COVID-19: Pushing Forth the Legitimacy of Graffiti

COVID-19 may have halted our previous, everyday schedules and routines, but it has not stopped our creativity.

COVID-19 may have halted our previous, everyday schedules and routines, but it has not stopped our creativity. Street art is thriving. Through a new wave of coronavirus-inspired street art, artists have been highlighting different aspects of life during the pandemic.

Coronavirus-themed murals and graffiti are popping up in cities all over the world, with artists taking control of the pandemic dialogue. Street artists are using their creative abilities to bring art to all members of the global community, free of cost. Their beautiful works address relatable scenes hoping to make these trying times a little more bearable. Nevertheless, many still face the challenge of maintaining social distancing while finding adequate spaces so that their artwork will not be labelled as vandalism.

Graffiti picturing romance populates millions of streets around the world, and many artists have used their craft to highlight the persistence of love during these difficult times. Norwegian artist Pobel created the mural "The Lovers," a piece that emphasizes how, despite the current uncertainties, masks are no match for love. Pobel's mural depicts young lovers donning bright blue face masks tightly embracing one another. He believes that "even though everyone has gone through struggles and hard times, there is still heart and love and compassion." The mural illustrates a very personal and intense moment between the couple, prompting viewers to reflect upon the importance of love in their lives and how it has changed, or not, as a result of the pandemic. Beyond what is seen at face value, his mural also suggests that, regardless of the distance, true love is vibrant, strong, and transcends physical boundaries. His work speaks to both young lovers and to families and friends who are separated during this time.

Other murals comment on new trends such as the worldwide frenzy of purchasing toilet paper and hand sanitizer. This initial hoarding of supplies inspired North Carolina artist Darion Fleming to create "Pure'll Gold." Fleming "thought it would be a funny idea to see gold spilling out of a Purell bottle" after visiting his local supermarket finding hand sanitizer in severely limited supply. He painted a Purell bottle with the words "Available Nowhere" written on it, pouring out liquid gold. It's almost comical as such mass-produced products have now become rare commodities as valuable as gold. Fleming is not the first to channel humor into his artwork, as all the way across the ocean in Berlin, Germany, an unnamed artist created a piece featuring Gollum from Lord Of The Rings holding a roll of toilet paper. The mural is displayed along with a note reading "Mein Schatz," or "My Precious." A spin-off from one of Gollum's most famous scenes where he possessively clutches the Ring, the mural satirically comments on public's mania for something as frivolous as toilet paper.

The majority of these murals and graffiti play homage to healthcare heroes, illustrating doctors and nurses wearing masks with beautiful, detailed wings of angels. They give thanks to the selfless, brave medical workers and frontline personnel who keep the world running amidst all the danger and the unknown. These murals also call on individuals to maintain social distancing guidelines.

The rise of COVID-19 graffiti has also captured the attention of an anonymous England-based street artist who goes by Banksy. Banksy is one of the most mysterious, yet well-known contemporary artists whose prints often sell for millions. Banksy's newest piece, titled "Game Changer," depicts a young boy playing with action figures, only instead of Batman and Spiderman that lay discarded in a basket, the boy plays with the figure of another brave hero: the nurse. Currently displayed at the Southampton General Hospital in England, Banksy noted alongside his artwork, "Thanks for all you're doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit." According to one of Banksy's spokesmen, the piece will later be sold to raise money and funds for the hospital. Banksy has not only used his artistic abilities to bring trickles of joy for the hospital staff, but he has also contributed to the growing movement that is recognizing them as true heroes.

In challenging times like these, community engagement always manages to comfort society. Through street art and graffiti, artists document changing societal norms, spread positivity, and show the public that our healthcare and frontline workers deserve to be acknowledged. This flux of creativity also challenges our bias against graffiti. By moving away from thinking of graffiti as only messy initials on the sides of train cars and abandoned buildings, these murals prompt us to develop a newfound appreciation for graffiti as a pure art form accessible to everyone at all times. The size, scale, and visibility of these works are all factors that contribute to street art’s ability to promote positive social change.

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