Formation of Identity through Street Art and Social Media
Michaila Forte, Emerson Matson, Yi Shi
Our group is collectively researching how street art and social media in Berlin is intertwined with different types of German identities. Our main focuses are cultural, border, and minority identities, with each person concentrating on one specifically. The one of the main points of both social media and street art is activism and having a message heard to a larger audience. We want to analyze these messages and see was they reveal about overall identity. Michaila is specifically focused on transnational artists and their identities: what types of influences are brought in by the interconnectivity between people and social significance of boundaries among nations? YiShi is comparing and contrasting minority communities and the overall Berlin identity. Finally, Emerson is analyzing cultural identity, which can be defined as part of the “self-conception and self-perception nationality to ethnicity, religion, social class, generation, locality and any kind of social group that has its own distinct culture” and applying it as a comparative look between America and Germany. All three of our specific topics are greatly interwoven by the concept of identity through the lens of art and expression.
Street art is urban visual art created in public locations, usually created by unsanctioned artists outside the traditional art community. The term “street art” is interchangeable with “guerrilla art”, “graffiti” and “urban art” and encompasses several distinct styles of conveying societal messages. From elaborate stencils, prints and murals, to interactive street installations, street art has been integrated into the core of contemporary art. Today, street art is used as an unconventional form of expression and activism.
Street art has been a significant presence in Western civilization throughout history. First found in prehistoric cave, like Lascaux to marking gang territory in the 30s to the currently political statements found in the streets of New York City. It’s obvious that “people have always felt the need to share and express themselves in a public way, sometimes by telling a story or posing a question” (Smith 2007, 11). In the early 1900s, graffiti picked up popularity. Some of the earliest well recorded expressions of street art were the graffiti which tags, started showing up on the sides of train carts and walls. These were the works of local gangs marking territory. In the 1940s, there was a “Kilroy” movement in Europe during World War II. The phrase “Kilroy was here,” usually accompanied by a drawing of a bald figure with a big nose, began appearing wherever US servicemen were stationed. The Kilroy movement signified a milestone in the history of street art. By the 1970s and 80s, the impact of the subversive culture shifted into high gear. There was a significant turning point in the history of street art – it was then a time where the younger generation started creating a movement, taking the “battle” of their current sociopolitical environment into their own hands. However, today, street art has moved towards a larger scale. It is now considered marvelous art form filled with diversity and social activism of the 21st century. The evolution of street art is extremely dynamic and is evident as iconic artists such as Banksy, whose stencil art became revolutionary throughout the world, take over the streets. The emergence of artists such Vhils, a famous etcher who carves his art into buildings, or JR, who specializes in wheat pasting, show that street art became a ground for experimenting with different kinds of methodology, but constantly pushing societal boundaries and sending provocative messages.
Street art encompasses several different types of artistic styles and mediums: (i) tagging represents an early and common expression of street art meant to spread an individual’s name or group. Its main purpose was to contest the conformity of daily life through “the repetition of names or words of rebellion on public walls” (source). Tags can often contain subtle and cryptic messages, and may incorporate the artist's crew symbol; (ii) sticking, or slaps, is the practice of pasting simple drawings and symbols on stickers in public spaces so as to spread short messages to a broader audience; (iii) stenciling uses complex, premade stencils to effectively place pieces that “mimics the marketing practices of advertising and branding by replicating the same form or symbol in multiple places” (source) ; (iv) poetic assault is one of the recently emerging practices of street art, and it consists of writing of poetry on bare public spaces to spread sentimental and elegant content; and (v) urban design mostly relates to a practice applied for the purpose of beautification of public architecture and urbanization. Over time these different styles emerged to form specific milestones within the street art industry. While these are some of the popular techniques, each specific artist has their own methodology, which can help with identify and categorize street artists.
The popularity of street art as an art form has grown immensely, as the practice has become an idolized counter culture. The commercial success has allowed street art to gain an impressive presence in pop culture and the contemporary art world. Art allows a connection to form between artist and viewer while it transcends language barriers to convey a specific message. There is a strong presence of activism and rebellion within this powerful type of urban art. Street art is most often used as a platform for reaching the public and an influential form of political expression for the oppressed. There is currently a great controversy between arts and vandalism. Some see street art as benefitting their city both aesthetically and bringing a flood of tourism, while others strongly view street art as illegal vandalism.
