Graffiti is not just an outlet for delinquent youth who want to deface public spaces and get famous. This is what Cale Waddacor, author of Graffiti South Africa, the first book to document the post-apartheid boom in urban art, told the audience at the first day of Think!Fest.
The term “urban art” not only paints graffiti in a better light, but it is more inclusive term as it incorporates a bigger cross-section of artists, styles and mediums. These include spray paint murals, stencils, posters, wood cuttings and installations. The popularity of the internet has also fuelled the growth of urban art. One of the biggest digital graffiti sites in the world, Instagrafite, has over 1 million followers on Instagram. Waddacor says this is a way to not only preserve the work but to expose it to a larger audience.
As the lines between graffiti and urban art become blurry, the role these two forms of media play are more emphasized.
“It’s not always from the same genre and it is not always gang related,” he says. In fact, Waddacor says that graffiti has rules.
There are guidelines on where to paint, for example, the graffiti community frowns on spray painting a church, hospital or gravestone, he says. When something is painted, it’s called tagging. Some people have such a unique style that they ascribe a pseudonym, known as their street name.
Waddacor is adamant that graffiti has a purpose, which has led to it being acknowledged as an art form. In Johannesburg, for example, there have been public art initiatives at bus stops. Not only has this regenerated interest in modern art, but it also has encouraged creative expression, greater freedom for young artists, gentrification of suburbs such as Woodstock in Cape and Maboneng in Johannesburg.
Waddacor believes that urban art can inspire dialogue and social change and encourage interaction with other art forms. “The subject of the art is also very important. It can inspire dialogue, especially with difficult topics.”