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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Street art: between hooliganism and art

Compared to other Ukrainian cities, Kharkiv residents have the most favorable attitude to murals
7 August, 2013 - 17:54

Artworks painted on the walls protect the urban space from hooligan painting. This is the conclusion drawn recently by the Kharkiv-based experts from the Center IA “Maidan Monitoring.” They have analyzed the street art in Ukraine’s four cities, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Lviv, and Simferopol, and compared their results with the American “Theory of broken windows.”

What influence do murals have on the urban environment? In what direction does graffiti art change the space of present-day cities? What is the residents’ attitude to the paintings on their own walls and surrounding buildings? These were the questions the researchers posed to themselves and distinguished three main varieties of mural paintings: tags (text inscriptions), artistic tags (large-sized creative inscriptions with shades and tones), and finally, pictures painted by professional artists. Some conclusions turned out to be quite unexpected. It turned out, for example, that Kharkiv residents have the most positive attitude to mural paintings, compared to the residents of other Ukrainian cities. They most often notice and approve of artistic graffiti.

It is no surprise that street paintings are popular with Kharkiv residents, head of the Municipal Gallery and art curator Tetiana Tumasian considers. Kharkiv has a department of monumental painting, hence the tradition of mural painting. Namely here such noted Ukrainian muralists, as Roman Minin and Hamlet took shape. Besides, Kharkiv has become famous for its street art festivals which have been held twice by the Municipal Gallery.

“Kharkiv can be boldly called the trendsetter of street art in Ukraine. Today we have abandoned the idea of festivals, because it is complicated in terms of organization and funding, one needs to get many permits in state structures and district authorities to hold the actions. We organize street art in the way of separate actions or as a part of the festival ‘Non-Stop Media,’” Tumasian said and made a special notice of the spring land art action.

As for the tags, the activity of legendary city lunatic Mitasov, whose creative work consisted mainly of mysterious inscriptions, was symbolical for Kharkiv. “We knew him well,” recalls Natalia Zubar, head of the Center IA “Maidan Monitoring.” “He lived in the 1980s in the house opposite to the Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Arts. He was harmless, only wore strange clothes, carried paints with him, and murmured something to himself. It was easy to find his dwelling, because the closer you came the denser became the inscriptions, and near his hallway there was hardly any room left.” The yards with inscriptions “VEK VAK,” “Mitasov,” “To live and work on the Earth” are still a Mecca for the connoisseurs of urban mysteries, and many graffiti artists copy the style of Mitasov’s messages.


Artists often seek to bring their ideas to the surrounding people. At the same time, the researchers consider that sexist inscriptions or aggressive expressions, words of hostility and hatred are noticed the least by the residents of Kharkiv who practically ignore them. At the same time, on the contrary, the viewers love and appreciate artistic conceptual pictures. So, residents of Muranov Street were happy to meet this spring an unusual flying girl wearing Ukrainian national costume who took off either a mask or a face on a wall of one of the city houses. The picture resulted from the joint creative work of Kharkiv-based street artists, group Ku-2, and French muralist Julien Malland aka “Set.” The artists worked for six days and painted an area of nearly 200 sq. meters.

On the whole, the survey held by the Kharkiv experts proved in an indirect way the American “Theory of broken windows” which states that single incidents of hooliganism draw mass vandalism and affect the minds of people. “In a chaotic way, ruined places are painted over, or places with great contrast: for example, if there is a ruined house opposite to a glamorous shop, the shop will be painted over,” Zubar assures, “Or they put marks on the abandoned houses, like in Myronosytska Street where an inscription ‘OURS’ has appeared. They will for sure paint over the piece of a wall that collapsed.” At the same time in the places where artistic pictures are painted, hooligan paintings, visually assaulting paintings, or war of tags become rarer. For example, the researchers note the area from the Lopan River, streets Poltavsky shliakh, Kotlov, Muranov, Kontorska, to the South railway station where two festivals of street art were held and many artistic pictures appeared. There is hardly any hooligan graffiti there.

“It is not interesting to paint on a picture: the message won’t be seen,” the researchers consider. The artists explain the absence of hooligan paintings in the places of art objects by ethic and aesthetic reasoning. “When hooligans see something beautiful, they don’t spoil it. But they will put a tag on an ad because they have neither respect nor awe to commercial objects, this is pop-art,” participant of the group Ku-2 Viktoria Ivanova thinks. However, no matter what the reason is, the artists and researchers agree about one thing: professional urban art ousts visual vandalism. “Artistic murals make the city healthier,” Zubar is sure.


“Normal authorities should stimulate street art: hold competitions of artists and pay for their work, for example, involve the artists in the work on objects which cannot be built up. This is being done in many cities. Sumy has a special city program on involvement of young artists to street art. Owing to it, hooligan paintings have practically disappeared,” the coordinator of the research Zubar admits. She says that with the help of the artistic street painting one managed to defeat graffiti vandals in Philadelphia. Muralist Julien Malland who has made himself known in Kharkiv, told that in France the city authorities allot money for conserving the artistic street paintings, coating them with varnish. Then they may serve for twenty years or more.

“Sometimes we get support from the city: this is a civilized way. In Moscow it is supported on a mass scale,” artist Ivanova asserts. She mentioned the experience of Rio de Janeiro where the city authorities in order to involve the artists, officially made the walls of the city buildings, except for architectural monuments, open for painting. And in Florida vandal paintings are caught and “bailed out” to professional muralists. Former hooligans become their apprentices, carry containers with paints, coat the surface – this also helps to fight vandalism, the artist is sure. “The city council has a program of combating graffiti, but it lacks a program for support of street artists. However, the murals in Sumska Street near Konyky Cafe were ordered by the city council. I would support the development of this sphere in Kharkiv and over Ukraine, so that the pictures which fit well in the cityscape were created,” Zubar sums up the results of the research.

Meanwhile, Ku-2 has recently painted the portrait of famous Kharkiv pilot, Hero Valentyna Hryzodubova. “We wanted to make a series of works dedicated to great Kharkiv residents as a means to celebrate the Day of City’s Liberation,” Viktoria Ivanova, member of the art group says, “This is a non-commercial project, but not a charity either. We receive funding. At the moment we are finishing the second portrait – Klavdia Shulzhenko’s, and hopefully, will create several more.”

By Olena SOKOLYNSKA, Kharkiv