The Fascinating History of Street Art in Belgrade
Art historians would likely agree that the story of contemporary graffiti began in the 1970s with Taki 183 and his audacious decision to tag his name on trains – a trend many would come to follow. As the movement grew, it came to Europe a little later than that, and it is always interesting to see how it influenced local street art scenes.
For instance: in Belgrade, in the 1980s the capital of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, first came the Fantastic Boys, also known as the Rap City Crew, as the first group of artists that did graffiti. They were soon joined by Jens, an individual who is now famous for being the “longest serving” graffiti artist in the country. Aside from DIY graffiti, the city also saw the rise of commissioned muralism, which flourished until the 1990s when the civil war stopped the artistic production for a while.
What happens next?
The wonderful opportunity for us to find out about the intriguing history of Street Art Belgrade is brought to us by Aleksandar Djordjević of Belgrade Graffiti in his eponymous book. Filled with photographs by the author and accompanied by a bullet-pointed chronology of the important events and milestones of the artists, it is an overview of a side of Belgrade that is perhaps unjustly neglected, and serves as a visual document of a fleeting culture.
From the early days to today’s internationally renowned talents from Serbia like Artez and Nikola Mihajlović, Street Art Belgrade is a must-have for all graffiti lovers.
We talk to Aleksandar about the making of this book, what it means for the city and its graffiti, and if there will be more.
Behind the Scenes of Street Art in Belgrade
Widewalls: How did the “Street Art Belgrade” project come to be? What inspired you – aside from the work itself, obviously?
Aleksandar Djordjević: It started in Berlin. In the 90’s I was living there, and I started taking pictures of graffiti. Looking back, it was probably the Berlin Wall that was a huge inspiration and influence – you had, on the eastern side, watchtowers, guards and machine guns – and no graffiti. On the other side there was everything a kid wanted – and there was a lot of graffiti. So: graffiti – good, no graffiti – bad.
After returning to Belgrade I just carried on with taking pictures. At first, I was selective – I took pictures only of the works I really liked, but after a while it became a documentary project – I took pictures of every work I came across.
Widewalls: There are six chapters, each named after an emotion. Can you tell us why there’s such a division?
AD: This was, in my opinion, the best way to preserve the dynamic of the street but still have some categorization. The aim was to transfer the impression of walking through the streets of Belgrade – when you turn a page it’s like turning around a corner.
You don’t know if the next thing that you will see will be a mural, a stencil or something completely different…
Widewalls: You are the author of the photography we see in the book. What was the experience of capturing it all like for you?
AD: Yes, I am the author of (almost) all the images in the book – a few pictures came from the artists themselves. For me, taking the pictures was almost like a hunt. I was looking for the works everywhere – after some time you start to recognize the works by certain artists, then you start searching for more – it is really like a hunt.
And, since I am a photographer, there is also a lot of shooting.
Widewalls: Was it a challenge to catch up with the few famous writers who agreed to speak about their art in the book?
AD: It was a real challenge – they all are very busy, often working on projects abroad. But I think that this is a huge contribution to the book. It is something that brings you a bit closer to the whole scene, to the ideas and motives.
Documenting (Visual) Past
Widewalls: Why was it important to cite the influence of history, both political and artistic, on graffiti and street art made in the city today?
AD: In Serbia, the past twenty years where quite dramatic times. We had wars, hyperinflation, sanctions and bombings. All of this had a huge impact on the artistic scene in general, and especially on the street art scene – in the 90’s you could not buy just any colors you wanted, the quality of the paint was very bad and so on…
But still, people were creating.
It is very important, when comparing some street art works from that time and from different countries, to take all of this into account. And this is a topic I would like to work on in the future.
Widewalls: What is it that makes the Belgrade graffiti scene stand out from the rest? What’s so unique about it?
AD: Graffiti and street art is generally a very personal art form. Due to the Internet and globalization the styles themselves are not too specific for certain countries, but the subjects are. There is a lot of humor on the walls here – it’s a way of dealing with the present social and economic issues. And there is a lot of emotion.
Widewalls: What is the feedback you’re getting from the local public, and from the foreign one? Do they differ?
AD: The reactions are quite similar – people are fascinated with the amount and quality of works. And then, when they start recognizing some of the works, they get even more excited. And it’s not only people interested in graffiti and street art – the audience is really broad.
My aim was for the book to be unbiased and to display as many works/artists as possible. Based on the reactions I think that we have completely achieved this.
Widewalls: Are you planning any more publications in the future?
AD: The streets are constantly changing; new works are being painted over old ones, new artists are emerging… I already have enough material for a second (and probably a third) book, so there will definitively be more.
But, as already mentioned, I would also like to cover the beginnings of the scene here in Belgrade.
The book presents the most comprehensive overview of street art in Belgrade, both stylistically and historically. From aphorisms and stencil art, to complex graphics solutions, letters and murals you can follow the graffiti and street art scene in Belgrade, which is becoming more and more vibrant. The book also contains quotes by some of the most active street artists: Artez, Junk, Rage, TKV, Lortek and Nikola. On almost 220 pages and with over 500 photographs, which the author Aleksandar Djordjevic made in the last six years, the book provides a comprehensive insight into the unique world of street art in Belgrade.
Featured image: Murals by Piros, Demon and Junk. All images courtesy Aleksandar Djordjevic, Street Art Belgrade.