The past couple of weeks (months, years) have seen the seeds of racism and fascism grow in western societies, taking to the streets as free-speech demonstrations, then menacing marches, then sometimes devolving into marauding nests of hate and physical violence.
Graffiti has been a tool for communicating these sentiments more often than in recent years as well, including this weekends’ anti-Muslim graffiti on Spanish mosques in Seville and Granada. And while swastikas appeared on flags in Charlottesville last weekend, Berlin teens had already given their own response to the Nazi symbol on walls by converting them to something more playful.
Imo Omari, who owns a paint store started a small program last year to combat the swastikas popping up on German walls, even co-creating with Victoria Tschirch a youth graffiti workshop called Die kulturellen Erben e.V. (“The Cultural Heritage”), where graffiti writers and Street Artists gather to come up with creative ways to convert them into animals, geometric shapes, even dancing Egyptians.
This D.I.Y. activist approach to personal interventions in the public space is perfectly in alignment with the traditional graffiti vandal roots, but it also looks like it is empowering young artists to retake the conversation on the street with something proactive, effectively rendering symbols of hatred inert. In Berlin, a city where Far-right groups have been seizing and fomenting anti-immigrant sentiment against an influx of a million Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghanis into German since 2015 and where Germany’s anti-immigrant AfD party are trying to capitalize on it in September elections, this small individual-powered art project has much larger implications than more common street beef.