News / Asia

Graffiti Artists Paint Beijing

Shannon Sant
BEIJING — In China’s capital, graffiti art is gaining a following among young and fashionable Chinese. There is a small group of artists who use the city’s public spaces to express their feelings about their lives and rapidly changing country.
Wang Mo is an artist who prefers to work on the surfaces he finds outdoors.  “If you paint on paper you have to paint within the boundaries of the paper," he explained. "But graffiti doesn’t obey that.  Graffiti means you can paint anywhere that you can see and touch. For young people graffiti is a limitless form of expression.”  
Wang is one of a small gang of graffiti artists in Beijing.  At night they explore the city to drop what they call “graffiti bombs” using spray paint and a public space as a means of self-expression.  Wang says the subversive form of art is new for China.  
“In China when you look for the word graffiti in the dictionary it is defined as ‘scribble.’  Graffiti is actually a form of art which came from America to Europe and then to China.  The government and police don’t understand it at all,” he stated. 
Wang has been detained three times. After questioning him about the subject of his art the police have taken away his art supplies and let him go.  “They always want to know what you are painting first because they regard that as the most important issue.  If you were painting a cute cat they would let you go and ask you not to paint anymore.  But if your painting was anti-government they would think you are starting a political movement," he said. "In China the problem is not graffiti but what you are painting.”  
Wang and his friends are now invited by fashion brands and galleries to take part in promotional events. Even the government has allotted some city walls as official public spaces for graffiti art.  But for Wang, these small liberties take away from the meaning of his work.  
“This is not real graffiti!  Graffiti should mean that you can paint anywhere you want even if it is illegal.  We want more and more people, whether they are adults or children, to join us," he added. "We want them to go outside instead of painting on a canvas.  They should go out on the street and paint whatever they want.”  
In a country that limits self-expression, these young Chinese are pushing boundaries with cans of paint.

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by: Gift from: Shanghai
July 28, 2012 9:14 AM
Graffiti is a term used to encompass a form of artistic and emotional expression. Although the term brings to mind a particular image for each individual, I can clearly state that it in no way even touches the tip of the street art ice berg.

Graffiti emerged in the US as a response to the corporate advertisements littered around cities. The argument goes, "if a company can buy space to dirty our surroundings with their messages, why cant we?" As a response to the privization of public space, Graffiti writers took to the streets and subways.

In the millennial generation, Graffiti can represent degradation, danger, poverty, and rebellion, but it goes much further than this. Urban sectors are particularly affected by the presence of drug and violent gang graffiti. This form of Graffiti, which is often the name of a group, is meant for marking territory. In some cases, the writing on the walls can depict messages to opposing groups. This form is depicted as a socially unaccepted form of expression. Especially in its relation to the underworld.

On the other hand, many Graffiti writers are looking for forms of artistic expression that allow them to share their creations with the public. Their belief is that, one should not need to have a gallery or have the money to rent a property to share their art with the public. These artists may take spaces that are blank, dead, or forgotten, and breath new life into them with their creations.

The forms of graffiti range from all mediums and tool. In most cases, when stretching away from spray paint, this form of art is referred as street art.

Street artists and graffiti artists are not always the same, but in both cases, they seek to bring new energy to a place otherwise lacking. The majority of experienced painters will partake in their form of "bombing" the streets, but another large portion will make efforts to keep the public sphere untouched. Out of respect.

The graffiti and street art that I feel is most valued is that which is created to revitalize a community. A look into the graffiti of the favellas of Brazil, the collapsing suburbs of Detroit, the political symbols of division in old Berlin, and the gaza wall in Israel are all examples of value created through the expression of creativity.

Even within the sub culture of graffiti and street artists, the views upon their forms of creation are many. It is not expected that one mindlessly accept all forms of graffiti as good or bad, but it is hoped that the perception of such art is seen with room for possibility.

Can it be remembered the origins of graffiti? A form of art hoping to respond to the overwhelming presence of privatized space? The highest concentration of regualr graffiti are often in the exact communities that otherwise feel unable to freely express themselves. Be it for art, rebellion, curiosity, or value, this form of art has many shapes that can not otherwise be understood.

by: Julius Zsako from: Denver
July 27, 2012 10:07 PM
Can graffiti be art? Isn't the difference between the two that graffiti is uninvited and unauthorized? Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, yet marking property without permission is the crime of graffiti vandalism. As stated in the book, if the famous Renaissance artist Michalangelo returned from the grave and painted a masterful work on your garage under the cover of darkness, it would be vandalism.

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