Political Graffiti: from Venezuela to Kenya

Hugo-Chavez_2440367bIn the battle to replace the late Hugo Chavez as the top political leader of Venezuela, campaigns on both sides of the fight have taken to hiring graffiti artists to create murals throughout the country.

Among the Chavistas, supporting Nicolas Maduro, artwork paying respects to the late-president have been popping up all over since his death in early March. In the numerous slums across Venezuela where Chavez’s popularity was at its highest, phrases like “Long Live Chavez” and “We are all Chavez” can be seen spray-painted alongside images of the leader and the country’s flag and colors. Jose Rafael Hernandez is part of only one of the dozens of graffiti crews putting in work around their city. “This is how we keep Chavez alive,” Jorge Luis Gonzales, a state bank accountant overseeing Hernandez’s crew, told the Associated Press. “The opposition has their own graffitists, and we have ours.” Reynaldo Rodriguez, who is part of Gonzalez’s Graff crew, also told AP that they had received paint and other materials directly from an army colonel, technically a violation of rules banning the military from engaging in politics.

On the other side of the debate, supporters of the opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, have used the same method. In the neighborhoods of East Caracas, traditionally anti-Chavez, graffiti murals with messages like “Something Different!” can be spotted next to portraits of a young Capriles. Elections will be held on the 14th of April.

Not all countries are open to the idea however, in war-torn Iraq’s latest round of elections, graffiti was banned from being used, as well as all posting on city walls.

In the United States task forces of cops have been set-up to bust graff artists in the act and by using social media to match Graffiti_POSTER_2x4_72dpihandwriting and lettering styles, sometimes falsely accusing one artist being several others (see the RHHR article by Modesto Anarcho https://rhhr.org/2012/05/30/have-a-sticker-go-to-jail/). In Modesto, CA (home of RHHR’s HQs) signs encourage citizens to call 911 to report graffiti in process, jamming up the lines for people who may be having an actual emergency. 

In other countries around the globe the views, opinions, and policies on graffiti vary greatly. In most cases the art-form is still looked down upon when done so “illegally” on “private property” but on the other end of the spectrum business and other organizations are quick to jump on the graff bandwagon after realizing, like the rest of Hip-Hop culture, its huge popularity and potential to sell products for corporations or becoming appealing to a youth consumer market. Even churches, like the one in Barcelona, Spain, have hired local graffiti artists to re-design a section of the churches ceiling right above the altar. Was the church’s decision due to a genuine respect for the Hip-Hop art, or new public relations effort from a dying industry (religion) to bring younger members into their organization, which in turn, brings more money to the organization?

Kenya graffiti protestersMore important to the tradition of non-commissioned graffiti pieces with political messages is a crew coming out of Kenya. Referring to themselves as “the vulture artists” this group of artists, photographers, and activists have made it their mission to cover their neighborhoods with graffiti pieces that depict, Africa’s (and especially Kenya’s) politicians as vultures, “we tried many other animals like the hyena but the closest animal that describes a Kenyan politician is the vulture,” said group member Boniface Mwangi to CNN in 2012, “they prey on the weak.”

Mwangi met other talented graffiti writers while in Nairobi while they were painting murals of Michael Jackson and 2Pac. Since moving on to creating more political messages to affect change the group has been routinely harassed by police and, according to Mwangi, a senior politician even tried to buy them off, but they don’t officially endorse any political group, Mwangi insists, “everyone is fair game.”

Mwangi: “I believe in the power of visual art and so photography was my tool but it can only do so much. But in graffiti there is enough space to play around with images and words and pictures that don’t exist.”

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Categories: Graffiti/Hip-Hop Art, International Hip-Hop, International News

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