Alexis Hamann-Nazaroff
A sub-genre within street art, yarn bombing has also ridden the wave of popularity lifting up its more traditional siblings of painting, collage and printing. There are websites, and books out on yarn bombing; mainstream newspapers occasionally feature stories about it. Wooster Collective even has an example Yarn Bombing.
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Yarn bombing is a crossover genre, garnering interest from artists as well as from the generally less rebellious knitting and crochet hobbyists. If street art is about reclaiming the public sphere from the monopoly of commercial advertising, yarn bombing takes this a step further and brings into the public sphere a craft that history has almost exclusively relegated to the home. Street art is breaking the boundaries between “high” and “low” art, between gallery space and city space. Yarn bombing goes a step further; by featuring the humble crafts of knitting and crocheting, crafts that never really had a place in the gallery space to begin with, Yarn bombing forces us to question yet another arbitrary line defining what art is.
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In his essay “The Work on the Street: Street Art and Visual Culture” Professor Irvine points out the major symbolic role walls play in our cityscapes, dividing interiors from exteriors and demarcating special hierarchy. Walls also represent a major vertical visual space, a fact commercial advertisers take advantage. Street art competes with these advertisements for this vertical visual space. Often street art imitates advertising in location, scale and style, borrowing tropes known from advertising to be effective, such as strong outlines, short ironic texts, and bright colors.
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Yarn bombing takes another tact in the competition for our attention. Just as we can find biological organisms filling every niche in an environment, so yarn bombing is filling a niche left open by advertising and more traditional street art: the smaller column- and bar-like spaces that also fill our urban landscape. Although some yarn bombs take other shapes, the majority of them are shaped like sleeves, wrapped around stop-sign poles, bike racks and trees, round surfaces that are not usable spaces for painting and posters.
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Although often large and colorful, a yarn bomb is effective because you don’t expect it, because you stumble upon it. It feels like finding surprise treasure. In this it reminds me of work by street artists such as Dan Witz, whose small tromp l’oeil paintings also get their punch by surprising us.

Yarn Bombing website where I got these images, with many more images:
And a New York Times article about yarn bombing from May 2011
Graffiti's cosy, feminine side

Lin Lu

My understandings of graffiti are changed in accordance with how I perceive pop culture over time. At my early ages, before China became fully involved in globalization and capitalism, I only saw graffiti images as MTV backgrounds on Hongkong TV and I defined graffiti as an indispensable part of hip-pop and rap music. Based on my memory and my experience, graffiti always seemed to be a disordered, scribbled, scratched, or sprayed image on the wall and lacked of artistic interpretations. Similarly, graffiti and pop arts are used to express subjective identity rather than objective realism. Interestingly, graffiti blurred boundaries between fine arts and pop arts, especially in the field of paintings. Disordered, scribbled, scratched, or sprayed images are weapons to fight against existing orders and governance of visuality of a city.

In his essays, Professor Irvine also pointed out that street arts and graffiti were forms of critique, irony, humor, subversion of a city and urbanization. Street arts and graffiti are perceived as forms of breaking existing social rules and orders. The process of how the governance and the public shift from condemn to acceptance is quite interesting. Take China as an example. Graffiti and street arts could be seen only in highly urbanized cities in China, such as Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou in late 1990s. People and artists who were dedicated into street arts formed a community of practice. These people used street arts as the most manifest artistic form in a city to rebel the existing mechanism. It was hard to look for meanings of graffiti. Governance and existing mechanism fought back streets arts by cleaning up graffiti and giving artists warnings and tickets. The public perceived these people as the ones living at the foot of the social ladder.



However, things were changed. Rather than condemn, existing mechanism recommended streets arts and graffiti to the public in the year of 2008. In the year of 2008, Beijing held an event that encouraged the public and artists to make a graffiti wall of “Beijing Olympic”. As we said, streets arts and graffiti were considered as the anti-traditional rebellion. Ironically, the graffiti wall of “Beijing Olympic” became propaganda of the existing mechanism and the role of presenting provided an alternative of a city was obsolete.


Nowadays, streets arts and graffiti become prevalent in commercial products and advertising. There are more and more customized graffiti shoes, clothes, and packing. For instance, Louis Vuitton launched a line of graffiti collection.


More than that, the line between high and low values is blurred. Graffiti becomes a privileged category in the high fashion photography. Graffiti walls become popular backgrounds of high fashion shooting. For instance, as editors and photographers pointed out, rather than traditional backgrounds, Graffiti walls portrayed Freja Beha Erichsen with a caption of “Wear it Loud and Proud!”


Graffiti is also used widely in TV advertisings and brandings.

