Graffiti Speaks

Not meant to be a review or an analytical post, let’s call this a ‘shout-out.’ A shout-out to all the graffiti artists working hard to tag the streets in Yangon over the last year. Since 2009, the graffiti scene in Yangon has grown into somewhat of a political tour de force. Some tag, some illustrate and others use a plug to comment on the state of electricity in the city, or a birdcage with an open door to signify the freeing of prisoners.

The first photo below is a testament to what once was: a tagged wall outlining a brand new building block on a major intersection. On it is said, “money laundry” and is still visible to the eye. Yangon has dealt with this for the last 40 years. Buildings crumbled from neglect, along with people’s homes, while Chinese investors jumped in to rebuild or generals laundered money through useless structures to be turned into malls and condominiums, in which nobody lived.

There isn’t much debate about what’s happening here in Yangon and the young artists, emboldened by new clean walls just as much as the old crumbling ones, take to the streets after midnight to tag the streets. Yangon is at the perfect stage for this – most people are in their homes after 10 pm, policemen are scarce, and street lamps are a rarity – rather it’s rare that they are functioning. The young vandals have even been invited to tag abandoned homes, like the one below. You can see the tags can go from simple and clean lettering to illustrative murals.


Unfortunately I couldn’t get a picture of my absolute favorite quote so far, tagged in black on a major road on U Zay Ya Road:

How much land does a man need?
How much land does a farmer need?
– Leo Tolstoy

Another tag read: ARTCRIME. Both quotes lead a passer-by to believe that these are not only street artists or “art criminals” but theorists and political activists – well-read and ready to share. Quotes come in English and Burmese in equal measure and most take on the role of commentary. Even if those old walls and buildings come crashing down, the lurking spray paint can will always have a place in the art scene here. Two shows, one by New Zero Art Space and one by Moe Satt have already been curated and displayed. To their credit, both curators allowed the artists to tag on walls. There’s nothing worse than seeing a message sprayed on canvas. Seems you lose the message somewhere in the gallery display of it all.
Hoping to see some more recognizable name tags and stencils, as well as some more intricate work. With Yangon changing so quickly and all the billboards rising high over our heads, it’s nice to see the youth still exercise control of the message on street level.









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