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Graffiti World, AUS: Australia's street art playground
Posted on 13/04/2019

SocietyAustralia

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Melbourne is known for its lively arts scene, sporting events, coffee culture and high quality of life, but it's also home to some of the most interesting street art in the world.

The street art adorning the laneways of Australia's second largest city have played a controversial role in Melbourne's recent history, but the murals' magnetism is impossible to deny as they draw tourists in droves.

A colorful past

A colorful past
© Lin Chu-Wen/123RF

Street art arrived in Melbourne sometime in the 1970s and 1980s, springing up from the youth culture of the city's inner suburbs. But the art form really took off in the early 2000s, with the most common form being stencil art: shapes cut from a piece of cardboard or plastic, and then spray painted over to create an image that can be easily and frequently reproduced.

Hosier Lane is the most famous location for graffiti in Melbourne. The lower halves of the buildings are coated in tags, abstract murals, distorted figures and brilliant colors that make the street feel more like a tunnel leading to another world than a laneway. Although it's the most popular, it's far from the only one of its kind . Four-meter-wide Caledonian Lane is a more intimate experience and AC/DC Lane named for the Australian rock band is home to interesting murals dedicated to music.

A controversial present

A controversial present
© Lin Chu-Wen/123RF

The proliferation of street art in the heart of Melbourne was almost instantly polarizing. Many saw and still see it as a net good for the city, bringing in tourists from across the globe. Others including the local government initially saw the art form as an eyesore and a poor representation of the city. An anti-graffiti law was put in place in 2007, punishing the possession of spray cans on or around public transit.

This crackdown, along with the ephemeral nature of the medium, has caused misunderstandings and the loss or destruction of a handful of genuine works of art. In 2010 a Banksy stencil depicting a rat attached to a parachute was mistakenly painted over by council contractors. And as recently as 2016, another Parachuting Rat was accidentally cut out of the wall by construction workers.

A conciliatory stance

A conciliatory stance
© stanciuc/123RF

The local government is now taking steps to both regulate and embrace the city's rich culture of street art, but the essence of the medium itself is one that was born from anti-establishment values. This makes it difficult to draw distinctions between what consitutes art and what constitutes defacement as the two have been inseparable since the art form's early days.

For now, Hosier Lane remains one of the top attractions in Melbourne, if not the entire country, and the legacy of street art in Melbourne doesn't seem to be going anywhere soon.

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