This theoretically and empirically grounded book uses case studies of political graffiti in the post-socialist Balkans and Central Europe to explore the use of graffiti as a subversive political media.
Despite the increasing global digitisation, graffiti remains widespread and popular, providing with a few words or images a vivid visual indication of cultural conditions, social dynamics and power structures in a society, and provoking a variety of reactions. Using qualitative and quantitative methods, as well as detailed interdisciplinary analyses of "patriotic," extreme-right, soccer-fan, nostalgic, and chauvinist graffiti and street art, it looks at why and by whom graffiti is used as political media and to/against whom it is directed. The book theorises discussions of political graffiti and street art to show different methodological approaches from four perspectives: context, author, the work itself, and audience.
It will be of interest to the growing body of literature focussing on (sub)cultural studies in the contemporary Balkans, transitology, visual cultural studies, art theory, anthropology, sociology, and studies of radical politics.
Table of Contents
Preface: Toward a New Interdisciplinary Science – Graffitology
Part One: Introduction to Graffiti and Street Art Studies
- Mapping (Political) Graffiti and Street Art
- Dirty Words on Clean Walls – Dilemmas in Defining Graffiti and Street Art
- Poetics on the Wall: Characteristics of Aesthetic/Subcultural Graffiti and Street Art
- Politics on the Wall: Characteristics of Political Graffiti and Street Art
- Types, Styles and Techniques of Graffiti and Street Art
- Ways, Sites and Methods of Researching Political Graffiti and Street Art
- Graffitography – Photographing as a Way of Collecting Visual Data
- Multiangular Approach: Four Sites of Meaning of Graffiti
- Methods of Researching Political Graffiti and Street Art
- Yugoslavia after Yugoslavia: Graffiti and Street Art about Yugoslavia in the Post-Yugoslav Urbanscape
- Contested Heroes – Gavrilo Princip and Rudolf Maister as Subcultural Icons
- Nature as Politics - The Motif of Mt. Triglav in Graffiti and Street Art
- Shameful Compliance - Balkan Nationalist Graffiti and Street Art
- Spraying Hatred – Extreme-Right Graffiti and Street Art in Slovenia
- The New Others – Visual Ideology of Refugees in Contemporary Slovenia
- Chosen Few - Football Fan Graffiti and Street Art
- One Club, One Honor! – The Graffitiscape of Slovenian Football Fans
Part Two: Post-Socialist Graffiti-Scapes – Case Studies
Conclusion: Power of the Street (Art), Powerlessness of (Street) Art
Mitja Velikonja, PhD, is a Professor of Cultural Studies and Head of the Centre for Cultural and Religious Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Velikonja has been reading the landscapes of post-communist societies positioning himself not above, but beneath: from every day life, from it’s marginal, subcultural edges. Thus, he opposes and subverts heavy, hierarchical, masculine, militant, "state" version of recent historical events. He is one of the most creative, inventive and amusing "readers" of contemporary Central European and Balkan ideological constellations. In this book Velikonja invented a new science: "graffitology". Reading graffiti within Balkan and Central European urban landscape Velikonja acts like a cultural graphologist. He is a post-communist Doctor Dolittle: reading, understanding and interpreting the language of graffiti Velikonja provides more relevant diagnosis of transitional societies and their maladies then the most of "official historians". - Dubravka Ugrešic, author of The Culture of Lies and The Ministry of Pain
"Focusing on the complex interplay between social structure, ideology and aesthetic resolutions, and as a result of a long-term engagement and meticulous field-work, this book presents a very personal reading of graffiti, this underestimated genre of "profane culture." The value of this work is both general, in offering what amounts to a theoretical "manual" of analyzing methods for approaching the visual culture of street art, and area specific. Engaging in case studies from the period of "transition," Velikonja suggests the flexibility of graffiti, showing both their potential to be neutered through domestication and aestheticization, as well as their capacity for serious political subversion." - Maria Todorova, professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, author of Imagining the Balkans
"A vital contribution to the literature on the ongoing political transformations in Europe’s (South)East by one of the leading authorities on the subject. Velikonja’s appreciation and sympathy for the deeply personal and traumatic aspects of these grand historical transitions comes to the fore in this text, making this a paradigmatic contribution to debates about East European civil society and youth culture." - Dr. Jasmin Mujanovic, author of Hunger and Fury: The Crisis of Democracy in the Balkans
"Professor Mitja Velikonja not only provides systematic theorizing about the significance of graffiti and street art but shares deep insights on the profound crises of transition in post-communist Eastern Europe, a region which he understands profoundly." - Paul Mojzes, professor emeritus at Rosemont College, PA, and editor of Occasional Papers on Religion in Eastern Europe
"Thanks to the author’s broad knowledge of the Balkans and Central Europe, this systematic investigation of political graffiti brings important insight into grassroots engagement in a troubled region during a complex transitional period." - Svein Mønnesland, professor emeritus at University of Oslo, member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters
"The images contained in this fascinating study of graffiti and street art in the Balkans and Central Europe represent a major effort to open a window to the complexities of the region's development since the end of the Cold War, complemented by a innovative quantitative as well as qualitative analysis of post-socialist popular art and politics. This book will be of great interest not only to cultural historians and social scientists of Europe, but also of the Americas, Asia or wherever else graffiti have become an intriguing expression of radical modern culture and politics." - Volker R. Berghahn, professor at Columbia University, New York, author of Europe in the Era of Two World Wars: From Militarism and Genocide to Civil Society, 1900-1950
"Mitja Velikonja truly knows that the words of the prophets are often written on city walls and, moreover, teaches us how to read them. Drawing on his enormous erudition, ranging from political theory and aesthetics to bizarre popular subcultures, the author examines graffitis across the post-socialist zone and explains what on earth happened to us all (both in the East and the West) after 1989. With this book, Velikonja is about to launch graffitology as a new academic congregation. Join it today!" - Igor Štiks, the author of Nations and Citizens in Yugoslavia and the Post-Yugoslav States: One Hundred Years of Citizenship
"While deconstructing the many narratives of transitional societies in Southeastern and Central Europe through the methods of analyzing visual culture and perceiving graffiti as a part of something much wider, Velikonja brings the reader along on his many travels and efforts to place and empower graffitology as an emerging interdisciplinary science. Gathering the evidence of the rapid, controversial, and transformational changes that happened on the walls over the past 30 years, he inspires others to continue exploring this broad and tangled field by simply wishing "for people to change their view on graffiti and start observing, reading, and understanding them all in their complexity and controversy". This book will not only provide great insights, new perspectives, and interesting field cases to scholars already engaged in this field, but educate graffiti beginners on the how-tos of reading through the many meanings that are embedded in the places around us "when the walls speak"
Tea Šabić . Southeastern Europe 46 (2022) 101 - 116