Jasmine Wee
King Kowloon: The Pre-postmodern Postmodern Graffiti Artist

Before street art became popular on every corner of every metropolis in the world, before Banksy sold his first canvas for millions of pounds through Sotheby’s, before Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat were even born, there was a man named Tsang Choi, otherwise known as “King Kowloon”, who painted, wrote on and decorated nearly every imaginable public surface in Hong Kong. Born in 1921 in Guangzhou, Tsang came to Hong Kong when he was sixteen and worked as a manual laborer and garbage disposer. On one fateful day at 35 years of age while reading through his “ancestry book”, which is essentially a record of one’s paternal line of ancestors, Tsang discovered that an emperor had bequeathed a part of Kowloon to his ancestors before the whole of Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1841. Tsang was understandably displeased by the government seizing the territory that belonged to his ancestors, and so began a fervent, nearly 60-year journey of using “graffiti” to express his anger and defiance over the government. In the process, he lost his wife, his eight kids, his job, and his sanity, and for good parts of half a century he would shuttle in and out of nursing homes or live as a vagrant. Tsang’s work is easily identifiable: using traditional Chinese calligraphy brush and ink, he would write his distinctive, stylized characters on lampposts, electric boxes, public benches, bridges, surfaces of discarded televisions and fridges, the floor, and even trash cans. Even though he was called King Kowloon (as, if Tsang was correct, he would indeed be the inheritor to some part of the land), his graffiti could be spotted from Hong Kong Island up to the New Territories and everywhere in between; the content of the writing are usually names of his ancestors and himself, the characters representing “Emperor”, and criticisms denouncing the colonial British—and, after 1997, the Hong Kong Chinese—government for refusing to return his ancestral land to him. Until his death in 2007, Tsang had been in dozens of confrontations with the police, but each time he was brought to court, he would deny any wrongdoing, and over the years many surfaces had been covered by Tsang, cleaned, and covered again. I remember seeing many of Tsang’s work when I was younger, and my parents always say that it’s just scrawls by a crazy individual; and of course, Tsang was most likely mentally instable at least to some degree. However, after his death there was sudden renewal in Tsang’s work. By the time of his death, only seventeen out of his approximately 55,000 “works” remained around Hong Kong, and despite the efforts of local Hong Kongers to preserve his work, the conservative government only decided to allow two to remain, for fear of encouraging further graffiti art around the city; yet ironically, in 2007, the Hong Kong government included King Kowloon’s works in a film celebrating the local cultural fabric of the city.
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King Kowloon is the consummate graffiti artist before the graffiti artist even existed—a prototype if you will—and hence any Western artistic art theory cannot be adapted into understanding his works, though of course he exhibits traits that are shared with many other graffiti artists today. He never had any intention of selling his artwork in a gallery; the city was his canvas and he never even considered his works as “art”, merely words of protest against the injustice done to him and his family. This, combined with his unstable mental health, actually makes King Kowloon more of an art brut artist than a graffiti artist, but it so happened that this crazy person did his art on the streets that he was dubbed a graffiti artist. His works exposes “often suppressed questions about regimes of visibility and public space, the constitutive locations and spaces of art, the role of communities of practice and cultural institutions” (Irvine 2), etc. King Kowloon also embodies the critical and subversive quality of graffiti art and he has a deep identification and empathy with the city, both of which are qualities of street artists (2). Furthermore in 2003, Tsang was the first and only artist to be exhibited in the Venice Biennale, but he was not even an artist; and in 2011, a major retrospective of the King Kowloon’s work was held, alongside works by artists he had influenced and inspired. This is a prime example of graffiti negotiating its position between “the non-art urban public space regime and the highly-encoded spaces of artworld institutions” (2), although notably it was not the artist himself who took his work into the traditional institutions of art, but rather they were young and hip artists and curators who saw cultural, artistic and historical value in his graffiti and wanted his art to be archived into the history of Hong Kong and the history of graffiti art.
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Reading about Jean-Michel Basquiat for the first time this week, a thought that I’ve probably been storing nebulously for some time finally worked its way to surface and found a definitive voice: Even so-called ‘street art’ is judged against certain classical biases and standards deep-seated in the art world. Most of us are familiar with the British street artist Banksy. His reputation precedes him among ‘first world’ Millennials; I remember that the first time I heard about him (about two years ago), friends were shocked I hadn’t heard of him sooner. What is it about Banksy’s style of street art that makes him so easy to admire, both casually and academically, while an artist like Basquiat is raked through the coals by contemporaries who call his work 'juvenile' and 'primitive'? There are a few reasons—all intertwined—which the Basquiat analyses brought to my attention: Banksy's style of drawing is less garish and abstract than that of someone like Basquiat, whose style challenges art's classical hegemony; Banksy's art can be interpreted politically, but often it deals in whimsy; Banksy is a white man, which doesn’t seem like too big a deal until we realize that the personhood of the artist invariably worms its way into both their artwork and into popular interpretations of it.

