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