It might be impossible to navigate any given city or town without encountering any graffiti. Dating back to ancient civilizations, writing or drawing on walls in any shape or form is a common sight. Even two lovers scratching their initials and a heart into a tree would technically qualify as graffiti. The modern kind of graffiti that most people mean when they use the word stems from the punk rock and, more recently, hip-hop scenes. Spray painting on a wall was not just a sign you had been there, it became a statement. An illegal statement: as a general rule of thumb, graffiti was seen as pollution of the cityscapes. As the paintings (also: pieces) became bigger and more elaborate, graffiti swept from the underground into the mainstream. As horrified city councillors watched, graffiti became more than something you had to get rid of, it sometimes even became acknowledged as art.
From there, graffiti only became more prevalent. Some people give permission to graffiti artists or even pay them to paint their houses. Examples of this can be found in every major city. For example, one of Prague’s most important theatres, Ponec, has allowed graffiti artists to cover their doors with colourful pieces. There are also walls in about every big Dutch city where graffiti artists can legally paint their artwork. However, this does not mean that the illegal underground is gone. There are still plenty of groups with graffiti artists (also: crews) who try to spread their art in the dead of night, in places where they are not supposed to. They do not necessarily keep a low profile either. For example, at least one of the Dutch Railways’ trains is almost entirely covered in graffiti.
Tilburg is not exempt from these developments involving graffiti. It has a solid legal graffiti scene. There are two legally usable graffiti walls: one near a playground in the Westerpark and one right in the city centre, near the 013 concert venue. In a way, this makes sense: graffiti never really disconnected from the punk and hip-hop scenes. This makes 013 a place where a lot of people from the graffiti culture could potentially find each other. The same is true for the Hall of Fame, a “culture factory” that houses a concert venue and a skate park near the railway tracks of Tilburg, with walls that sometimes serve as graffiti walls as well. The people who paint graffiti in a legal way are often in plain sight: there are even people who give graffiti workshops for bachelor’s parties or even children’s birthday parties, and a search query in Google results in various urban artists’ portfolio sites showing up right away. Furthermore, according to news articles locals have complained about there not being enough legal graffiti spots for the amount of people who want to paint there.
A big part of the graffiti scene, however, is not quite as accessible. The people who paint on public buildings without permission are, understandably, more secretive about their identities. However, at the same time internet has made it easier for them to group together and communicate with each other without revealing their real identities or drawing too much attention. Fortunately, there is a good way to track them down. Most graffiti artwork contains a tag: an artists’ or group’s nickname that appears in or near all of their work. A big part of what we will be doing for this project is following those tags around the city and on the Internet. This might prove more difficult than it sounds, as although the Internet can be used by those artists, they will probably be more likely to use personal means of communication rather than public social media or forums.
Another reason why mapping the graffiti scene in Tilburg might be complicated: most obvious hotspots for graffiti artists are located in the city centre, but the art can be found all around Tilburg. The question is whether the artists who do that are the same group of artists who paint in the city centre, or if it is perhaps another group with another set of online and offline gathering places. Another question that is interesting is whether the people who paint at the playground in the Westerpark are the same people who illegally paint in industrial areas or near the railroad.
Luckily, we have some strong leads to start with. One of the group members knows someone from the neighbouring graffiti scene of Breda, who might know some information about graffiti in Tilburg, or might even have some contacts there. We can all keep our eyes open for any and all graffiti, what artists are active around what parts of Tilburg and if we can trace them back to physical or online locations.
This is a joint blog by Mark Dierick, Jules van Iperen, Lindsay Lo-A-Njoe, Manouk Boelhouwers, David Madaj, Pauline Poetto and Aimee Overhof.