Banksy, you are not welcome in Stockholm!

The elusive superstar artist Banksy may be heading to Stockholm, but is he truly welcome here? He would be if a conservative City Hall would lift its controversial zero-tolerance policy on graffiti, argues the Greens' Mats Berglund.

Banksy, you are not welcome in Stockholm!
A Banksy piece in London. File: Kenneth Lyngaas/Flickr

Helsinki, Oslo, Copenhagen, Berlin and London. These are a few of the cities in Europe where legal graffiti walls are part of the streetscape. Banksy, one of the most famous graffiti artists in the world, just announced he would be arriving in Stockholm this weekend.

But he isn’t welcome here.

The ruling conservative majority in city hall doesn’t believe that graffiti is an art form and has banned it from the streets, galleries, and even from event posters – which means you cannot show Banksy art to promote the Banksy show… 

Banksy’s art has been sold for millions and is appreciated by people from all over the world. His work has proved that graffiti is an established and respected art form. But now when he allegedly is coming to Stockholm, his work highlights the ruling politicians’ fear and misunderstanding of street art in general and graffiti in particular.

In 2007, the City Council of Stockholm adopted a zero-tolerance policy that took aim at one single art form. The policy clearly states that the city shall not engage in or support activities that promote graffiti and other vandalism.

In practice, it put a stop to several art projects. The Stockholm City Museum had to cancel its street art tour, and schools with a culture profile in the Stockholm neighbourhoods of Bromma and Farsta had to close down their graffiti workshops.

The policy has also given the police legitimate reason to strip search young people, with simply a suspicion of them having painted on a public surface enough to see them arrested. 

Stockholm’s graffiti policy has been criticized for censoring graffiti and street art as an art form. It has been the subject of complaints to the judicial-affairs ombudsman (Justitieombudsmannen – JO) on multiple occasions. Earlier this year, the ombudsman office stated Stockholm City had violated the Swedish constitution in 2011, when local authorities went as far as to ban an advertising campaign that was promoting an exhibition on street art.

The Green Party's view is that the zero-tolerance approach to graffiti and other types of street art is highly misplaced in a modern democratic society and that it challenges freedom of speech and expression. Art is not meant to be easy but challenging to the senses. The majority view on graffiti is based on a fear of what’s challenging and difficult to control.

The conservative majority in Stockholm spreads a view on culture that forbids rather than encourages freedom of expression.

Street art and legal graffiti are urban art forms that are free for all to see, and they add to public spaces in the cities. The Green Party wants to have a city where young artists are encouraged and empowered to exercise their art. We want an end to the zero-tolerance policy and to create legal graffiti walls at several different locations in the city.

In the future I hope Stockholm can say; welcome Banksy.

Mats Berglund, member of the Stockholm City Council and the Cultural Committee of the Green Party

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Giant blue penis painted on Stockholm apartment building

A Swedish artist has painted a five-story-high blue erect penis, complete with bulging veins, on an apartment building in central Stockholm.

Giant blue penis painted on Stockholm apartment building
What will the neighbours think? The penis bathed in the sun in Stockholm on Wednesday. Photo: Hugo Röjgård/Graffitifrämjandet
Carolina Falkholt, who created the mural, said she hoped that even those who are repulsed or angered by her art would be forced to think, in comments made to the Aftonbladet tabloid.
“They should consider what it is they are so upset about and then talk about it,” she said as the painting was unveiled at Kronobergsvägen on Kungsholmen. “Sex is so important, but it’s always been too dirty to discuss.” 
The penis was painted on a legal graffiti wall established in Stockholm by the art organization Kollektivet Livet, meaning there was no need to consult with residents before painting it. 

“They can choose the motif themselves, so I don’t think they’ve talked to the neighbours or anyone before doing this,” Hugo Röjgård, from Swedish graffiti campaign group Graffitifrämjandet, told The Local.
He said that he didn’t think the decision would hurt his campaign to encourage more apartment building owners to free up walls for graffiti.
“I don’t think so really, because first of all Carolina Falkholt is a widely known artist in Sweden. And secondly, the thing with these kinds of wall is that you’re supposed to paint stuff that doesn’t have any other place to be,” Röjgård said.
He added: “I’m not saying these walls are for making big penises on, but it should be alright to do that.” 

Kollektivet Livet normally allows paintings to remain on the wall for about six months before commissioning a new artist. 

Falkholt caused uproar in New York in December when she painted a similar giant erection — this time in pink, orange and red — on a wall in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. 
That painting was erased after only a few days, rather than the three weeks intended, following heavy media coverage and vociferous complaints from residents.  
“I usually paint giant vaginas, pussies and cunts,” Falkholt told The Guardian newspaper in December. “And since I had just finished one on the side of a five-storey building, I felt like a dick was needed. The wall space on Broome was a perfect fit for it. To paraphrase [the artist] Judith Bernstein, if a dick can go into a woman, it can go up on a wall.”
Falkholt told Aftonbladet that she expected Stockholm residents to be more welcoming: “I think that perhaps it will be allowed to remain here, that people get the message and let it take its place in the debate around the body, sexuality, and freedom.” 
“I think that there there’s greater intellectual space to discuss the subject, in a nuanced way.”