muralist hard at work on street art mural at the pow wow art festival in honolulu, hawaii

POW! WOW!

Hawaii is a beautiful place, that much goes without saying, but much of Hawaii’s beauty is focused on its natural landscapes, not its thriving art scene. This is a true shame because Hawaii has two important facets that make for an interesting and radical art scene: a native population with its own artistic history and infrastructure put in place to help the art scene thrive.

There are plenty of programs used to promote and advertise Hawaii’s art scene, but one of the biggest and most exciting is the POW! WOW! Art Festival in the Kaka’ako district of Honolulu. This area, traditionally a place of royal significance, is an industrial and cultural hub for Hawaii’s capital and is the perfect launching point for this diverse and amazing festival.

On the surface, POW! WOW! is not dissimilar to many other street art festivals that take place around the world. It has a series of activities in which people can partake, including lectures and concerts, and it attracts some of the world’s most up-and-coming muralists and street artists. But what sets POW! WOW! apart is its diversity.

Being an island state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is unique to much of the world in that it’s a true mosaic. Cultures and cultural influences are all around you when you walk through Honolulu, especially when it comes to other Pacific islands. POW! WOW! celebrates this diversity with a heavy influence on artists from places like New Zealand, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and more.

beautiful mural being rendered at the pow wow art festival

POW! WOW! gets its name from the Indigenous American term for a gathering. The word itself is derived from the Narragansett word powwaw, which means “spiritual leader. Appropriately enough, the Narragansett are an Algonquin tribe traditionally from an island themselves: Rhode Island.

In many ways, POW! WOW! is about gathering people together, which is why there is such a heavy focus on events and diversity. At any time during the festival, there are talks happening in galleries and on the streets, and people can interact with artists and some of their art as part of the festival. And, of course, there’s plenty of entertainment as well. It’s also one of the few festivals in the Northern Hemisphere to take place during the winter, in the dead of February to be exact, which makes it an excellent retreat for people who want to see great art and get out of the cold.

What POW! WOW! represents for the street art community is two important things: the necessity of inclusion and the importance of discussion. With a focus on both, POW! WOW! is an important festival for showcasing numerous talents that may otherwise be considered “regional.” By giving a voice, and the chance to create, to a wide variety of artists, POW! WOW! is leading the charge in making great festivals that are by everyone and for everyone.

el-seed perception mural in cairo

Perceptions by eL Seed

Here at MuralForm, we often talk about beautification and street art. Murals and public art has long been seen for its utility. That is, public art’s ability to make a place that needs a facelift a little better looking. Some street art accomplishes this in spades, but that’s really only part of what we mean when we talk about beautification.

Many muralists and street artists are brought into neighbourhoods with a perception problem, areas of a city that other neighbourhoods view as an “eyesore” or “dirty.” Naturally, these areas are often home to marginalized communities that have very distinct personalities and community spirit. The best street artists who make art in these areas will beautify the area, but do so by making art to captures what makes the neighbourhood beautiful already.

el seed perception close up showing kid swinging infront of artwork

Take, for example, the neighbourhood of Manshiyat Nasr in Cairo, Egypt. Long home to Cairo’s marginalized Christian community, one area  of the district has become known by a pejorative nickname: Garbage City. Much of the area lacks proper infrastructure, including electricity, running water, and sewers. But despite these obstacles, the area has thrived and is even home to the largest cathedral in the Middle East: The Cave Cathedral or St Sama’ans Church.

Garbage City, despite the poor perception of other areas of the city, performs an essential function for the entire city of Cairo: recycling. Area residents are involved in multiple recycling programs for the city. According to artist eL Seed, the Coptic Christian community “collects the trash of the city for decades and developed the most efficient and highly profitable recycling system on a global level.”

close up of perception mural showcasing

eL Seed loves the district for its lively culture and essential function for the city, so when he was commissioned to create some public art for the area, he decided to create something that spoke to these positive elements. The project is called, appropriately enough, Perception, and it’s an ambitious project that looks incredible, but only from a certain angle.

