Flash Points

Where’s all the rightwing street art?

Detail of an altered ad by "Princess Hajib"

Detail of an altered ad by "Princess Hajib"

Learning of Princess Hijab—a Paris-based street artist who culturejams advertisements to include her namesake headscarf—an old question came to mind: where are all the rightwing graffiti artists, stencil afficionados, and conservative interventionists? While we see strictly political graffiti on behalf of all sides in political skirmishes worldwide, I can’t say I’ve seen particularly artful examples on the right side of the political spectrum.

Graffiti that appeared in Minneapolis just before the RNC began.

Graffiti that appeared in Minneapolis just before the RNC began.

Around the time of the Republican National Convention, I pondered the question, to no avail, at my day job when a series of unsanctioned artworks started appearing around the Twin Cities. They all included the G.O.P. acronym, but it was clear this was a different GOP: “Greed Over People” or “Get Out Phascists” (which is confusing…Phish fan facists? Big Pharma fascists?). Since then I’ve noticed that while lefty street art is virtually eveywhere, from Noam Chomsky stencils to railroad cars tagged with BAILOUT, TORTURE and POVERTY, there was very little from the other end of the political spectrum (except for the brief blip in Nobama graffiti a few months back).

Freight graffiti by the "Abraham Lincoln Brigade"

Freight graffiti by the "Abraham Lincoln Brigade"

When I noticed Princess Hijab’s work today, I thought I’d come across the first interesting street intervention by a person who might, just maybe, fit the bill—if not politically, then culturally. (I recognize a limitation in my thinking: naturally, there are liberal and moderate Muslims who wear headscarves.) But upon further reading, her work seems to be more about covering the shame of omnipresent (and often sexualized) ads than in offering a critique of women’s bodies. Her “hijabizing” of French ads is part of a “Jihad,” she writes, but “she acts upon her own free will. She is not involved in any lobby or movement be it political, religious, or to do with advertising. In fact, the Princess is an insomniac-punk. She is the leader of an artistic fight, nothing else.”

As for rightwing graffiti, I’m not sure why we don’t see more. Are conservatives more respectful of personal property or more fearful of the law? Is their fight in boardrooms or ballot boxes instead of boxcars and subway station walls? Or am I just not looking in the right places?

When I posed the question on Twitter last night, A’yen Tran, a Brooklyn artist I met when the Miss Rockaway Armada was in Minneapolis a few summers ago, responded that perhaps The Splasher was the closest I’d get. The Splasher achieved some notoriety two years ago for defacing New York street art with paint and leaving behind a manifesto that seemed more anti-artist than in tune with the anti-art Dadaists it referenced: “The removal of this document could result in injury, as we have mixed the wheat paste with tiny shards of glass.” “[Y]ou could argue that the Splasher had some echoes of fascism despite a pseudo surrealist facade,” Tran writes.

So, more in the spirit of crowd-sourcing than conclusion-making, what do you think? Is street art an inherently left-leaning domain, or have I not been looking hard enough?

  1. Ben says:

    She is the leader of an artistic fight, nothing else.

    It doesn’t stop you from looking at the politics of the culture she is expressing.

  2. Jake says:

    An intriguing question. Respect for law and fear of consequences stops MOST people from becoming street artists; I don’t think that’s what’s hampering the right. I suggest it’s outsider antagonism. Bush II was a heyday for political street artists, a response to hope- and powerlessness. Perhaps Obama will drive conservatives to pick up spray cans to register their dissent.

    You might also point to a class explanation. Street art has its roots in urban poverty and it propogates even today in poor and working class areas. The geography of wealth insulate young right-wingers from the hotbeds of street creativity.

    But you can always count on Neo-Nazi’s to express themselves. http://sfist.com/2008/01/16/recurring_neona.php

  3. Erik says:

    I think Geography is the key. In cities you can have an impact with inexpensive posters and stickers – and you also generally have artists and progressive movements and poverty all in close proximity. Conservatives are most densely concentrated in suburban and exurban areas where you need to travel by car. Highway billboards are the only viable means to message very many people there – and they are expensive. Sometimes you’ll see improvised messages on sheets tied to overpasses, or (in areas not governed by zoning and signage laws) painted barns. Whether this is art or pure signage is another matter.

  4. Maybe I don’t know enough people, but I haven’t met any artists who are conservative. I know apolitical artists, liberal artists, libertarians, anti-americans…but “conservative” and “avant-guard artist” don’t seem to go together.

  5. Ben Street says:

    Jake: you’re right, it does have a class explanation. I haven’t met any street artists who are genuinely from lower economic brackets, no matter where they choose to display their work. One of the great, sad lies of street art is that it is art ‘of the people’. A new book by the promoter of (the privately-educated) Banksy, Steve Lazarides, called ‘Outsiders’ (!!!) is subtitled ‘Art by People’. Can’t we just admit this whole thing is just weak political sloganeering and not the voice of some sort of disenfranchised economic underclass? Pleeeeease?

  6. Ben Street says:

    On this note (though in a theatrical context), it’s worth reading this article about the almost total absence from English theatre of recent years of any right-wing voices (and a surfeit, in the Bush years, of supremely cack-handed anti-Bush polemic).

    In terms of the art world, I’m not sure to what extent the art it can honestly call itself ‘open’ or ‘liberal’ given the narrowness of its political focus.


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  8. GIN says:

    I would call me a fairly right-winged graffiti writer, who dabbles in street art. I go for more libertarian ideals and the whole idea of a fiscally conservative government.

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  12. Jamoe says:

    I have been a spectator of the street are for a few years now and I have always kept my eye on the newest work up. I just recently noticed Alec Andon and his work and I come to find it very interesting. He paints monopoly men which I love being that I am a huge fan of the game and how interesting it is to see in this depressed economy.

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  15. Bozo says:

    Graffiti is art.

  16. An interesting question. Street art in the Anglosphere is seemingly exclusively left wing or apolitical.

    There are European movements such as the French Bloc Identitaire that are more youth based and are of the European nationalist populist right rather than the American mainstream neo-con, though increasingly Tea Party American right. Ideologically they are vastly different.

    Even though not street art as such the Swiss People’s Party has some very contentious and apparently effective posters:

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