Belgrade, a giant canvass for street art

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.

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

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.

Cities v Nature, Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Cities v Nature, Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

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.

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

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.

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Belgrade, Serbia

Ghost People of Savamala, Belgrade’s street art scene

There is graffiti everywhere in Belgrade. It’s a city that would keep former New York Mayor, Rudolph ‘Zero Tolerance’ Giuliani, awake at night. Although the theory that graffiti and broken windows in neighbourhoods leads inexorably to an increase in serious crime, seems to be debunked in Belgrade. It’s a city that feels safer than a lot I’ve visited.

The majority of Belgrade’s graffiti is of the usual ‘tagging’ sort that I neither find interesting or aesthetically appealing. A number of areas around the city have fabulous collections of thought-provoking street art though. The Ghost People of Savamala are just one example.

Ghost People of Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Ghost People of Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Ghost People of Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Ghost People of Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Ghost People of Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Ghost People of Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Savamala is a run-down district that has become a vibrant artistic and cultural hub, as well as a nightlife hotspot. The Ghost People are the work of artists Tijana Tripkovic and Barbara Dimic, who use them to highlight the plight of local people being pushed out of the area by a planned redevelopment: the Belgrade Waterfront Project.

Financed by a Dubai-based firm, Eagle Hills, the project will ‘transform’ Savamala from an atmospheric neighbourhood in need of some love and a lick of paint, into Dubai by the Danube. Savamala’s culture and traditions will be erased by towers of glass and steel housing shopping malls, over-priced ‘luxury’ apartments and office space the city won’t be able to fill.

Ghost People of Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Ghost People of Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Ghost People of Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Ghost People of Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Ghost People of Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Ghost People of Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Everyone I spoke to said the Waterfront Project got permission because a corrupt government had been influenced by money. Most people were blunter than that. Rudolph Giuliani would probably be in favour, but what price the loss of culture and tradition when local people are displaced? After visiting this wonderful area, it would be a terrible shame to lose such a vibrant place to international blandness.

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

In other parts of the city are more street art hotspots, but Savamala is unique in attracting some of the most creative street artists. The Brankov Most bridge, connecting old Belgrade with New Belgrade, cuts through the district, giving it an even grittier urban feel. Wander under the bridge and you find the giant La Santa de Beograd covering the side of a four storied building.

Symbolising the constant destruction and rebirth of Belgrade over the centuries, La Santa de Beograd by artist Giom Olbi Remed is a dramatic sight, whether viewed from the road below or from the Brankov Most. It’s become an iconic feature of Belgrade’s cityscape.

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Ghost People of Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Ghost People of Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

Nearby are stairs leading up to the top of the bridge, the whole side covered in yet more street art. This area feels similar to the Hoxton area in London – well the Hoxton area of 15 years ago when Banksy was still a street artist rather than an international celebrity. I like that about it but, just like Hoxton, it seems Savamala is going to get gentrified.

La Santa de Beograd, street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia

La Santa de Beograd, street art, Savamala, Belgrade, Serbia