Perception is a collection of anamorphic pieces that cover almost 50 buildings in the district, but the picture they create together can only be seen from a certain point of the Moqattam Mountain. From there, you can see a beautiful and intricate work designed with bright colours and, most importantly, a beautiful message. In keeping with the Christian community that dwells Manshiyat Nasr, eL Seed used a quote from Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic Bishop from the 3rd century. In Arabic, it reads “إن أراد أحد أن يبصر نور الشمس، فإن عليه أن يمسح عينيه” or “Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first.”

“In my new project ‘Perception,’” eL Seed says of the project, “I am questioning the level of judgment and misconception society can unconsciously have upon a community based on their differences.”

Beautification is often seen as the major function of street art, that it can bring something beautiful to areas that need it, but that doesn’t mean it should wipe over what’s already there. With Perception, eL Seed sought to capture the district’s heart, all while pointing out that certain perceptions are incorrect and harmful.

The Wall of Love

We all grieve in different ways. Some isolate themselves. Others seek out people with whom to grieve. Some turn their pain into anger, others into compassion. Certainly in the wake of tragedy, there are plenty of ways to seek solace.

We have spent a lot of time on this blog talking about how street art can beautify a space, or act as a critique of street art itself, or even have a political message on its own. We haven’t spent much time on one of the fundamental ways that street art is used, and that is in remembrance and respect.

Last year, one of the most shocking terrorist attacks in the world took place in Paris, France. It brought the entire world to a halt and for one evening, we all stood shocked and paralyzed as the situation played out. When the emergency response crews were finally able to rescue everyone they could and put down those responsible, the world was left to mourn, and one of the ways that people decided to grieve was through street art, and in creating what has come to be known as “The Wall of Love.” Not to be confused with Paris’ other Wall of Love, which bears the word love in hundreds of different tiles, but one that’s directly connected to how Parisians feel about the attacks, some few months on.

wall of love in paris

The Wall of Love was started by Diana Kami, an artist who lives in the 10th Arrondissement in Paris. Her initial response to the attacks was an almost instinctual need to create something, to funnel her feelings and grief into something tangible and expressive. So she headed to a stretch of wall on rue Alibert. Nestled close to two of the cafes targeted during the attacks, the space is is often used as a canvas by local street artists. Her paintings inspired other mothers from Kami’s daughter’s school and they soon petitioned the local government to paint the entire wall. Together, they raised 500 euros, and the Wall of Love started to take form. The group decided to call it “Dessine-Moi un Bouquet,” and the project began to build steam.

After the crowdfunding effort, the space became much more well-known by local artists and other people who felt a deep desire to create something from their grief. Jo Di Bona, Ernesto Novo, and Mosko were just a few of the gifted artists who helped paint the wall, which now stands as a testament to the beauty that remains in Paris, despite the horrific attacks last November.

What the Wall of Love shows us street artists is the continued power of public art to not only help artists, but help others. In this case, the wall has become a symbol of beauty, resilience, and grief, and in that the people of Paris have a chance to mourn and point out that beauty can be a response to tragedy.

Reverse Graffiti

Graffiti is often seen in the eyes of the public as a sort of pollution. It’s an old way to approach this longtime art form, especially since we’ve now had decades of brilliant artists proving how much worth graffiti has on a population, but the stigma still exists. Some see ti as a form of vandalism, a scar on the landscape that impacts the beauty of its canvas. Of course, we can all probably think of countless examples where this simply isn’t the case, or where graffiti has beautified its building.

