Travel

Notes from the streets

Artists paint a container at the annual city festival in Malmö, Sweden. Photo: Getty Images  

Given the closed borders across countries in Europe, travel has come to a standstill. However, this unofficial travel ban has led me to explore my surroundings more closely. One way to do so for me has been to walk the streets scouting for hidden gems. Usually I walk early in the frigid Swedish winter mornings when the streets are empty and the sun is still a rumour. It’s only during these hours can I catch the sights that go unnoticed in the daytime disorder.

Doing so led me to discover the street art of Malmö, the city where I live. It turns out that Malmö is one of the cities in Sweden that has the largest amount of street art, so much so that one can compare it to the street art capitals of the world such as New York, London, and Berlin. Look closely and you’ll find it everywhere in the city — covering full walls of residential buildings, the orphan streets of parking slots, and slotted in hidden corners. Some of it is painted over and over again, while a few have stayed there for many years, preserved by the city’s tourism industry.

Big-bellied troll

While I walked the streets of Malmö, I stumbled across ‘The Troll’, which is an eight-storey high graffiti of a big-bellied troll done by an Australian artist who goes by the name of ‘Smug One’. Just across ‘The Troll’ is yet another full-storied piece of a couple kissing, and this pop-art mural is rendered by a London-based street artist working under the alter-ego ‘D*Face’.

One standout piece is located in the old part of the city and depicts a girl opening a book that has octopus tentacles emerging from the pages. This fantasy piece is by a Polish artist, Natalia Rake. My favourite one, the one that I see on most days, is located on a pub-punctuated street, and is a mural by a Columbian artist, ‘Stink Fish’, which depicts faces of aboriginal kids amidst an explosion of colour. His other work was apparently painted over by mistake by a cleaning company, which mistook it for careless graffiti.

I was intrigued as to why so many international artists had decided to come to Malmö to do graffiti art. It turns out that Malmö organised a large-scale street art festival, the first ever in Sweden, in 2014. As part of the programme, the city invited 15 street artists. Art has the power to inspire, they say, and here is one city that has taken a commendable step to bring this form of art to the mainstream and legitimise what once used to be considered counter-culture art.

‘Legal’ walls

Not that such festivals are a one-time activity. Turns out Malmö has reserved specific walls as ‘legal’ graffiti walls for street artists. I pass one such wall during my daily morning explorations, and find it covered with graffiti commentaries on global politics, from U.S. presidential elections to the situation in Gaza. However, given that there are many artists using these walls, the pieces don’t last long and get painted over within 48 hours.

They say that you learn a lot by travelling. However, we have equated travelling with travelling far, whereas, travel could very well mean stepping out and exploring our surroundings. This is at least the discovery I made during these times. And I discovered a form of art that I had not paid much attention to earlier.

The adrenaline rush-seeking travel writer lives in Malmö, Sweden.

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 8:14:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/notes-from-the-streets/article33693701.ece

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