Sydney graffiti: celebrating the artworks in Inner West suburbs

Last month, it was reported that the State had spent about $34 million removing graffiti in 2014. The massive number shows that graffiti is still perceived as significant problem in Australia, even greater in New South Wales.

The New South Wales government official website clearly mentions that graffiti (vandalism) is a “crime” with the concern of “protecting the community.” For the government, graffiti is considered “illegal and an offence” under the Graffiti Control Act (2008) and the NSW Crimes Act 1900.

According to New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research 2014, Sydney was surprisingly at the second place with the highest number of recorded graffiti incidents in 2013. They found 461 incidents at the city with Lake Macquaire at the top position and Hornsby at the least.

In response to the incidents of graffiti, the City of Sydney has established a graffiti management policy “to minimise incidents on both public and private property by prompt removal.” It arranges regular inspection of “hotspots” every day and “aims to remove any new graffiti they find within 24 hours.”

From the facts above, it seems that graffiti is granted no special place in Sydney’s public spaces. The government’s zero tolerance approach makes graffiti to be perceived as something to avoid, to against with or exactly, to report to officials. It places graffiti in a debatable position, especially where artistic aspect enters the public discussion.

However, if we wander around Sydney’s Inner West suburbs like Newtown, Enmore, and St Peters, we will eventually understand why this debate occurs. You will see many kinds of graffiti and murals spread out along King Street, particularly on the side walls of the store building. Some are perfectly maintained and positioned; some are just “harassed” by the intense and messy spray inks.

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Yes, it is what differentiates the suburbs from other areas in Sydney. The Newtown Precinct website embraces the street art by including it as something to explore in Newtown. It suggests readers to “walk down King Street and feast your eyes on mandalas, oversized people, birds with hats and plenty of owls.”

The word ‘feast’ seems to connote enjoyable experience that we can get by seeing graffiti, murals and other forms of street art in the bohemian part of Sydney. Not as something distracting, unlawful, or dangerous. The statement even ends with “If you have a blank wall, there is a perfect piece of street art for you.” So, does it mean that there is a possibility of optimistic approach on perceiving graffiti?

Tugomir Balog, the owner and founder of May Lane Street Art Project, is one of the Sydneysiders who joins the conversation.

“Well, I think it [graffiti] cheers up people going to work in the morning. It’s nice to have a bit of color rather than just gray walls. I think it could… it does booze sort of spirit. You got that kick in the morning, just something dynamic,” he said.

Mr Balog, who runs a mounting, framing and laminating service business, initiated the May Lane Street Art project fifteen years ago. In 2005, he officially started the project at St Peters and set it as an outdoor gallery space. It consists of five panels hung on the window alongside the building of his office.

Tugomir Balog or 'Tugi Balog' in front of an artwork by artist KDC Mofor Space Monkey for May Lane Street Art Project. Photo by Felkiza Vinanda Marwoto. Taken on 14/5/2015.
Tugomir Balog or ‘Tugi Balog’ in front of an artwork by artist KDC Mofor Space Monkey for May Lane Street Art Project. Photo: Felkiza Vinanda Marwoto

He established a website of his project and invited several artists “to use the entire space as their canvas, or to focus on the panels which are then kept each month as part of a larger documentation project.”

“Demand was there. The people were painting in the Lane and I just want to give them more permanent space,” he explained why he created the project.

(A documentary about May Lane Street Art Project. Created by Trazlen Video and Film Production. Source: YouTube)

According to an article published by CNN four years ago, May Lane Street Art Project was considered as one of the ‘legal’ walls for street art in Sydney. For that reason, the project has attracted a number of media coverage.

However, Mr Balog said he closed the project because “it’s not working anymore.”

“Because demography of neighbours changed. All these yuppies came in… younger people with the… no idea… they came from regional Australia, they want their peace and quiet on the weekend. And this area [St Peters] is not fringe, city fringe anymore. It’s actually… you know, cities. So, dynamic is talking different,” said the man who is currently negotiating with Marrickville City Council to restart the project.

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The creation of May Lane Street Art Project reminds us that graffiti and other forms of street art has certain relationship with people who dwell in the area. Besides it acts as “mood-booster” for the bystanders, graffiti also shows the dynamic of environment and how it influences individual’s experience of place.