When the word identity is mentioned, people always think of the ethical aspect but not other dimensions of identity. According to Model of multiple dimensions of identity, a person’s identity also includes: race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, ability, age and nationality. Because the registered life partnership for same sex couples is allowed in Germany and Berlin is one of the most open and welcoming cities in the world today, many same sex couples choose to live in Germany especially in Berlin. Homosexual themed art is also the big topic for street art in Berlin. There are many well-known artists has been grown up in Berlin like unknown artists but signed by “6s”, or even grow into a group like “the dead chicken”. The history of street art particularly in Berlin can be divided into art before the wall and after the fall. In the 1970s, the street art was flourishing in New York City; the troops from the US first introduced to Germany and started to flourish. The Berlin wall is widely recognized as the “biggest canvas on earth” for street art, the east side of Berlin wall stayed untouched and white until 90s, more artists added on there. The west side of Berlin wall is full of graffiti where people express their love, hopes, dreams, and hates. One of the big art performance is: in the year 1982 the West-German artist Elsner created about 500 artworks along the former border strip around West-Berlin as part of his work series "Border Injuries".
But street art is not the only form of youthful, and varied expression and a medium for the formation of identity. Since the dawn of Twitter, there have been 163 billion tweets (Velocity). 89% of people in the age bracket of 18-29 use social media (Pew). Social media is the primary method of communication and connection between people these days. Often, you cannot go without receiving an “add” on Facebook from someone you met the other day, or getting a follow on Instagram after sparking up a conversation about social media on the bus. You almost never meet someone who is not involved in at least some form of social media. With this huge audience available on social media, it becomes a primary outlet for many people. From simple sharing of pictures at events you may have attended, to full blown arguments over a particular topic of interest, social media hosts a wide array of expressions at varying levels. A very recent example can be the immediate focus on utilizing social media in political campaigning. Right after Hillary Clinton announced her bid for presidency social media for this campaign blew up. Facebook pages were made, Twitter accounts were used to give live updates of Hillary’s planned events, and even Instagram accounts were made to capture important moments that would contribute to her campaign. This “need” for social media gives strong evidence of the power of social media to inspire people to share parts of their lives.
The overpowering need for expression and activism throughout history is clear. Street art and social media are insightful tools for looking deeper into communities and cultures. In our research projec
A Case Study: Transnational Street Artists on Border Identities
My research is going to focus on going in depth into a case study between two transnational street artists who have painted extensively in Berlin. Within this study, I want to analyze what their pieces reveals about border identity and transnational art. I am currently working with the definition of transnationalism as “a social phenomenon and scholarly research agenda grown out of the heightened interconnectivity between people and the receding economic and social significance of boundaries among nation states”(SOURCE). I see transnationalism as creating a connection between individuals and communities across borders. OI hope to gain insight on the types of issues that are brought to light in transnational art and what those issues say about border identities. The two artists I have chosen are Alias and Alice. Alias is considered one of top street artists in Berlin. Between 2004 and 2008, he was the most active street artist in Berlin. His influence in the city of Berlin is enormous but his works can also be found in Hamburg, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, Milano, Bristol and even Istanbul. Alias’ work represents mainly introspective stencils of children, teenagers, and some adults. It is usually individuals that are alone, dealing with situations. My second artist, Alice is a female artist from Rome. Her work can be found on the streets of London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and now recently Berlin as well. Her work quite often features strong, empowered women displaying acts of love, hope, and affection. Her art brings a more uplifting, romantic quality to the streets. In one interview, she states that she’s interested “in representing human feelings and exploring different points of view. [She is] often annoyed by female stereotypes proposed by artists [..] [She is] seduced instead by real women and hope that, by proposing a different female universe in the street, [she] will help build a new image of women.” (“Alice Pasquini”) In my research I want to drive into the differences and similarities between the two artists and how they relate to the overall border identities of Berlin.
I think one of my biggest biases is that I’m not involved in the art community in Seattle or at UW. This will be my first time analyzing art so I might miss key things that an experienced artist would notice. I also grew up in a small upper middle class town where there was practically no street art was present. There was a stigma that graffiti was affiliated with gangs and violence, but after research I’ve found that’s definitely not the case. I want to try to be as unbiased as possible in my study, and hold a neutral but informed position.
Introduce myself to Berlin artists through email/social media.
Research locations of specific art pieces that are vital to my question.
Demographics of neighborhoods
1st week in Berlin
Observations and close analysis of images.
Refine demographic research based on chosen images.
Talk to Manuela about narrowing topic and local experts to interview
2nd week in Berlin
Gathering data from local sources, articles, and other mediums.
Meet with Humboldt faculty to solidify ideas and start my conclusions
Wrap up conclusions
Wrap up research paper
Prepare for presentation with group
Pen, paper, camera
Photos, notes from interviews, observations about people’s view of the art
"Alice Pasquini." Street Art Berlin RSS. Web. 3 June 2015.
"Alternative Berlin." Alternative Berlin RSS. Web. 3 June 2015.
"Art in the Streets of Berlin." Street Art Guide in Berlin. Web. 3 June 2015.
"OpenWalls." Contemporary Fine Arts. Web. 3 June 2015.