Friday, 2 December 2011

Reverse Graffiti: vandalism? or rather a 'clean' way to advertise outdoors without causing any damage?

By M. Orsini

The aim of the poster is to illustrate the advantages of using reverse-graffiti as substitute to posters to advertise outdoors in a more conscious way, and without damaging surfaces or defacing urban landscapes/environment. It also plays with a certain dual identity of graffiti, which, through this usage may switch from being considered vandalism to being a possible response to 'corporate advertising vandalism', as such also causing us to question our very preconceptions regarding the nature of vandalism.
Target audience: City councils and companies who practice 'street branding'

1 comment:

  1. First of all, I love street art and 'poster art', or more generally 'art for free' that you can admire in the streets of our cities. I strongly believe that the preconception that such art is vandalism should be revisited and street art be appreciated and understood as an important phenomenon for ‘reading’ and understanding life in urban contexts. Of course, I am also aware of the discussion about the fact that 'there is street art and then there is street art', but I am referring to the ‘good’ version, that is, I am not talking about writing your name and that of your lover on the wall of Notre Dame, which is not street art any way, even though I am sure that for many people there is no difference among the two.
    I'd like to use this space to comment on the 'negative' aspects of the use of reverse-graffiti, which for reasons of space and because I was afraid it would have brought me to far away from the topic, I have decided not to include in the poster. When I first learned about reverse graffiti I thought that it was such a bright innovative way to do graffiti and I liked the idea that it was also not damaging and was eco-friendly: a way to create art out of grime. Apparently reverse graffiti art takes inspiration from the clean marks left by drawing or writing on a dirty car's window with the fingers. Several artists in the world started practising reverse graffiti, for example Moose in UK ( and Ossario in Brazil (, whose most important reverse graffiti, a series of skulls drowned in the grime of an underpass to make car drivers aware of the risks caused by pollution was cleaned away by the police because the graffiti was thought to be vandalising the underpass (??). Anyway such easy, low cost and innovative way of writing on the walls, whose legal status remains ambiguous (some think it is vandalism just as ordinary graffiti, but on the other side, nobody can be charged for cleaning up a wall!) immediately attracted the attention of businesses, especially those which engage in 'guerilla marketing' in the streets. Reverse graffiti artists were hired by companies to produce graffiti to advertise their products outdoors. Sometimes the aim of the advertisement is to raise awareness: campaigns such as the case of IBM (, but most of the time the aim of the advertisement is just to invite people (especially young ones) to buy, trying to attract them using the 'coolness' of graffiti art. Many reverse graffiti artists have started their own companies of street advertising as this technique become more and more popular among companies who practice street branding. I think this is a very responsible way to advertise, for the reasons that I expressed in the poster and that it really can be a solution to fly posting (advertising in the street using posters). On the other hand I am quite perturbed by the way in which marketing strategies are trying to penetrate street art 'channels' of communication to advertise, sell products and abuse of our FREE, PUBLIC SPACES to diffuse subliminal messages to push people to buy their products! The great revolution created by street art is that it does not belong to no one but the streets themselves! The big difference between street advertising and street art is that the latter is not done to sell, but to speak out and is not a means of dominant mainstream marketing but the cultural expression of a vibrant, but often marginalised, part of the society. Often street artists are hired to produce reverse graffiti because companies know that if they are caught in the 'act' of doing graffiti the company is not the one to risk to be charged of vandalism, but the only one to be penalised will be the author of the act in itself. So, reverse graffiti should be encouraged and promoted over the damage caused by posters, but at the same time street art should be protected from the attempt of cynical marketers to re-appropriate it for their own ends!


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