A new book, “Street Art Belgrade”, from local publisher, Komshe, documents Belgrade’s extensive and very impressive graffiti and street art scene through photographs by the book’s author, Aleksandar Djordjević. Street Art Belgrade is available online directly from the publisher’s website or from all good bookshops across Serbia.
Here we bring you a series of short excerpts from the book, focusing on the emergence of graffiti in Belgrade and its gradual development into a genuine art form. Look out for the next installment on Living in Belgrade.
This excerpt is brought to you courtesy of Beogradski Grafiti and the book’s author, Aleksandar Djordjević. Find out more at: beogradskigrafiti.com
History of Graffiti in Belgrade – from 1980 to today (part I)
Belgrade is the capital of Serbia. The city of Belgrade is one of the oldest settlements in Europe. If we take into account the Vinča culture, one of the most important prehistoric cultures of Europe, which evolved within the Belgrade area in the 6th millennium BC, by age Belgrade can be measured with cities such as Rome and Athens. Unfortunately, due to its geographical position and strategic location, located at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, where the Pannonian Plain meets the Balkans, the city was battled over in 115 wars and razed to the ground 44 times. Following the liberation of Belgrade during World War II, Russian soldiers marked houses and buildings without mines with words “provereno – min njet” (checked – no mines). These graffiti saved many lives.
The name of Belgrade (Beo – Grad) translates to “White city”, which has special meaning when we speak about the street art – and writings on the “white” walls of Belgrade.
The first graffiti in Europe appeared in Paris and Berlin. These two cities exert a significant influence on the Belgrade graffiti scene. Fantastic Boys, also known as RCC (Rap City Crew), where the first Belgrade-based crew that begun graffiting. These works inspired Miša, later known as Jens, who created his first work in 1988 and became the graffiti artist with the longest experience in Belgrade. During this period many humorous graffiti concerning local culture were created. Clumsily written names of bands, football clubs and their supporters groups were the most pervasive. In the early eighties an initiative for refurbishing Belgrade’s facades with murals was created. In this project, many recognized artists were engaged and a significant number of murals was painted. Some of them are visible to this day. Despite the fact that these works are not illegal or anonymous, they significantly contributed to the popularity of street art.
1990 Death and subsequent rebirth
Everything stops at the beginning of the nineties. The disintegration of Yugoslavia, bloody civil wars, unprecedented migration and general hysteria led to the retreat of artists retreat – in every sense.
Miša (aka Jens), previously mentioned, moved to Paris and was introduced to the local scene there. He returned to Belgrade in 1994 and created his first graffiti “STUFF”. This graffiti became very popular (it appears in several music videos) and is in some sense the first graffiti in this region to receive media attention. It inspired other artists to recreate the Belgrade graffiti scene. The year 1995 is generally considered to be the year when the serious graffiti scene in Belgrade was reborn: its epicenter being in the part of Belgrade known as Blok 45. Jens and Cobes, living in this New Belgrade block, formed a crew called AGC (Anonymous Graffiti Crew) in 1996 and began creating graffiti under the influence of Parisian graffiti artists from the early nineties. This is mostly lettering with simple forms, generally silver with a black frame. One of the reasons for the popularity of this type of graffiti is that they are cheap since very few colors or sprays are needed.
As the interest for graffiti grew, so did the thirst for information about new trends. Primarily it arrived in written form, i.e., magazines focused on these themes. Most of the magazines were from Germany and in this way the “German school” had a big influence on artists in Belgrade. A documentary called “Style Wars” filmed in 1983 also became influential in Belgrade in this period. The film deals with the history of the graffiti in New York, until the year 1983, and it played a large role in the formation of not only the local but also global graffiti scene.