Street art wall is welcomed in Shanghai/ Street Art Asia

The Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration recently listed the graffiti wall at Shanghai Jiao Tong University as one of the city’s new tourism spots, and publicized it on its official Sina Weibo account.

The graffiti wall became famous after a student painted a high-speed train resembling a human skull on the wall in 2011 in response to the high-speed train tragedy in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, and the painting went viral on the Internet.

Graffiti walls can also be found in several other locations such as the campuses of Tongji University and University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, and on Moganshan Road and Tian’ai Road.

However, apart from in these sanctioned spots, graffiti can rarely be found in the rest of the city, in part because Western-style spray-can graffiti is still quite new to China, but also because graffiti is often associated with vandalism and is illegal.

Also, graffiti, which is intertwined with hip-hop culture, has a reputation for defying authority and is often used to express a social or political comment. Therefore the government tends to be sensitive to such a form of street art.

Around the world there is an ongoing debate about whether graffiti should be allowed in public areas. While supporters advocate freedom of expression and say that graffiti doesn’t hurt anyone, naysayers think that graffiti is the vandalization of someone else’s property and no different to painting on someone else’s car.

However, the importance of street art in contributing to a vibrant urban culture cannot be denied. London, for example, is renowned for the graffiti in its streets and the logo design for the London 2012 Olympic Games is said to have drawn inspiration from graffiti art to attract young people. Graffiti art has also inspired and been produced by many great pop artists such as Keith Haring and Banksy.

Now, as the tourism administration is officially promoting Shanghai’s graffiti, maybe it’s time to also advocate for more legal graffiti spots in Shanghai and give more space to this suppressed art form.

The city of Melbourne, for example, has a permit system for street art. While illegal graffiti is strictly banned, if a property owner and occupier welcomes it, he or she can apply for a permit to have street art painted on their building; if they have existing graffiti on their property, they can decide whether they would like it to stay or whether they want it removed.

Other cities, such as London, while officially banning graffiti, are tolerant towards the art in certain areas.

Shanghai can follow these cities’ examples in this regard and designate areas that embrace street art, starting from the city’s art districts and commercial areas. If they successfully draw tourists and art lovers, the practice can be extended to the entire city.