Dr Samantha Edwards-Vandenhoek, a design researcher from Swinburne University of Technology and creator of Sydney Graffiti Archive, said,

“I think everyone’s understanding of the environment and the spaces that they experience whether they’re walking to work or whether they live there, whether they’re tourist is quite different. We have a different perspective. …So, my work is about challenging how people understand and experience place. They may see graffiti and got ‘Oh, that’s awful. That’s vandalism’ and yes it is. But, what if we thought about it differently and what if we try to understand what people were trying to communicate? And it may change their experience of that place and what that graffiti does.”

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Instead of being seen as “cultural damage”, Dr Vandenhoek pointed out that graffiti can be used to bring back a viewer’s “memories and experiences” of place. Her approach on seeing graffiti as “artefact” or “something in the past” may provide a practical solution to the problem of constant graffiti removals in Sydney.

In fact, graffiti can actually add vibrancy to a place especially the Inner West suburbs, where it is much more celebrated and embraced as a cultural practice.


3 thoughts on “Sydney graffiti: celebrating the artworks in Inner West suburbs

  1. First of all, congratulations.

    I think yours is one of the best articles uploaded to the blog.

    I love the images, not only the tone and quality, but the quantity! That’s a great work!

    Also, you’ve been thorough with your research, you use your passion for graffiti to articulate a really powerful discourse defending and promoting it. And I think it will really resonate with your audience.

    As for the feedback, a few things:

    – I’ve catch a few typos, I’ve created a gdocs document and commented your post so it’s easier for you to see (your writing is really good so it was easy to spot those minor details). (I’m not a native speaker, so some points may be wrong, still, hope it helps)
    – If you want an article with more SEO potential -I saw you interested in it- I would recommend you to remove “stop words” from the URL. That’s articles, prepositions and words that don’t add meaning or that people don’t search. In this case I’d recommend “/graffiti-sydney-suburbs”, so it’d rank better for “graffiti sydney” and “graffiti sydney suburbs”. You can change it in “slig” in the edit menu.
    -I really think a map would be a great addition to the article, but I know it can take a lot of time and we have a lot of assessments due soon.

    Again, congratulations for your article, I genuinely enjoyed reading it. Hope you keep writing for a long time.


  2. Hi Kiza,

    You told me you didn’t think you’d written clearly enough, but I think you did a great job. The story is well-balanced and you’ve spread the arguments on both sides efficiently and thoroughly.

    And now I can see what you meant when you said 1,000 words was just too short for you. You do have a lot of information and statistics. You’ve really done some serious research. Not to mention the picture albums. And it’s impressive that you took them all by yourself.

    One problem I want to point out is that I think your hypertexts are a bit too long, especially in the first part of your story where hypertexts almost take half of the words in every paragraph. They break the flow of the reading and their blue color is a bit distractive. I think they are supposed to contain only a few words to make short phrases only.

    To solve the problem, you can, for example, shorten “the State had spent about $34 million removing graffiti in 2014” to “$34 million”, and change “It arranges regular inspection of “hotspots” every day and “aims to remove any new graffiti they find within 24 hours” to “regular inspection of ‘hotspots’”.

    But overall, it’s a pleasure reading your story. Great job!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello!

    This is a very well researched article, and what’s interesting is that it’s a cultural and arts topic and it’s rare to see these type of stories getting any attention. Well done!

    I loved the use of your images in an image slide type setting. With art comes a lot of images to really show it, and you did a good job of compressing them into a slideshow instead of using loads and spreading them out throughout the text. Works really well for this story!

    You’ve used a good amount of hyperlinks, you didn’t over do it and used it on the correct terms, however maybe next time make them a bit shorter and limit them to the key terms rather than the whole phrase. But also, because you use a lot of different terms to describe the graffiti, you could have made them bold in order to add emphasis on them and also make it easy on the eyes.

    Lastly, you could also have engaged the reader somehow by suggesting that they comment and tell their experiences on graffiti art and where they have seen it. Maybe even asked to share a couple of their own photos. Also at one point you use a really long quote, I would suggest putting it as a pull quote or a block quote to make the layout more clear and organised. It will also bring it out to the reader.

    Overall, its a really great and well informed article. You use short paragraphs, leave blanks spaces, conformed to the pyramid and it’s well written! Great work!


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