Street art: free expression or vandalism?

Inspired by Banksy’s brilliant film Exit Through the Gift Shop that I saw last week, I am devoting this post to political acts of art around the world. While some people see street art as vandalism, others see it as a form of free creative expression. The controversy makes it all the more interesting.

Since 2005, I’ve been taking photographs of street art on my world travels, particularly inspired by political graffiti. This post features a selection of pictures taken in Croatia, Chile, Argentina, Cuba, England, Spain, Portugal, Slovenia and New York.

Spending time in Buenos Aires right after the 2001 political crisis was especially inspiring, since the street art scene was really taking off at the time. Triggered by the political and social chaos, much of the street art was a result of anger toward banks and government buildings, seen as culprits for the country’s collapse. This frustration of the common people exhibited itself in scrawls and stencils of dissent, seen all over the city.



But it’s not just total economic collapse that inspires street art. In each country of the world people have their gripes with the government as well as strong individual opinions on where the world is going. I’m always intrigued by street art that voices these opinions. Whether the issue at hand is abortion, 9/11, corruption of the government, pollution, or the politicization of Hollywood, the people who take to the streets to spray-paint or post stickers have something to say about the current social issues. Why not allow them to?

Street art is a temporary form of expression, often vanished within days. That’s another reason why I believe it’s important to document it, especially the well-crafted, visually appealing and smart pieces. Each opinion is important, anonymous or not, and each one of us should have a voice.




Street art has started receiving international acclaim in recent years, with star artists (such as the mystery man Banksy) selling their work at Sotheby’s for astronomical sums of money. There are now prestigious galleries putting on street art exhibits; street art collectives have been formed in cities around the world; and a variety of books features these colorful displays of public art. Yet even though street art may have reached critical mass around the globe, it’s still considered an illegal form of expression, a street crime.

What’s your view on street art: free expression of creativity or pure vandalism?

Blog Comments

Great piece, Anja. I believe from my life experience in three continents and countries with a deep, complex and struggling political structure, that if someone wants to take a pic, a real picture of the political (from "polis" in this case and not strictu sensu) conscience of a given society, one only has to take a look at its street art.
The countries that consider street art vandalism have usually an issue with freedom of expression, dispite the fact of claiming thenselves as democratic countries, or are trying to conceal the problems in their societies.
Street art is one of the remaining few forms of free expression in the world.
Again, congratulations on the article and thank you for sharing it with us and for the great pictures :).

I guess it depends on the quality of the street art. Some of it is incredible but others like simple tags just make things look ugly.

Great post and some really nice pictures too. I agree with Hoji that free expression is cool and important, but also with Anil. Art is art whether it is in the street or not, some idiot writing his name on things is vandalism.

The art on the remaining parts of the Berlin wall is amazing and I have some particularly treasured photos from my visit to Berlin. I saw some really cool stuff around La Latina in Madrid on my last trip too.

As long as it’s not placed on someone’s freshly painted suburban house wall, it’s fine with me — and I enjoy including it in my images at times. Speaking of images, I do like what you’ve shot here.

All the best from Santiago…

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