The gentrification of graffiti
There are two things that are very dear to me. One is graffiti and the other is the community of Salt River.
I have been painting graffiti on and off for probably a decade now and a Salt River resident for well over two decades. At first these topics were very disconnected. I did not want them to mix. My “vandalistic” tendencies and community were like oil and water. I wanted to remain anonymous and never painted my neighbourhood.
Two years into these tendencies, I painted my first piece in Pope Street. It was a big one that depicted Spy vs Spy characters and aptly titled Fers vs Hope (a fellow graffiti writer). I painted it in broad daylight, with a ladder and was very anxious. Not because it was illegal. Salt River was a common destination for day-time graffiti, with pieces sprawling down every road. It was well accepted and strangely celebrated. That was the first day that I was appreciated too, not because of what I painted, but because who I was, a resident of the Salt River.
Kids recognised me and saw what I was doing. It gave them a sparkle in their eye. They rarely saw one of their own paint our streets. I’m not saying I changed some kid’s life that day because that would be ignorant and pompous. But knowing that there was a small chance that I became a positive role model through something that had such a negative connotation was mind blowing to me. This motivated me to paint more in Salt River and invited more people to paint.
About 3 years later, the graffiti-bylaw was passed and most of Salt River’s pieces were aggressively removed. Day-time painting was a thing of the past and residents were made to believe that graffiti is a crime through local media. The broken window effect was the new gospel. People were told it brought down their property value, even though most never even considered selling. The seed was planted.
Fast forward to 2017, I received a message from a friend about an International Street Art Festival in my neighborhood. I was pretty shocked and excited. After 7 years of condemnation and now it’s finally being celebrated. I quickly reached out to the organisers to ask if I could get involved. For two weeks, I waited for a reply and then decided to read up on their motivations. They clearly state “Salt River’s unique character has started to become known to outsiders as the neighbourhood has entered the early phases of gentrification” and “The movement is likely to help redefine Salt River as a dynamic neighbourhood with its own unique character rather than just a somewhat derelict neighbour to Observatory and Woodstock.”
Two nights ago, the International Street Art Festival curators approved my request. I rejected their approval, because of their motivations. I didn’t want to reveal my main motivation to them because it would just end up in a horrible argument. An argument where they seem to be doing good for the community. Please tell me, what is good about gentrification and how does it help people blossom into your utopian ideals?. Salt River is the last community where gentrification has not been hit as hard as other affected areas within the CBD. But the cracks are showing and that seed planted 7 years ago has grown into the ugliest fucking monster posing as the very monster that previously threatened my neighborhood and the value of our properties.
Images by Anothershooting photography