When you live in Podgorica, you have certainly seen many scrawled messages and mural paintings in bright colors that “decorate” buildings, bridges, monuments and train cars. You may have even heard it by different names. Graffiti. Murals. Street art. Vandalism. Tagging. What is it and when did it start?
The first drawings on walls appeared in caves thousands of years ago. Ancient Romans and Greeks wrote their names and poems on buildings. In the US, graffiti began in the late 1960s, but honestly speaking, I never saw this phenomenon in ex-Yugoslavia.
Nowadays, Podgorica is full of graffiti. Many of them can be found on the walls of residential buildings in Blok 5 and the “Preko Morače” district. Some of them are funny, other ones can be considered real works of art. Much more damage is done by the taggings on cultural monuments and in public spaces. The scrawled messages around the “Moscow” pedestrian bridge, on sculptures and even on historical buildings make our capital city much less attractive for visitors.
As graffiti can range from simple spray-painted messages to high-quality mural paintings, I think that we should make a difference between scrawled personal and political writings (and vulgar symbols), and graffiti with an artistic value, although it is sometimes difficult to categorize them.
How can we handle the problem of graffiti? To start with, we could just try to canalize this phenomenon in the right direction.
Let’s put it like this – someone painted over the walls of your building and, of course, you are angry about it. No one has the right to do that without your permission and you can certainly consider it an act of vandals. But would you feel the same way if you saw a really nice or funny piece of graffiti art on a neglected or dirty wall in the city? So the big question is now: can graffiti only be considered “art” if it is done legally? Or can it also be “art” if a mural is made on a property without permission?
It is clear, if your building and/or district is not well-kept, you tell others that you do not care about them and vandals are more likely to scratch and scrawl messages and tags on your walls. Broken fences, neglected green surfaces and litter are all signs that you don’t care about your living environment. Just one example: Blok 5, where many buildings are defaced by graffiti tags.
So keep the spaces around your building clean and remove such writings as soon as possible, as the vandals are proud of them and they do not want it to be erased quickly. By the way, such ugly and stupid tags tend to attract more of them. So removing it quickly will prevent others from damaging the area.
And there is another solution: discuss the problem with the other tenants of your residential building. As a community, you can do more! Maybe you can ask real “street artists” to make a nice multi-colored mural painting on your walls. In countries of the European Union, many buildings are decorated with mural paintings (see the photo of “legal graffiti” on a building in Stockholm!)
Such mural projects, especially when they involve local artists and students, have solved graffiti problems in many countries. In Montenegro (as I read on internet), NGO AUT – Alternative Center for Youth Needs – is providing support to young alternative artists. They can paint beautiful murals for schools and other public institutions on demand.
Montenegro needs a lot of money to tackle all the problems in the country. Removing graffiti is probably not on the priority list, but it should not be forgotten either.
The municipality of Podgorica is certainly obliged to remove graffiti from public surfaces and monuments For the time being, the citizens should take care of their own property.
And finally: why do many people despise graffiti and call it vandalism, but do not protest against the huge billboards that line the streets and squares? Isn’t that also abuse of public space? Isn’t advertising also a kind of vandalism? Such advertising on billboards affects us, manipulates us, whether we want it or not.
Last month, I spent a few days on the island of Lanzarote (Canary Islands). Believe me or not: I haven’t seen one single billboard along the roads. They are simply not allowed, as they have a negative impact on the landscape. Just imagine how the highway along the Montenegrin Coast would look like without billboards and you will understand what I mean!