Of course, we can also all think of buildings and city spaces that are inherently polluted, whether the walls are bearing years of traffic exhaust or the pollution of the Industrial Revolution was never quite scrubbed clean. These types of spaces are all over the world and some of the world’s more inventive artists have started to do something about it.

vermeer girl painted rendered via cleaning dirt off of car

The idea is called “reverse graffiti” and it’s essentially a very artistic version of someone writing “Wash Me” on a dusty car. In its most common form, reverse graffiti involves cleaning away pollution or messes in such a way that the cleaned spaces create an intricate and beautiful design. Of course, since its inception, reverse graffiti has become more complicated, the materials more interesting, and the ambition more incredible. Usually, the job is done with simple soap, but newcomers are using greenery and more to create extremely elaborate patterns, many of which slowly fade as the dirt either accumulates or washes off.

Depending on the material, reverse graffiti is also an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional spray paint graffiti. Since paints are often quite toxic, especially when put in aerosol form, these products can be harmful to the natural world, especially when they’re washed off and poured down a city drain. But reverse graffiti actually cleans the space, so it removes some of the filth and pollutants that linger over our city spaces.

tunnel reverse graffiti skulls

Being a cleaner alternative to traditional graffiti, many corporations have now jumped onboard the reverse graffiti train, using popular artists to both clean urban environments and promote their products. Smirnoff enlisted one of reverse graffiti’s most well-known artists, Moose, for a campaign in Leeds and London. Promoting the campaign as clean and innovative, it managed to draw a lot of attention and have a reverse environmental impact.

tesla roadster reverse graffiti on wall

Reverse graffiti is an excellent response to the gradual dirt that accumulates in our cities and towns. Since many of the places in which we live have experienced decades, if not centuries, of waste, pollution, and more, it only seems natural that we use artistic and creative means to make the spaces more beautiful. And while traditional street art is being used constantly to beautify spaces, there is something inherently beautiful present in reverse graffiti. By using soap, not spray, we are both creating more beauty in the world while doing our part to make it a nicer, more livable space.

wonderwalls website homepage

Wonderwalls Festival

For the past few years, in the Australian town of Wollongong, a festival has been occurring. It happens in the region’s springtime, or more accurately, in early October, just as the weather is warming up from the winter months and just before the slightly rainier season starts to get underway. It’s the perfect time for this kind of festival, however, which relies on good weather and good times. Wonderwalls is a unique street art festival that happens every year on Wollongong. Focusing on a variety of artists from around the world, Wonderwalls is a festival that wants to help an already beautiful place be even more amazing, all while encouraging people to explore their artistic sides.

guido mural

Wall by Guido van Helten

One of the most amazing things about Wonderwalls is the talent the festival has managed to attract in such a short amount of time. Where many festivals around the world have managed to curate considerable talent, many of them have the advantage of name recognition or simply a very popular location that attracts international artists. But Wollongong is not as famous as Baltimore, home of the Open Walls Festival, nor is it as populous as Mexico City, home of the All City Canvas festival. Yet, despite being located on the Southeast corner of Australia, the festival has attracted some of the biggest and most exciting artists working around the world today. Just last year, at the festival’s third outing, some of the artists who participated included Australia’s own Sofles, Amersterdam’s Amok Island, BMD, and Felipe Pantone.

mural by amok island

Wall by Amok Island

The festival is marked by its openness to not only a variety of artists, but a large range of projects and ways that the public can participate. Of the hundreds of murals painted over the three-day festival, they ranged in scope from entire walls of large buildings to small little murals in other parts of the city. And people who want to participate in the fun can enjoy talks with the artists, held at a local cafe in the city’s CBD district, where much of the festival’s action takes place. Galleries have also gotten involved, and many people can look through galleries of finished work in between wandering the streets and seeing murals in the process of being created.

mural artwork by artist sofles

Wall by Sofles

Wonderwalls was created, like many street art festivals, as a way to promote street art and murals, but also to help revitalize an area. Wollongong, known for its beautiful surroundings, has been in need of some beautification, especially in the popular CBD district. As the commercial heart of the city, it’s a perfect place for people to engage with street art on a regular basis, and the results of just three years of the Wonderwalls Festival can be seen throughout the area. As a way to brighten up the town, the Wonderwalls Festival has managed to create something truly unique and beautiful, in a surprisingly short amount of time.