Thursday, 8 November 2012

Graffiti in Riyadh

Graffiti in Riyadh has been noticeably increasing since my arrival three years ago.

In Kiwiland tagging is the popular term for graffiti and we have, along with many other western countries, long debated whether graffiti is an art form, a way for someone to express themselves publicly, though secretly.  Or is it vandalism.

The first graffiti I saw in Riyadh was a phone number in large blue paint scrawled by an unsteady hand across what used to be large, bare, brown wall.  My guess is that gender segregation was the catalyst for this young person (presumably a male) to advertise his existence is this way.  I wonder if he got any calls from girls.  (Rumour has it he got calls from people unhappy with his form of advertising - though his number is still on the wall).

Now it is possible to drive through Riyadh and find phrases in English and Arabic spray painted on the numerous large canvases that the walls, designed to enclose the people and its problems, this city provides.

Graffiti in Riyadh is in its infancy when you compare the style and taglines appearing in Riyadh with the sometimes elaborate wall paintings found in cities where graffiti is more established. Compare for example this effort on a Riyadh wall, seemingly inspired by the football world cup...

...with these two pieces - the first from Stockholm the other from Tallin, Estonia.



What is the official Saudi stand on graffiti?  According to an article in the Washington Post, Frustrations Drive Saudi Youth to the Graffiti Wall, they are divided.  Most say graffiti artists should be punished.  Others say that until the reasons for young men tagging throughout the city is addressed, let them go.  Of course, should they be expressing anything too politically or religiously frowned on no doubt the official tune would quickly change.  Freedom of expression tends to be quite closely monitored here.

As avenues for self-expression in this country are extremely limited and many of the changes that youth want to see happening in society the conservatives don't want a bar of, my guess is that graffiti will only gain in popularity as a way of venting.

In two years the style of tagging that we see in our local vicinity is already starting to change and I commented on such to Hubster one day when we drove past this effort...

And if you visit this website, FatCap - Street Art in Saudi Arabia, you'll find the more creative amongst Saudi youth have been out and about creating some real gems.  And according to this CNN report, How to rebel, Saudi style, it's not just the boys making artistic comments on life in Saudi Arabia.

Admittedly I find the walls with a multitude of untidy scrawl is, well, untidy but then who am I to deny Saudi youth their opportunity to express themselves.   Perhaps offering them art classes might help graffiti in Riyadh become a lot more artistically pleasing to the eye, but I don't really think that is the point of graffiti, is it?

Ka Kite,

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