Montreal hosted its third annual Mural Festival this year on Saint Laurent Boulevard; lasting 11 days and featured 20 different artists from all over the world.
This year’s murals, in addition to the final products of the 2013 and 2014 festivals, certainly leave a feeling of awe – but street art does far more than add colour to a neighbourhood.
Most artists don’t create for the sake of creating.
The very nature of street art is accessible to all by being outdoors, free, and easy to appreciate, and there is a strong belief amid the street artist community that there is a certain degree of responsibility to criticize, to create debate, or to denounce injustice through murals and street art.
Namely, Spanish-American Axel Void is known for acting as a witness in depicting the homeless and the persecuted in order to create relatable symbols out of people who are generally discounted by the rest of society. As a part of his series titled “Nadie”, Axel Void painted a homeless man he met on Boulevard St. Laurent. The mural is called “Personne”, and the man in question is at first glance easy to miss, almost concealed, behind the white letters stamped over his face. His mural is a testimony and a criticism to the fact that itinerants are often seen as invisible in society.
Mural by Canada’s ASTRO
Mexico city based Curiot is known for blending animal forms in creations inspired by Aztec art and Mexican traditions. His Montreal mural is no exception, and his chalk looking figures call for a heightened connection to nature and between human beings and animals.
Austria’s NYCHOS- read his Word and Colour collaboration
Argentinian Jaz is known for his political graffiti, often depicting scenes of conflict, confrontations, or combats. In his contribution to this year’s Mural Festival, he created a scene depicting cultural and identity clashes between two bulls with human bodies. The bulls are covered in tattoos of maple leaves, fleur de lys, and other Canadian and Québecois symbols.
Another interesting facet of street art is in its reflection of globalization. In addition to their murals in Montreal, you can find Reka One’s aboriginal inspired art in Australia, Italy and Austria, Seth‘s outward looking children in France, Tahiti and China; Etam Cru’s scenes of young girls in Poland, Germany and the United States.
If the artists strive to denounce inequality or injustice through their murals, the process of commercializing said art may strip it of its very purpose.
A mural by Brazil’s Bicleta Sem Freio
The nomadic nature of street art allows for a presence of these recognizable characters all over the world. This creates a certain “fil d’attache” between street artists and enthusiasts, as well as between different countries, each faced by their own societal issues.
While Inti‘s mural in Montreal warns that our greed in exploiting Canada’s natural resources will in turn leave us waterless, his mural in Istanbul, Turkey encourages resistance to the government’s austere policies in solidarity with the 2013 Gezi protests. Through their murals, street artists encourage global solidarity in facing world issues.
And yet, when artists are commissioned into creating murals during a festival that clearly has commercial goals – commercial goals that became quite obvious through the street shopping component of the festival – we are called to question the subversive impact of the presence of capitalism in such a festival. Can art be critical of capitalism if it is created by and for capitalism?
Moreover, many artists criticize capitalism through their work, but also struggle to pay for the materials necessary to create their works of art. Benjamin Moore sponsored most of the paint used by the artists during Mural Festival. Does art play the same role and have the same mission when its creator was sponsored, or commissioned, by commercial entities?
Though the muralists themselves may want to create art that criticizes capitalism, injustice or austerity, the fact that there was no platform to for them to discuss such themes with the public testifies to the fact that the organizers of the festival are perhaps not as concerned by activism as they are by capital.
In response to the commercialization of art within Mural Festival, the Anticolonial Street Artists Convergence has created a grassroots festival promoting anti-capitalist street art; Unceded Voices will take place from August 14 to 23 with the goal of sharing anticolonial values and indigenous resistance. Unceded Voices brings attention to the fact that Mural Festival takes place on unceded Kanien’kéhá:ka and Algonquin territories.
Contrary to Mural Festival, Unceded Voices will create spaces for artists and members of the community to discuss political issues and how art can act as a platform for such debate.
Check out the murals on St. Laurent, and support Unceded Voices this August.
word by Jiliane Golczyk