News, Urban Design and Art

Riddles in stone: Graffiti in Vancouver’s DTES

Graffiti has been with us for thousands of years. These photos (scroll down below) are originals of some of the incredible graffiti here around Vancouver’s Victory Square Park. The DTES is peppered with amazing murals that tell a story of the urban culture that continues to organically define this part of the city. This intro to the history of the art form is taken from a guest column that HxBIA Executive Director Wes Regan wrote in Vancouver Lifestyles Magazine: The word graffiti comes from the Latin term graffiato which essentially means to “scratch” into a surface, often revealing a pigment underneath or simply etching something deep enough in situ that it can convey a message for long to come, often done in ruins and holy places throughout the ancient world and pre-neolithic age cave dwellings. So really, graffiti is one of the oldest forms of human art, period. But for the sake of context I’d like to look at graffiti in its urban sense, and more specifically modern urban expressions.

The earliest forms of urban graffiti are found in the ancient cities of the Greek and Roman empires, and were not dissimilar from graffiti seen today content-wise. Sometimes they were declarations of love, or poems, political statements or even directions to a place or person. Compared to the types of street art or graffiti we see today the messages or statements would have been far more simplistic though. Take the style of Banksy for example, his images go beyond double entendre and manage to hit on a number of truisms, ironies or associations that reflect the current tension of urban communities, communities of identity (say middle-class generation X for example) globalization and financial, legal and cultural institutions. Not that the graffiti of ancient Rome wouldn’t have included similar observations about the relationships between the civitas and political elite or other structural and social phenomena but the complexity of 21st century Western Society is reflected in the complexity of the street art like Banksy’s that names it, critiques it, or outright challenges it. To do this an incredible amount of cleverness, knowledge of symbol, power dynamics, popular culture, and meme construction is needed.

The urban environment is a living canvass, nowhere in Vancouver is this better demonstrated than the DTES. I encourage you to take a stroll through the alleys and walls near Victory Square park to discover this yourself if you already haven’t.

For more on graffiti and on other urban forms of expression visit the entire post at Vancouver Lifestyles.

Here are more photos of Graffiti around the HXBIA catchment area in the DTES. Excuse the whacky layout issues.



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