03 March 2016, 11:39
256561 |

Audacity in the Streets of New York vs Yerevan

The street art should be publicly criticized, attacked and razed. The street art should be documented. The street art should rebel and be bitten. The street art should imply and question. The street art is independent, but it belongs to everyone.

This is how a street writer in Yerevan Artak Gevorgyan defines street art. In fact, street art can have lots of definitions. For some people it is a platform for self-expression or sharing their talent, for others street art is a way to raise political issues and struggle for their beliefs.


The movement originated in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s mostly in the forms of graffiti writing. Here writers found exclusive ways to deliver their message to the public. From simple tags, the signature of the writer, graffiti writing developed into a throw-up, a painting quickly “thrown up” on the wall, and eventually into the “pieces”, which is a short for masterpiece. The writers were painting on trains at dark nights and were persecuted by the police. Some of the most famous street writers kept their identity in secret. From New York the movement spread all around the world reaching also Yerevan. Although some people consider street art violence or a crime, it is a unique way to fight for your beliefs both in New York and Yerevan.


First of all, to understand the phenomenon of street art one should take into account the history of the movement. The names of the early writers have long faded away from walls and trains they once graced, but their contributions remain fixed as part of graffiti history. Herbert Kohl, who discovered the origins of writing in New York City, wrote that in 1967 a fourteen-year old boy together with his friends wrote their nicknames on the walls of their Washington Heights neighborhood. However, modern history of writing begins with a Greek child from Washington Heights, TAKI 183, that clarified that writing was all about fame.


In fact, the graffiti movements train era came to a close in 1989, when painted trains were refused to put into service. As the subway was no longer a medium of communication, writers stopped painting on trains, because it was no longer a pathway to fame. However, many observers find the shift from underground trains to walls as a decline. During the train era the writers view consisted of miles of underground tunnels. As writers gained knowledge and experience, their conception of the world changed, as did their goals from all city to all world. Many writers have travelled to cities around the world to paint, while even more have made a pilgrimage to New York, the mecca for writers everywhere.[1]

As already mentioned the street art movement travelled all around the world visiting also Yerevan. The street art in Yerevan has both similarities and differences in comparison with New York. First, of all street art in Yerevan has political roots and it was done in the forms of placards and posters. It has its origins in the 1988 connected with the independence movement of Armenia. Painters Grigor Khachatryan, Artak Baghdasaryan and Norayr Ayvazyan gathered in one of the buildings in Sverdlov Street and prepared political posters. 

“In 67-70s we were listening The Beatles, we were reading forbidden literature, telling anti Soviet jokes. We all wanted to get out of the Soviet Union,” said Grigor. Their works were largely against the Soviet Union. For instance, to mock the laws and bans passed in the Soviet Union once they hanged one black and one white placard on Matenadarn and wrote on the white one, that according to the decision this is black, and on the black one, that according to the decision this is white.

Even today political street art is very active. Artak Gevorgyan, a member of a street art group “Counter-Attack” has a broader understanding of street art. For him anything that happens in the street is a street art. It can be paintings, placards, and writings. In his manifest to street art he wrote,

 “What happens in the street remains in the street".

The street should be provocative.

The street art is the intellectual work done in the street.

The street art is the art, that protruded from museums. “

Gevorgyan’s motivation for doing street art is connected with his rebellious attitude towards authorities and police. Like the graffiti writers in New York, Artak had an experience of travelling for painting. He says that whenever he travels, he would also paint something. For example, recently he painted on the wall of the court building in St. Petersburg.  

However, most of the time Artak’s paintings are being removed in five minutes after being stickered. Of course, there are also legal districts in Yerevan, where people can do graffiti or street art, for example, the tunnel in Children railway. “This place is legal, but it’s rather abandoned and nobody will see the street art done there. That’s why it’s senseless to paint there. Our aim is to raise public awareness on politics.” Only one painting done by Counter –Attack hasn’t been removed, it’s called “Love in Charbakh”. The painting features a kissing couple, “When you are doing a non-political street art, it has to be very beautiful to be appreciated even by the authorities. But in case of political street art the aesthetic beauty is no longer important. The main thing is to deliver your message at a right place and with the right picture,” explains Artak Gevorgyan. 

Actually, street art in Yerevan is not only political. There are also graffiti paintings being done both on the governmental and individual level. For example, on the governmental level all the archways in Yerevan feature beautiful graffiti paintings. Further, loving portrait genre in painting young painter Robert Nikoghosyan ones had a desire to paint a large portrait, which gave a start to the series of portraits of “Armenian Prominent Figures” on Yerevan’s buildings in spring 2014. The first attempt of creating a large portrait becomes a graffiti portrait of his favorite actor Mher Mkrtchyan. He painted it in New Nork at an inconspicuous place. Later on after posting the photo of his graffiti on Facebook and seeing the positive response by his friends he decided to continue the work. Nowadays, Yerevan’s buildings are decorated also by portraits of William Shakespear, Hovhannes Tumanyan and many other graffiti portraits of prominent Armenian figures.

In contrast to other street writers in Armenia, Nikoghosyan says that his works have simply educating purpose. He said, “the youth nowadays is more into foreign writers, musicians. Of course, it’s not bad. But I believe that we should put the Armenians in the first place.” Graffiti work is just a way to show his respect towards these people. Robert Nikoghosyan has no desire to rebel through his paintings. He paints for his own pleasure and to cheer up the people. Paintings of “Armenian Prominent Figures” could be found near Botanical garden, on Tumanyan Street, Vernissage and so on. What concerns Robert’s plans, in the near future, we will probably see the portrait of Khoren Abrahamyan on one of the buildings in Yerevan. Besides, due to the overall approval it is possible to have also collaboration with the Town hall.

In conclusion, though having its roots in New York, the street art in Yerevan has appeared in a new form and with new motivations. When in New York the movement no longer has its primary delight, here it has created a great fuss around it. Of course, the homeland of street art has achieved significant heights. From the dark tunnels and trains it appeared in the galleries next to prominent artists. Something that was vandalism in the beginning has become a real art now inspiring young people all around the world. In contrast to New York, in Yerevan the initial purpose of street art is to get out of the museums, to make art more accessible and communicative with people. As a result, the city becomes more dynamic, modern and fresher. Hopefully, street Art in Armenia will develop to such a degree, that it will become inspirational for other countries as well.

[1] Young, Alison  Street Art, Public City: Law, Crime and  the Urban Imagination. New York, Routledge P., 2014


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