Graffiti explodes in New York with pandemic, illegally

New York (AFP)

They have been part of the city’s history for more than 50 years but with the pandemic, graffiti is flourishing like never before in New York, a sign of decadence for some, or of vitality for others.

Night falls on Soho, when after a quick glance around, graffiti artist Saynosleep attacks the front of a luxury store, closed after being looted in early June on the sidelines of the protests linked to George’s death. Floyd.

“If you’re not painting right now, I don’t know what the hell you are doing”, launches the 40-year-old, who lives off his art under a different pseudonym. “We’ve never seen an era like this.”

These hundreds of shop windows permanently closed, hit by the economic consequences of the pandemic, “it’s an invitation”, summarizes Marie Flageul, curator of the Museum of Street Art in New York (MoSA).

Walls, bridges or sidewalks are all supports, even the emblematic metro cars, 34 of which have recently been painted twice since the beginning of December.

“It’s a resurgence, a renaissance of graffiti,” enthuses Saynosleep.

Already passed from the street to galleries in the 1980s, graffiti conquered the general public during the 2000s through street art, often out of the illegal to express itself in authorized spaces.

But since March, graffiti, largely domesticated until recently, has exploded in a disorderly fashion, completely illegally.

“People want to express themselves,” says Saynosleep, who says he saw sixty-year-olds at work. “They are bored. They need to have something to do.”

The acceleration of the Black Lives Matter movement also played a role, with its share of slogans and demands, declined in writing.

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In a city where most opportunities for social life have disappeared, where the streets no longer vibrate, “it’s a way of saying: you don’t see us, it feels like New York is dead, but we are. there “, describes Marie Flageul.

– “Sign of degradation” –

Not all taste this creative impulse. The governor of the State of New York, Andrew Cuomo, in particular criticized, in July, the supposed laxity of the mayor of the city, Bill de Blasio. For him, “this is another sign of deterioration” of living conditions in New York, with the increase in murders and shootings.

Critics reinforced by the suspension for budgetary reasons, in March, of the Graffiti-Free NYC program, which had made it possible to clean up almost 15,000 sites in 2019.

“I think it’s really ugly,” reacts Darcy Weber, recently settled in New York. “There are people who say it’s art but is it allowed? No. So it’s vandalism.”

For some, this graffiti harks back to the period of the 1970s and 1980s, when the city was bloodless financially and crime rampant.

“There is less police on the streets,” Saynosleep says.

Asked by AFP, the New York police ensure that they “are very aware of the importance of dealing with crimes related to graffiti.” It also indicates that the number of graffiti-related incidents is down 17% from last year.

Same story at the New York Transport Authority (MTA), where an incident rate is announced down 35%.

“Since the start of confinement,” says Saynosleep, “I have been spotted by the police several times and I continued to paint”, without being arrested.

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“To say that because there are tags (paint signatures, editor’s note) everywhere, we are falling back into the ghetto years, it’s a bit of a cliché. It’s easy”, retorts Marie Flageul , who is also a spokesperson for the 5Pointz graffiti collective.

“It is something that destroys the landscape of our neighborhood,” said Eric Adams, president of Brooklyn, in a video message published in early November. “It costs homeowners hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean them.”

Ken Lovett, adviser to the CEO of the MTA, points out that graffiti is draining precious resources “at a time when the MTA is facing the worst financial crisis in its history”, linked to the pandemic.

“It does not concern me much”, relativizes Emile Fu, looking at a storefront covered with graffiti. “There is cause for concern as well.”

“It would have shocked me in another city, like Ottawa in Canada where everything is super clean,” says Bryce Graham, who lives in the Chelsea neighborhood, “but here in New York, it’s a hell of a mix of what is clean and dirty. “

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