Take a stroll around the central Athens neighborhoods of Psiri or Exarcheia, and you will find street art everywhere you look.
The work varies from guerilla graffiti slogans and political cartoons to enormous abstract murals. Some pieces criticize leaders, while a few less provocative pieces are even commissioned by the government itself, like an image of two hands clasped in prayer by Pavlos Tsakonas that covers the side of an entire apartment complex on Peiraios Street.
The independent projects—like a stenciled image of a monkey reading Das Kapital upside down—are more numerous, and likely more temporary. But they capture the attitudes of Greeks toward their current financial despair better than any news report could.
“The styles vary, but there is a common language,” says Bleeps, a well-known local artist who goes only by his pseudonym. One of his many murals,“40 Years + Debtocracy,” was featured on the cover of the International Herald Tribune in 2011. “People don’t oppose a certain political party, but the rotting system that has been developing for nearly 40 years.”
In one of his Psiri portraits, an attractive young woman in a bra and short skirt walks with a wooden leg, the words “Greece Next Economic Model” emblazoned above her (at top). In another, a Greek statue raises a placard declaring: “Vote For Nobody.”
“I don’t believe that the boom in street art is something that happened now, it actually started years ago,” says Dimitris Taxis, another local artist. “It may just seem that way because the public only recently started to accept it as an everyday art form.”
One of his most famous works is “Action-reaction” (above), an acrylic image of a wood-carved slingshot painted on to the side of a bank building. “It shows the effort of resistance against all international economical interests and forces that have driven Greece into the current situation,” the artist says.
While the Greek youth is highly educated, they are ultimately unequipped to deal with the system as it exists today. According to Taxis, all they’ve got is “a slingshot and a trace of hope.”
While the cruder graffiti and stenciled images are being created by disenfranchised youth, the work that best captures the zeitgeist is being created by a slightly older generation. “I know two guys who are actually employed, one is a self-employed dentist and the other is an illustrator for a magazine,” says blogger and freelance journalist Kostas Kallergis.
“I think it’s people with artistic personalities. People who want to express thoughts and ideas and use art,” says Bleeps, who corresponds frequently with other members of the local ‘artivist’ movement, like Absent and Political Zoo.
In “The stars and the starfish,” perhaps Bleeps’s most famous work, a starfish sits within a field of golden stars not unlike those on EU iconography. A little girl reaches up towards it.
“These works describe my approach of the truth, as much as this can be a realistic goal,” he says. In some cases it reflects bitterness, in others hope. But ultimately, the artist says, “it urges humanity to face issues with bravery and justice.”