Street art has long been used to make public statements about the society in which its creator lives; it often uses “smart vandalism” to raise awareness about or protest social and political issues. Street art has the ability to reach large numbers of people because they don’t need to walk into a gallery or read an article to see it; they can simply walk around the city they live in or are visiting.
Blu is the pseudonym of an Italian street artist who lives in Bologna. He has been active in street art since 1999 and his works often address environmentalist themes. His murals can be seen all over the world, from South America to Europe to the West Bank.
Many of his works point to capitalism and resource consumption as the root of environmental destruction. Several depict a big, somewhat scary looking person gobbling up the Earth’s bounty (such as slurping the Earth’s water through a straw or ripping up a tree from the ground and swallowing it whole). The pieces convey a clear message, and the sheer size of them makes them even more impactful. When we think about how resource consumption is destroying natural resources, it can seem far away and abstract (even as we go about buying things in our daily lives). But when you walk up to a mural the size of a large building and are confronted by such a clear message, it has the ability to make a real impact.
Climate change impacts are another theme of Blu’s work. A mural he painted in Berlin depicts a city at the bottom of an hourglass, slowly being dripped on by water.
The legality around street art can be complicated. Rules are different in every country, but artists can face backlash for painting on certain structures, as well as deal with complicated copyright laws. However, public acceptance of street art has been increasing in recent years, with many citizens in agreement that art enhances the character of the city. This is especially true when the art is drawing attention to or protesting a cause many people see as problematic.
The increasingly common phenomenon of artists, particularly street artists, choosing to remain anonymous adds another interesting layer to modern street art. Consider Banksy, the most famous street artist in the world, whose works also address themes of modern life such as dependence on technology, climate change and capitalism.
According to an article in the Daily Beast, “In some ways, we are returning to the rules of the medieval world, when major works of art and technology were created by anonymous innovators. But there’s a difference nowadays: Today’s mystery artists cultivate their aura of secrecy. They prefer obscurity over the perks of celebrity status.”
Like many other kinds of art and literature, street art successfully raises awareness about important issues and provides real shock value. In some cases, it may even motivate the masses to participate in grassroots activism. But if we zoom out to look at street art’s contribution to the global environmentalist movement, most would likely agree the impact is minimal.