Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Walls of East London

East London has been on my list of places to see in London for a long time. When I finally got the opportunity to take an ‘art tour’ in Brick Lane, the timing was perfect as the usual gloomy skies of London went away and I was blessed with the most amazing day. East London is probably the most culturally diverse part of London. It saw three waves of immigration; French, Jewish and Bangladeshi. The last one is the most prominent in terms of the culture and the community present there, but if you look closer you can see that the lives and work of its previous inhabitants were never erased. So with a jolly and passionate Scottish tour guide, my friend Anjanaa and a group of tourists who all share an interest in art, the journey began.

I have always loved street art, but have never had the opportunity to see it up close. I even tried (and failed) to use an online graffiti application to make normal images look like they were drawn on a wall with spray paint. But East London's street art and graffiti was better than anything I had seen before in pictures. What made them even more special was the history of the community that lived in East London as well as the individual stories of artists who spilled their imaginations and dreams onto blank walls to create blueprints and many will follow in years to come

The Crane by artist Roa- completed in 8 hrs
All forms of street art and graffiti are illegal in the eyes of the law. To me, this makes these types of art all the more exciting; it is opportunity combined with passion, love, rage, torment, defiance and every other emotion an artist goes through to create his or her masterpiece. Many pieces, like the crane and the cowboy, were created in just a couple of hours. The immaculate detail seen in such drawings is often missed. As a spectator I find there to be two different stages of admiring art. The first is when we glance at it, stare at it as it comes into sight and we are drawn to the scale, colour and subject of the drawing. The second is when we look closer, come up close to it to admire the detail and realize that our first impression of it is the least of what the image actually represents; a stamp of identity.

Street art is never permanent. You can create a masterpiece one day and have it covered up with spray paint the next day by another artist who just wanted to create something new. The best part is, nobody would blame them. It's a fight for space, and and a fight for expression. Most people would say that there is a blurred line between graffiti and vandalism but I would disagree. Unless it is the names of boys’ schools during cricket matches and unflattering terms for girls sprawled on my school wall in Colombo (a bit of school pride kicking in here, so yes, that was vandalism), graffiti represents a story, an outburst of emotion that needed an outlet. And what better canvas than a street wall?

As I stopped to stare at all the colourful walls in Brick Lane and its surrounding streets, I realized that the drawings and words before me were a tribute to the culture and history of East London. With different waves of immigration came constant change, adaptation and a fusion of ideas and histories. And with change comes the guarantee that what you create today can be something complete different in ten years, or cease to exist all together. Hence the street art in East London is a tribute to a community and a culture that celebrates and thrives on change. And no matter what technique, language or medium the artist uses, while it lasts, their art will always share a common message: I was here, this is who I am.

This is what makes me fall in love with London over and over again: fusion. So my advice to you- go see the places no one tells you to look for.  And scribbled on a wall down a lonely alley, you will find something that will make you smile. 

1 comment:

  1. brick field , brick lanes .... the famous street art roads :)