Political Street Art and Protest

Street art has always been an effective method of expressing an oppressed opinion. In South Africa street art has played a major role in protests and as I talked about in my last post, is a very important way of measuring public opinion, especially when that opinion has been oppressed by the political power.

Street art lets an artist get their meaning across in the context of everyday life. Part of the reason this art has such an impact on its audience is that it is never in a formal context. It put out on the street for passers by to see, with no opportunity for financial gain and with the only motive being to deliver a message to the public.

The artwork below was done by faith47 who I have also mentioned in previous posts and is a very influential South African street artist. From a distance this message appears to be a positive one, a message of faith and of positivity. Upon a closer look however, it become clear that the image is made up of news articles which highlight many current issues in South Africa, one reading: ‘Snipers take aim at taxi drivers’ and another ‘Child, 12, raped in school toilets’. The intention of this piece is to give the audience a sense of the underlying issues in our society and that although we try to portray a positive image and we are often fed the message of a post-apartheid, united and equal society, there are still very many issues which we face on a daily basis and become clear especially in the new media.


The following image portrays a similar idea although in a very different way. This image depicts a man carrying scrap metal and other materials around on a trolley, a very typical sight in Cape Town, as scrap metal is an easy way of making a few bucks when there are no other avenues of income available. Along the edge of one of the pieces of scrap it is written “There shall be work and security”, which was one of the assurances made by Nelson Mandela when the ANC came to power. However it is very clear that although these promises have been made there is in fact very little work or security, especially for those who were oppressed by the apartheid regime. This man who is collecting scrap, obviously has no job as he must resort to collecting scrap on a trolley around the city and with that he does not have any security either. This is a clever message delivered by the artist in a very effective way and is an example of one of the ways in which political satire is used to aid in protest.


This next artwork although not delivering a direct message linked with protest, is rather aimed at illustrating the power of street art in protest and in the various struggles we face in South Africa. In this piece the nicely decorated spray can is turned sideways in order to depict a bullet. The message is that street art can be as effective in protest as a bullet and that street art is a weapon with which society fight oppression.


Ryan Byrne

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