Winterlude moved up a few levels of cool with last Saturday’s German-Canadian Graffiti Jam. Hosted by the Embassy of Germany, the event included live graffiti painting, hip hop and techno music, free German sausage, pizza and a truly foreign way of staying warm: hot mulled wine (also known as Glühwein) and warm apple cider. I can’t say I like my red wine any other way than room temperature, but the cider was good. And they had a vegetarian option, which is not too shabby for a country that boasts sausage as its typical food.
The event commemorated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a symbol of freedom and unity. The graffiti artists painted on large canvases that were visually reminiscent of the wall.
“There is a strong connection between graffiti and the Berlin Wall,” said Frank Hartmann, Culture and Communication representative from the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany. “It was the largest canvas in the world and was open to everyone. Graffiti on the Berlin Wall came to represent freedom of censorship as there were no restrictions on what artists could put on it.”
“The artwork carried messages of hope and symbols of unity in a people torn apart by war,” added Hartmann. “What better way to honour this legacy than to bring two graffiti artists who actually painted on the Berlin Wall in the 1980s to Ottawa and to allow them to create a commemorative piece together with two of Canada’s top graffiti artists!”
Watching the artists spray-paint, the Embassy provided visitors with an intimate experience of the craft. All the way from Germany, graffiti artists Arunski and Poet worked alongside Canada’s own Zek and Strike. For lack of better words, it was cool.
Based in West-Berlin, both German graffiti artist have been working with this medium since the late 80s. “Arunski created his first piece of art on the Berlin Wall back in 86 and Poet started in 1987,” explained Hartmann. “They met in 88 and joined the Berlin Graffiti Crew SOS. Poet, after 25 years of writing, is known for creating a wide range of different innovative letter styles. Arunski on the other hand first followed a career as a musician and freestyle MC, before he turned back to arts.”
Zek and Strike proudly represented Canada (forgive my Olympian-style talk) on the other side of the parking space turned party place. A Montreal-based artist since the 90s, Zek is one of Canada’s best. “With his experience, he exhibited in Montreal, New York, Puerto Rico, and is constantly travelling,” said Hartmann. “Using letter manipulation as his base, he continued to develop his compositions and techniques for working with artists worldwide. Zek now part of Montreal collective A’Shop, KG, and 156, where he continues to push the boundaries of his art, constantly evolving and innovating.”
Strike is once again a local, following a ten year stint in Montreal. Gatineau-based, he represents 156, JKR, and DNW graffiti crews. He has an admirably community oriented approach to his work. “While college and university trained in fine art and comic book illustration, Strike has a wealth of knowledge to apply to his craft,” said Hartmann. “He has worked with the city of Gatineau to teach kids graffiti art techniques starting in 2000, and also played an integral role during the City of Gatineau’s legalization of many graffiti walls to deter vandalism in the past decade.”
Now if only Ottawa would do the same and legalize graffiti art, maybe we’d have more street art and all year around instead of witnessing special commissions for seasonal festivals such as Winterlude. The National Capital Commission (NCC) who specializes in attracting tourists to Ottawa seems to have gotten the formula right: good music, free food and culture/art that speaks to everyone. If only the City of Ottawa embraced the philosophy, perhaps, like the City of Gatineau (not to mention practically all culturally-savvy capitals of the world), we’d legalize more graffiti walls and foster an environment where art is not only legal, but also seen as a public asset. A way of beautifying Ottawa that’s cheap, accessible and inclusive.