Ahh London, where street art has graced the walls of the urban sprawl for decades, and celebrated as one of the best places to catch a glimpse of the stunning work of world famous wall artists – but with the recent Olympic invasion, the authorities are cracking down on unauthorized art, siding with the corporations who’ve dumped millions into their local economy, and attempting to keep copyright under control under any circumstance.
While there’s a lot of sponsored and commissioned work out there that revolves around Olympic subject matter, there are always a few renegades that like to be subversive, shake things up, and practice their freedom of expression. Unfortunately, there have already been a handful of arrests made infringing on that right, and many pieces have already been erased – including many that don’t have anything to do with the massive global sporting event. Famous graffiti artist Banksy has thrown up a few choice pieces, which are currently being threatened, against the wishes of art enthusiasts, and a widespread cleanup of the city is currently still underway.
My favorite offender of this year’s games is Mau Mau, the artist behind the fat McDonalds clown, hoisting a smoking Coca Cola torch. That kind of tongue-in-cheek humor against the capitalist empire is not only amusing, but also embodies the values of the punk generation that once thrived in London. It’s amazing to see the clash between the old traditions and the new in London. “This attack on one of contemporary London’s most renowned traditions reveals how deeply uncomfortable the cultural relationship between this city and the Olympics really is,” writes Jonathan Jones in The Guardian. “An event that is all about massive finance, colossal scale, hyper-organisation and culture delivered from above is being superimposed on a capital that happens to be best at improvisation, dirty realism, punk aesthetics and low art. It’s like Versailles versus the sans-culottes. And this time Versailles is determined to win.”
Rubbing out street art should never be a priority for any city authority – art should be allowed to grow and reflect the society in which it exists. Erasing a part of a city’s identity is not the answer – in fact, it’s just whitewashing an integral part of the community to benefit the capitalists.
If you want to read more about this topic, check out this article on Vice.com about Darren from the Graffiti Kings. He’s created art for big companies like Microsoft, Adidas, and Red Bull – but that didn’t stop the “brand police” from arresting him for creating Olympic-related street art.