Belgrade can appear like a vast open-air gallery. Walking around, it seems like every building and wall has been converted into a makeshift canvass. Apparently, street art is a relatively new phenomena, but as a form of expression it has swept through the city like wildfire. Today street artists from around the world come here to create works, and Serbian artists travel abroad to reciprocate.
One of Belgrade’s most famous murals is by Italian street artist, Blu. Taking up the whole side of a building, it’s a little faded but it’s definitely a city devouring a forest. Painted in 2009 as a critique of contemporary consumerist society destroying nature, it epitomises the political commentary of much of Belgrade’s street artists, who are often critical of the government, media and corruption.
That said, I arrived at Blu’s Cities vs. Nature mural via a stairway beneath an underpass that was home to far less political works: a naked woman with large exaggerated breasts is just one of several dozen paintings on an exit from a highway. I’m surprised more accidents don’t happen on this stretch of road.
Later that same day, as I wandered back to my hotel, I spotted an alleyway that had graffiti everywhere, including a Banksy-like rat with machine gun. I always loved the Banksy rats. There was one I passed most days on my way to work in London, just a single rat defiantly holding a placard which read, “Go back to bed”. There were mornings when I could have joined the protest.
A few years back, Belgrade’s street art made it into the pages of that flag bearer of neo-liberal economics, The Economist. One of the interesting points of the article is that graffiti was once the preserve of ultra nationalists and right wing football hooligans (in which Serbia specialises ); but the modern street art scene is far more cosmopolitan, international and tolerant.
This anguished artistic flourishing amongst a post-war generation seems like something worth celebrating.