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.