A great piece of street art can be transformative. It can transform the object on which it appears, of course. But it can also transform the community in which it resides.
Artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn know this. On the final day of filming a documentary about life in Rio de Janeiro’s hilltop favelas—or Brazilian slums—Koolhaas and Urhahn wondered if the poorly constructed communities could be improved.
Soon, they were converting parts of the community into works of art.
And soon after that, they were turning other favelas into beautiful open air galleries.
With a few colorful strokes of a paintbrush, these favelas were turned into something that the residents could positively identify with. The vibrant spirits of communities that had long been overlooked were now visible to the public and impossible to ignore.
In communities around the world, individuals have been using street art to transform dull parts of a city into vivid representations of local identity. In some cases, grafitti artists employ themselves as the voice of the voiceless, leaving behind works of art filled with important political and social undertones. In others, community members work together to create large murals that instantaneously brighten the whole city. In either case, street art is used as a means to expose community characteristics that would otherwise remain hidden beneath the surface.
Check out how the following communities have used street art to both express themselves and transform the spirit of the entire community.
An artists’ collective known as the GermanCrew helped locals turn Las Palmitas into a giant, colorful mural in an effort to bring the community together and change its gritty image. Prior to the project, the neighborhood was known as a sketchy area where people would avoid going out at night. Over time, the project succeeded in getting more neighors to hang out with one another.
MACROMURAL ya terminamos la etapa de color #germenuevomuralismo #germencolectivo #germencolectivo #macromural #palmitas #instagraffiti #instagood #instagraff #streetartmexico #streetarteverywhere #artemexicano #segob #Pachuca #graffitimexico #graffitimexicano #miberzion #zero3_1sa #EneMendez #meikwon #Comexurbano
Valparaiso is no stranger to street art. Colorful works of art have draped the entire seaport for years. In fact, Valparaiso's ad hoc architecture, vibrant buildings, and brilliant street art led the United Nations to name it a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003 as a location of special cultural significance. Now, the quirky city is a popular scene for talented musicians and artists, as well as a burgeoning tourist destination.
Multicolor Stairs Valparaiso is built on the slopes of very steep hills. While walking around you have two options for negotiating the hills - take these numerous colorful stairways or one of the dozen or so ultra steep funiculars. #streetphotos #valparaiso #valpo #chile #southamerica #experiencechile #colorful #stairs #canon6d #vinogret
Some of Dakar's most famous grafitti artists have used their talent to promote important social issues. In doing so, the artists have succeeded in transforming the community's understanding of things like good health and gender equality.
Breaking Down Walls By Painting Them: Senegal's First Lady of graffiti, Dieynaba Sidibe. "I want to express many things. The difference between painting graffiti and painting on a canvas is when I painted on a canvas it was just because I wanted to paint, but now with the graffiti I'm more into social messaging. Women are marginalized in society. I think my art can help people understand," #DieynabaSidibe - see full story via Globalcitizen.org
Russia’s version of Banksy, known as P183, worked tirelessly to cover Moscow’s walls with images that sought to promote a strong, educated, and cultured homeland. Although the artist’s images were often painted over by the government, P183 inspired many that witnessed the artist’s political and social messages. Sadly, P183 passed away in 2013.
In Montevideo, an anonymous artist replaces missing or broken street tiles with colorful custom made tiles during the night. The effort has added a unique flare to the city and reinforced the community's generous spirit.
During the 2011 revolution, Egyptian artists expressed their emotions through murals that were painted on the walls of Tahrir Square. The images often memorialized dead protesters and depicted key moments of the democratic uprising. The art served as a powerful and vivid reminder of liberation and freedom. Sadly, several iconic pieces of art have since been erased or torn down. However, this period of artistic expression has changed the community forever.
More of the incredible art that's about to be torn down by the American University in Cairo, and the city. The faces seen are of those who died in the uprising in Cairo, over the past few years. These walls are some of the last vestiges that there was ever a 'revolution' of any sort in Egypt. #graffiti #graff #streetart #egyptstreetart #streetarteverywhere #streetartfiles #urbanart #instaart #art #mural #photooftheday #tahrir #tahrirsquare #mohamedmahmoud #hope #freedom #injustice #everydayegypt #EverydayMiddleEast
Street art is more than a collection of eye-catching murals painted across random buildings and walls. It is a powerful tool of expression, and it can unlock the potential of people who have otherwise felt neglected or unheard.
The next time you walk past a piece of street art, take a moment to appreciate it.
And remember, the world is one big piece of art—and we are all artists. It’s not too late to make your own unique mark on the world and transform the communities around you.