Street Art in Athens – Visual Expressions of Modern Greece

The street art in Athens is said to be the biggest in the world. You can’t help but notice the excessive amount of graffiti that coats every available surface throughout city, where every available wall, shop front, brick wall or obscure alley is a canvas waiting to be filled with artistic optimism, political reference or social satire.

Street Art in Athens, Greece

While it can project an immediate visual grittiness that many find unappealing upon their first visit to Athens, dashing any attempts to unearth the city’s true persona, it does give it a unique edge. Street art, to me, is another window into the social makeup of a destination and I’m always seeking out artistic spots, like the famous Waterloo graffiti tunnel in London, Malaysia’s island of Penang and its distinct artwork depicting local life and history, Berlin’s multifaceted social gripes or Warsaw’s modern wash on its post-war rebuild.

Street Art in Athens, Greece

Used as an open canvas from which to convey a multitude of messages, the street art in Athens is no exception to the rule.

Ignore the ugly ‘tagging’ which litters some walls – a mere attention cry amongst those wanting their name on something. The more intricate designs and messages found mainly within the Exarchia, Monastiraki and Psirri neighbourhoods (and side by side with the city’s archeological treasures) are detailed and impressive, with many artists now having carved out a career and a reputable name for themselves.

Much like Manolis Iliopoulos, a local artist I got to hang out with through Dopios, an online resource which links up visitors with local people wanting to show off their city. Manolis explains the history of the graffiti and street art movement in Athens, shows you how to look out for the tags of some of the top artists, and takes you to the city’s artistic hangouts including studios and a cool spray paint shop – things you would never find during your own exploration.

Street Artist in Athens, Greece

Athens Street Art tour, Dopios

Street Artist gallery in Athens, Greece

Street Art in Athens, Greece

The general view is that the graffiti movement began in New York as a reaction to economic crisis, spreading throughout the world and arriving in Athens around 1992 where artistic murals first began appearing in the outlying neighbourhoods before moving to the centre.

Owing to a period of unemployment and the economic crisis that put Greece on the brink of bankruptcy, Athens took on the bulk of extreme monetary reforms, which often resulted in violent protest, reflective of the national outcry. With this, the Athens street art scene exploded, with protests taking hold through the conquering of public space.

Street Art in Athens, Greece

Street Art in Athens, Greece

Street Art in Athens, Greece

Street Art in Athens, Greece

Street Art in Athens, Greece

Street Art in Athens, Greece

“Greece has a problem with public space,” says Manolis. “It essentially belongs to no one.”

Here, it belongs to collective expression, and while some struggle and lose in the fight to general tagging, many shop keepers, business owners and commercial property investors now ask the artists to come and paint their walls.

Street Art in Athens, Greece

Street Art in Athens, Greece

Street Art in Athens, Greece

Street Art in Athens, Greece

Street Art in Athens, Greece

Street Art in Athens, Greece

Street Art in Athens, Greece

Street Art in Athens, Greece

Street Art in Athens, Greece

However, what we did learn is that while street art in Athens predates its most recent crisis, it has ALWAYS existed in Greece. The word graffiti actually comes from the Greek word graphi, meaning ‘to write’. Inscriptions and messages have been carved and embedded into buildings for centuries – an ancient art of communication.

So while Athens will never be without the one vital element of its modern day character, it has always been ahead of the game – being at the core of a country where philosophy and democracy was invented, and, it seems a worldwide artistic movement of great expression…

Things to Note:

  • If you are looking for a particular street artists and a list of their work, I came across this great list on Fatcap.com
  • If you want to hire Manolis to take you on an artistic tour of Athens, check out his Dopios profile here. There are various tours which range from single neighbourhoods to more comprehensive half day tours. Make your own itinerary!
  • For further insight into Athens culture and Greece visit the Discover Greece resource

Comments

  1. says

    it’s incredible, I took over a hundred pictures of street art in Athens, most of them were pretty amazing pieces, yet not even one picture from your collection is of the same piece! The street art scene was one of the most surprising things for me in Athens and I think also the reason why I enjoyed the place so much!

  2. says

    Can’t wait for this Fall to discover all of that. I had a great time discovering street art in other cities, so Athens seems like it’s up for the challenge!

  3. says

    I think most of the art is pretty cool! And if the shop owners can’t really fight it…they may as well join in, and get some really nice art painted on their walls! I think this is an expression of the people that live there that really reflects the feels of its citizens…gives you a true feel for the place!

  4. says

    I’m a huge street art fan and I’m always on the look for some new one to discover, I’m not sure why and how I haven’t been to Athens yet considering it’s a paradise for street art lovers. It’s definitely a place I’d love to go now :)

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