I cannot recall ever visiting a place as covered in graffiti as I encountered while travelling through Athens last week. Barely a single surface in the city has been spared the spray can and while the overwhelming majority of jottings extend to little more than tags, anarchist slogans and profanity, there is without doubt a whole stack talented artists producing street art around the Ancient Greek capital. I’ve been told on many occasions that the reason there’s so much graffiti on the walls in Athens is because there are too many unemployed young people with nothing better to do than vandalise everything they come across. I believe that this is only half the story. To understand why there is so much writing on the walls in Greece, one must first understand what the Greeks are all about.
There is an Irish saying that one should never talk religion or politics while drinking or dining in company. With the Greeks, however, these topics are an essential part of any meal and the majority of social interactions. With their country facing such hard times, you don’t have to search much to find locals ready to curse at the corruption of their politicians, lament the failings of their civil service or passionately condemn the despotism of those near universally despised acronyms, the EU and the IMF. Don’t even get them started about the church.
They are like this about most things, be it music, theatre, food, film, driving or sports. To call them a passionate people is to describe petrol as a bit flammable. That is; it’s a doozy of an understatement. This candour and appreciation for argument, shared by the old and young alike, sits at the heart of what it is to be Greek. I’m generalizing here, of course, but I believe it to be a common enough quality for the Greek people with whom I have so far crossed paths to be reasonably considered fitting.
On any evening in Athens, the air is heavy with conversation and debate. Crowds of young and old sit outside tavernas and cafes, wrapped in conversation, drinking and debating enthusiastically into the early hours of morning. However, much as they may argue, it is rare that a disagreement escalates to violence. There is a natural understanding among Greeks that differences in ideas, much like questions of philosophy and art, are best to get out into the open for discussion and criticism. Athens, after all, is home to the Areopagus, the hill used by ancient Greeks as a centre for open discourse and free expression.
When you understand this need for expression as an innately Greek characteristic then you begin to understand why there is so much spray paint on their city walls.They do it because it has long been in their nature to do it – just look at the graffiti adorning many of the ancient ruins held at the marvellous Acropolis Museum for proof of that.
I was able to capture some of the work currently on display on walls around Athens, but this is only a fraction of how much can be found there and if I’m honest, I didn’t take enough photographs to do the place justice. I hope you enjoy. Tell me what you think.