No respect? Perhaps, but street art still carries meaning

“No Respect,” an ongoing exhibition at the Onassis Cultural Center in Athens, documents the graffiti and street art scene in the Greek capital and other cities around the country today.

Street art, as the name indicates, was born on the streets and fresh examples appear on a daily basis, with or without legal permission, on all sorts of urban surfaces. Carefully applied artworks and others including often deliberate, bold imperfections present their creators’ every possible thought or feeling. As a result, the idea of having an indoor graffiti exhibition at a prestigious cultural center could be considered risky.

However, any misgivings one might have disappear upon entering the OCC’s basement, where “No Respect” is on display. The space is the size of an industrial garage, full of designs by 40 artist representatives of the Greek street art and graffiti scene. Visitors might be surprised to see the basement’s floor, columns and even some vehicles covered with works of art. There’s also a “making of” video showing the process of how a piece of art is created, while one gets the impression that the “background” music was all but certainly chosen by the participating artists.

One of the works is an amazing portrait of a boy with a band-aid on his head, staring with something like fear in his eyes, which appears to have a hidden message. Sometimes the messages are presented in a blunt, even aggressive way, but those that such artworks do deliver are rarely uninteresting. Statements on anti-racism, the environment and perceptions of freedom are key elements of this street art exhibition.

There has been much talk in Britain recently about graffiti prompted by a new work, believed to be by Banksy, that appeared on a wall in the English town of Cheltenham. The design references the contentious issue of privacy in the UK. The British graffiti artist, painter, political activist and film director is well known for his street art featuring shrewd sociopolitical messages. However, his intentions in this specific work are still unclear. Graffiti today “is a tame in-joke shared by a middle class so schooled in street art that homeowners are delighted to wake up with a daub on the side of their house – if they think it may be a valuable Banksy,” writes the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones, adding that “Banksy is the most famous British artist of the 21st century but he has none of the poetry of true art.”

The connection between the Greek middle class and graffiti is questionable. Unlike Britain, there are no big names in the Greek world of street art. What the Onassis Cultural Center has done is collect a sample of the kind of graffiti to be found on the walls of Athens and other Greek cities and encourage visitors to view it as art.

The exhibition runs until July 13. Admission is free. Onassis Cultural Center, 107-109 Syngrou, tel.210.900.5800,

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