Graffiti isn’t just an outlet for delinquent youths who want to deface public spaces and get famous. This is what Cale Waddacor, one of the foremost urban documentarians in the country, told the audience attending the first day of Think!Fest.
The term “urban art” not only paints graffiti in a better light, but in broader strokes too, as it’s a more inclusive term that incorporates a bigger cross-section of artists, styles and mediums.
These include spray paint murals, stencils, posters, wood cuttings, and installations. The popularity of social media has also fuelled the growth of urban art. One of the largest digital graffiti sites in the world, Instagrafite, has over 1 million followers on Instagram. Waddacor says this is a way to not only preserve the work but to expose it to a larger audience.
As the lines between graffiti and urban art blur, the role these two forms of media play are better highlighted.
“It’s not always from the same genre and it is not always gang related,” he says. In fact, Waddacor explains that graffiti has rules.
There are guidelines on where to paint, for example: the graffiti community frowns on spray painting a church, hospital, or gravestone, he says. When something is painted, it’s called tagging. Graffiti artists have unique styles that they ascribe pseudonyms to, which become known as their street names.
Waddacor is adamant that graffiti has a purpose, which has led to it being acknowledged as an art form. In Johannesburg, for example, there have been public art initiatives at bus stops. Not only has this regenerated interest in modern art, but it has also encouraged creative expression, greater freedom for young artists, and gentrification of suburbs such as Woodstock in Cape Town and Maboneng in Johannesburg.
Waddacor believes that urban art can inspire dialogue and social change, and encourage interaction with other art forms.
“The subject of the art is also very important,” he says. “It can inspire dialogue, especially with difficult topics.”