art Scene
Throughout the decades, the West has embraced black and African art forms. From the BLK Art Movement, the resurgence of tribal art and the rising popularity of artists from Africa, Western society has had an on-going love affair with the creative work from this continent.
However there are some who argue this relationship is exploitative, a mere fad or only for the gain of rich people. Some explain that it is better to place the power of galleries, exhibitions and art back into typically black spaces.
Fortunately the tide may be turning. Bubbling under the surface of Africa’s urban landscape is a style of art historically viewed as provocative, empowering and intrinsically attached to black culture. The street art scene – in particular from South Africa – is responsible for the vivid murals and art work strewn across its metropolis and suburbs.
In the timeline of street art (classified as graffiti, large wall murals, posters etc.), its existence has been a contentious subject with authorities condemning it as vandalism or a low brow display of creativity. The form was popularised in the late 1960s and 1970s with the emergence of tagging which is a visualised “signature” of the graffiti artist. Artists later developed their style with spray paints on buildings, walls, tube or subway carriages. As they upped the ante, graffiti would be found in higher floors, more dangerous locations and impossible places. Any viable surface became the canvas for this breed of cosmopolitan artist.
Despite the danger and disapproval surrounding its reputation, graffiti and similar art forms provided a voice for disempowered groups suffering at the time. In America this included the poorer families and black communities who were not only poorer but socially disenfranchised. It also pushed back against the “greed is good” attitude of the 1980s when advertising and capitalism were rife. Due to its growing link with Hip-Hop and black culture it was easily dismissed as disruptive and brash, but for artists it was the platform to express their anger, dissatisfaction and critique the issues around them. Later hugely famous characters like Jean-Michel Basquiat adopted street art styles as part of his own work amidst the backdrop of trendy New York City. This popularised and raised its profile to a level where art aficionados began to take notice.
By the 1980s the momentum of street art had spread across America beyond the bigger cities of New York and Washington, and soon towns and cities had their own offerings and local icons. Barry McGee for example was one of the most famous figures from the time and fused other counter-culture communities like surfers, skateboarders as well as street artists to form a bigger collective and larger audience for his work.