Graffiti Goes East: 1990-2012 is not a guide to how to read the inscriptions on walls and trains. This is a visually and narratively exceptional story about the importance and power of graffiti culture in the past 20 years.
The long-awaited history of Polish graffiti is presented by its creators from 17 Polish cities, as opposed to subculture researchers or theorists. The subjective format of the text clearly reflects the hermetic and bottom-up nature of the movement. Artists talk about their motivations and provide their own definitions regarding aesthetics, legality, and vandalism, which serves to show the ambiguity of the graffiti phenomenon. The hundreds of photos taken from archives and artists’ drawers, collected and published in one place for the first time, constitute priceless and impressive visual material. Graffiti, which has dominated Polish walls and trains for two decades, provides an occasion to also look at the changes taking place in society and the urban space.
Album "Graffiti Goes East 1990-2012" (ed. Concrete / Whole City, 2013) from Whole City on Vimeo.
Graffiti came to Poland in the early 90s, and its development gained decisive momentum in 1997 together with the tour of the Berlin group CAF and their project Graffiti Goes East, which spread the culture of graffiti east of Berlin. Soon after the fall of communism, the first inspirations from the West slowly made their way to the country along with capitalism – hip-hop videos on MTV, the films Style Wars and Wild Style about hip-hop culture and graffiti in New York, foreign magazines and albums.
After the first generation had paved the way, graffiti flourished in Poland. New groups were popping up, and more and more walls were covered with tags and letters, while trains in small and big Polish cities were painted over. Graffitists also scratched tram windows, edited the first zines, and organised jams. The urban tribe which was taking shape was a network of mutual relations for the exchange of images, information and stories. Its members explored the city, discovered and marked the urban space, ‘did their thing and remained incognito’.
With the development and the growing popularity of the phenomenon, graffiti artists started competing with each other, which, as the authors argue, had a motivating effect. It was essential to refine the design and be present in as many places as possible.
The story included in the book extends to contemporary Polish graffiti and recent problems: questions about graffiti’s relationship to fashionable street art, the availability of tools, commercialisation and the impact of the Internet. Nowadays, monitoring and private security guards have made painting more difficult, and the rebellious forerunners from 20 years ago have been replaced by new generations growing up in a different reality.
After reading several pages from the engaging story told by the artists, the slang of graffiti, which a layman would not easily decipher, becomes intuitively understandable. The authors draw the reader into their world, explaining their motivation to paint the city, which is often risky and illegal. Only their direct account allows us to look at this fundamentally anarchist movement not from the perspective of vandalism, but from that of the graffitists who create a system of meanings understood only by other artists. Unfortunately, in the colloquial language the label ‘graffiti’ has been applied to other forms of street art, including murals, drawings, scribbles and insults, causing conceptual chaos. There is a chance that Graffiti Goes East will help to define and understand it.
Author: Magda Grabowska, 29.01.2014, transl. Bozhana Nikolova, 07.04.2015
More information about the book can be found here.
Graffiti Goes East. 1990-2012
Publisher: Concrete / Whole City 2013
Physical description: 656 pages, 24 cm x 30 cm