Street ‘Art’ or Street ‘Vandalism’?

BY SHAI WILLIAMSON

Toronto streets are riddled with unlicensed graffiti that for years has begged the question: is this vandalism or is this art?

Recently the Highway of Heroes mural on 26 Grenville St. was overwritten by spray paint.

The mural, that was painted by a group of youths a part of the Graffiti Transformation Project, was painted to commemorate the fallen Canadian soldiers on their way to the coroner’s office.

The Highway of Heroes painting was a licensed piece of graffiti, but there are many other ambitious pieces in the city that walk the line of art or vandalism.

“I think if it’s done properly, and it’s something to express a certain issue than it is art. But if not, it’s vandalism,” says Noni Kaur, a professor in Humber College’s Visual and Digital Arts program. “[People graffiti because] it’s an expression and it reaches out to the masses a lot quicker.”

Shamika Darmanie, 18, second-year practical nursing student at Humber College does not agree. She sees any piece of illegal graffiti as vandalism.

“[When I see graffiti] I think of it as pretty vandalism or ugly vandalism… but it’s still vandalism nonetheless,” says Darmanie.

“If you’re gonna vandalize, find your own spot and don’t ruin someone else’s work,” she says.

“If it’s in a place where it’s not permitted and it’s defacing, than it’s vandalism,” says Emilia Jajus, a Toronto artist and Humber alumni who specializes in painting murals and pet portraits. For examples of Jajus’ work, visit her website at http://www.3d-murals.com.

“It doesn’t beautify the community. It makes it look uglier and less safe because graffiti is associated with violence,” she says, explaining why she believes that the graffiti in the city should be cleaned up.

“I think if it’s tasteful it should be left,” says Kaur. “If it doesn’t serve any purpose or have any meaning than it’s okay for it to be cleaned up.”

Besides the Highway of Hero mural, there are many city-supported works in Toronto. For example, on Kipling Avenue and Belfield Road there is a mural entitled “Gateway to Rexdale” that pays homage to the First Nations.

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