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As Lin observes in her response, it has become common for people to associate street art with a minority or ethnic/non-white demographic. That may be because the same tool that is often used to make street art—spray paint—is also often used for destruction and vandalism, especially in low-income areas where the ‘broken window’ paradigm suggests such behavior is condoned. For example, the primary artwork for the popular ‘90s American TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air tried to make light of this connection between street art, spray paint and perceived ‘hoodlummery’ (a word I just made up).

external image freshprince6-18.jpgMore recently, animated TV show The Boondocks explored the thorny relationship between race and art. Riley, a young black protagonist, begins to take art lessons from a white man who bears a striking resemblance to the late PBS painter Bob Ross, who tells Riley to paint whatever he wants so long as it comes from his heart. Riley takes this advice, but does his painting on the side of rich houses in the neighborhood with spray paint. The graffiti is surprisingly well received by his upper-class neighbors, who publicly shower the anonymous artist with praise and bring in experts to testify to its quality. But no one believes Riley when he says he is the artist, and many in fact grow angry as he pleads that he is. At one point Riley even spray paints a fruit bowl on the side of a house. But was that fruit bowl an example of still life or graffiti? Are the two mutually exclusive? The residents see it as an exciting reimagined or remixed still life when they think that one of the white residents drew it. It becomes something less when Riley says he drew it. (One of the most racist neighbors [a black man--long story] reminds Riley that Picasso, Van Gogh and Michelangelo were all white.)


From his perch as a black man, Basquiat created art that, as Lin notes all graffiti does, “blurred boundaries between fine arts and pop arts.” Furthermore, his subject matter politically subverted the classical white gaze of the art world. There’s a place in the art world, of course, for abstraction and primitivism and alienation, but something about Basquiat’s particular brand incited pointed criticism. It might be because when one looks at his work, as Jerry Saltz notes in his essay 'To Hell and Back,' one can feel the "precocious" nonchalance that Basquiat felt toward art (or, more specifically, toward the art establishment). Saltz is a big fan of Basquiat who concedes that while he technically was not the most proficient artist, he compensated with vision and heart. I think it is always a struggle for art, which is made to be consumed and then subjectively interpreted and criticized, to become popular when it isn't obviously technically great. But Basquiat claimed he was a good drawer. He obviously thus chose to create art that challenged traditional notions of quality. That may be the key difference between Warhol and Basquiat: Both lampooned (white) popular culture, but only one dared to deface it.

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Yvonne Junya Yuan

“When you go to an art gallery, you are simply a tourist looking at the trophy cabinet of a few millionaires”
“Think outside the box, collapse the box, and take a fucking sharp knife to it.”
“The greatest crimes in the world are not committed by people breaking the rules but by people following the rules. It’s people who follow orders that drop bombs and massacre villages”
“Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing. And even if you don’t come up with a picture to cure world poverty you can make someone smile while they’re having a piss.”

When canned spray paint was available all around in the early 1970s, various graffiti pervaded from subway trains to bridge pier. Usually, they appeared overnight and the writers remained anonymous. Here I wanna talk about one of the outstanding figure-Banksy. As the most famous graffiti artist in United Kingdom, Banksy kept the air of mystery because he never showed up. His satirical artwork is on display across the world. They are sometimes humorous and sometimes, controversial. Often, they have a serious message and make anti-war and anti-establishment statements. His work is selling for record amounts of money at art auctions (buyers include Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie). Banksy uses spray cans and stencils and is an accomplished artist. He is also a ‘guerrilla artist’ because his activities are illegal and some local authorities have removed his work from buildings and walls. Instead of using the traditional hand sketching method, Banksy inherited French Artist Blek Le Rat’s stenciling style to create a bunch of repeated patterns in a remarkably short time. With his own brand of humor and irony, his work always brings about the brutalities of war.
Girl Frisks Soldier
Girl Frisks Soldier

In 2005, Banksy produced a series of images on the Israeli concrete security barrier as a protest against its construction. The images are on the Palestinian side of the wall and include depictions of ‘what life could be like on the other side of the wall’. Some work was removed. It is obvious that Banksy‟s street art assumes the progressive role of the spectacle (Guy Debord His pieces play on people‟s fantasies, as can be seen in Figure 2 in which a little girl is frisking a man in the military. The work plays on people‟s dreams of hope, in which a little girl has more power and authority than a man in uniform with an automatic weapon. Dreams of political equality are explored, where anyone is subject to search and a common person can turn the watchful eye back on the military or authority figures. The piece contains no description or list of logical arguments explaining the image. It is simply a story of a little girl doing something extremely improbable and irrational in the real world. It begs the viewer to act out their dreams, to make their fantasy a reality by appealing to their desires, and gives them hope to believe that they have a chance of succeeding.
Looters, New Orleans
Looters, New Orleans

Banksy produced a series of paintings around New Orleans to commemorate the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Following the devastation, there were reports of looting but many people said that this had been exaggerated by the media. There was also criticism of the government’s response to the needs of the people. Here, National Guard soldiers help themselves.
As a whole, the street art actively works to combat image-dominated society and challenge the dominant ideology that is created and maintained by tradition and capitalism and attempt to create a dialogue with the cultural monologue by forcibly and illegally inserting a voice onto street walls.
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