The writing on the wall: Lapizlota Stencil is the collective using street art as an authentic political tool

Graffiti and gentrification: Lapizlota Stencil is the collective still using street art as an authentic political tool, but can we say that for street art in London?

In Central London, street art can be spotted in all nooks and crannies, from the tiles of the underground to the sides of skyscrapers. A spray of colour from a clicking can has become part of our capital's identity, brightening up our oh so often overcast skies. Though, with this in mind, has our familarity with street art made us forget that it's a visual communication, embedded in protest? Are we now unaware of the social commentary of street art?
This spring, Rich Mix Cultural Foundation hosted an exhibition entitled Democracia real ya!, meaning real democracy now, by the street art collective Lapiztola Stencil. This group of artist activists derive their name from the Spanish words for pen and gun - a plain to see symbol for art with political purpose.
Rosario Martinex Llanguno and Roberto Vega of Democracia real ya! explained how social injustice in Mexico was at the root of their genesis:
"It was the government's oppression of the teacher's strikes in 2006 that inspired us to come together as a group of artists" - Roberto Vega
Images: Lapizlota Stencil
Referring to the events of September 2014, when Mexico witnessed the disappearance and killing of 48 young teachers heading to Iguala to protest about the conditions of their schools, Roberto explained that the collective tackles issues such as poverty, the enviroment and political corruption. Though, the images that are created are often removed by authorities and this creates a transient visual protest. Rosario explains:
"Democracia real ya! is not just a collection of beatuful images, they are packed with symbolism. The images can be there for a day or maybe weeks, but often the government takes them down. That said, the rise of social media in Mexico has meant that the imagery can be eternalised" - Rosario Martinex Llanguno
This feels worlds away from the graffiti hotbeds of London, where the art form is being capitalized on by trend hopping companies and ad-agencies with the company target to tap into youth culture. Coca Cola's hiring of graffiti artists to make ads is just one troublesome example of a world leading brands stealing 'the people's platform of the street' as dubbed by Rosario.

Image: Coca Cola advert, Waltham Overbridge

Though there is plentiful amounts of political street art in the UK by names such as Banksy & CodeFC, is it becoming more and more trivalised? And is it actually doing the opposite of it's root reasons, by playing a part in the gentrification of 'upcoming' and 'creative' areas. For instance, the proposed development of a 48 storey high-rise building in Bishopgate with a length to rival Canary Wharf's One Canada Square tower, is the set to provide 'luxury flats' of which only 35% could really be deemed 'affordable' leaving room for only 'ghost properties'. This is an area bursting with graffiti and on the border of Tower Hamlets, the poorest borough in London, where it is reported that a 1/2 of children grow up in poverty.

Image: Banksy, Gaza Strip
This month it has been revealed that Banksy has travelled along secret tunnels in Gaza in order to get his message on the walls on the Gaza Strip for a new documentary, reminding us that street art is revolutionary medium that causes people to stop and to think. Rosario put summarised this with the contents of his t-shirt:
One of our main symbols is that of a rooster. Like what I am wearing on my shirt right now. We hear the rooster in the morning, it calls to "wake up, wake up!" to the people that are sleeping. That is what we are trying to do"
Let's hope that London's street art is still a tool to wake people up to poltical injustice, alongside being just another square visual on the instagram feed or a visual accessory to a 'cool' place - ironically saturated in gentrification and investment from the very authorities that the graffiti is opposing.

Image below: Lapizlota Stencil

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Robyn Sian Cusworth

  • writing, marketing, partnerships, community
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Robyn Sian Cusworth
writing, marketing, partnerships, community