Wednesday 20 October 2010

The good, the bad and the four-man control unit: graffiti in Cape Town

"Cape Town city and graffiti artists face spray-off", an article by Justine Gerardy (AFP), raises questions concerning the work of South African graffiti hero Falko Starr (right), whose large-scale oeuvre has come under threat from a new four-man control unit and by-law that classifies all graffiti as a public nuisance. First-time offenders are liable to pay a fine of up to 15,000 rand or receive three months in jail.

The stated aim of this law is to eliminate tagging (individual graffiti signatures), particular that which is classified as "gangster tagging" and offensive graffiti. Cape Town city official Anton Visser adds "The intention is obviously not to target the graffiti artists" such as Starr. An obvious problem, though, is how to set a legal dividing line between 'good' graffiti and 'bad'.

Remarkably, the law sets out a permit system for city-vetted works. The extent of legal invasion of private property rights is considerable, since even private property owners may not host graffiti on their properties without city permission.

Starr, a professional graffiti artist and the creator of the "Splitpiece" installations, is perhaps the most prominent of an estimated 100 to 200 graffiti writers in Cape Town. He explains that Cape Town's graffiti culture grew from the era of apartheid, when it had a more political function and content. Now the argument turns on whether the need for self-expression is of a higher value than the appreciation of Cape Town's natural aesthetic beauty.

Some of Starr's work can be viewed on YouTube here

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