As part of our key concepts in media and communications module, we were asked to go to the Herbert Gallery Street Art Exhibition. So on Tuesday, me and my buddy Sean (5ft, 9”, shoulder length black hair, slim build, my caramel bear) visited in high hopes.
On entrance my first impressions and thoughts were somewhat of a contradiction to what street art is all about, instead of bricked walls, plastered buildings, and street pavements, everything was displayed on crisp clean white walls, with pretty lights and little plaques!
Working my way through the gallery there seemed to be a series of emerging themes, such as war shown by Jamie Hewlett’s “Big Spongefinger”, other themes included politics, freedom, justice and suffering. Grouped together these are all negative connotations, but still all can be interpreted very, VERY differently by artists and consumers.
Looking in more detail at the conflicts and themes, they can be broken down in to different groups, such as socially, politically, and culturally. Throughout the gallery the reoccurring themes are always negative, and never positive in all aspects, and quite often the prints cause controversy, which would explain why the majority of the artists never use the real names (e.g. Banksy) and use pseudonyms. Culturally, some of the paintings are diverse and can be aimed at all cultures, paintings intended at the government and war can be appreciated or criticised by all. In contrast, some prints are meant to be seen as controversial and aimed specifically at one side, whether they are political, protesting decisions made by one party going to war, or just to highlight social problems.
As I mentioned earlier, the way in which the art is shown within the gallery could be misconstrued as controversial, on the contrary though, it could be seen as the gallery glorifying the street art, classing it as real art, and not vandalism, and at then end of the day CRIME!!!!!! The context in which The Herbert frames the art, in my opinion seems to support all ideas put across, not only are the pieces shown as proudly as any other painting at any other museum, none of the individual pieces seem to contradict one another, almost as if the whole gallery is a list of manifesto points, on a wall!
The Mohammed Ali exhibit seemed to be romanticised somewhat compared to the rest of the gallery, situated in its own separate room, with dimmed lights, a big cinema screen and a small 2 seater sofa (Sean almost got the wrong idea).
Street art has always been renowned for holding mass amounts of controversial issues, such as invasion of privacy and freedom of expression. Perhaps the major controversial issue is taking sides, one of my favourite pieces in the exhibition was Banksy’s “Napalm” it depicts Ronald McDonald and Mickey Mouse holding hands with a young black girl between the both of them, the girl in between them appears to be screaming and in a lot of distress. I believe Banksy is trying to put across how Disney Land and the McDonalds franchise have “kidnapped” the young over the past few generations. The young girl is not in focus as much as the 2 characters, I believe Banksy is trying to put the across the idea that the girl has no voice and there’s nothing she can do about what these cartoons are doing to her, the clearer images of the cartoons seems to put across an idea of importance, power, and furthermore control. The background of the picture is in beige, whereby the girl is in faded black, in contrast Ron’ and Mick’ are in varied greys, which match in terms of their clothes, somewhat as if they are wearing corresponding uniforms, as if they worked as a team. To add to this, the faces are both smiling and both appear to be waving and mid-walking, looking out sideways, to me anyway, it looks as if they are parading through the streets, looking proud of their kidnapping, their work, their job?????????
In terms of whether or not my ideas and interpretations of street art have changed, well there’s some truth to this, and some of my thoughts haven’t and probably won’t ever change. In terms of what has changed, I understand now how, some artists use their work to put across ideas and views which otherwise they couldn’t put across. I also never realised that street art isn’t just spray painting in tunnels and deserted garages. Short films, camera tricks, even just words can be as effective, as controversial and as clever as any painting could do. In contrast some of the exhibits appear to be utter codswallop!!! Having no apparent meaning or purpose to anything, more often than not, invading privacy and just ruining buildings and streets.