Photographers' Blog

Spray Cans and Euros – Graffiti at the European Central Bank

Frankfurt am Main, Germany

By Kai Pfaffenbach

“Is this legal?”

That was the question I asked myself almost two years ago, when I was walking along the embankment of the River Main in Frankfurt and saw the fence around the new European Central Bank (ECB) headquarters construction site.

Huge works of graffiti were scrawled on the wooden boards. It looked quite professional but I wondered if the ECB had agreed to allow these paintings since their content was both critical and politically provocative.

I got the answer to my question from 36-year-old, Frankfurt-based artist Justus Becker, also known as COR, who both paints some of the graffiti and helps curate it.

“This is legal,” he told me with a smile, explaining that the ECB had allowed it to go ahead and even paid for the boards when the art project was first established. Now they are part of a public space, where artists are allowed to share their works of graffiti.

Justus and his friend “Bobby Borderline” let me join them as they worked on a new painting for their latest three-day art project.

Dreams of their Syrian homes

By Umit Bektas

Only a half hour’s walk from the hundreds of tents lined up in the camp would take them to the banks of the Orontes River, the natural boundary between Turkey and Syria. When they cross the river they would be back in the land where they were born and grew up, among the people speaking the same language – their homeland. From the border it is only a short journey to their town or village and their own homes. Yes, the distance is short but what keeps children away from their homes is not always distance. Sometimes it is politics and the conflicts born of politics. And it is precisely this strife that forces the children to live a life in tents in bleak territory. There are reasons behind all conflicts, they have their antagonists, those in the right and those in the wrong, the strong and the weak. Who is right and who is wrong may change according to everyone’s way of thinking but there can be no doubt that the most innocent and the most vulnerable victims of all conflicts are the children.

A small number of the millions of displaced children who have fled fighting around the world are the Syrian children who have found refuge at the Boynuyogun refugee camp in Turkey’s southern Antakya province. Hundreds of them now live with their families in the identical tents pitched in the camp. The Turkish administrators of the camp provide food, clothing, shelter and medical care for the refugees. An important part of life which these children miss now that they are away from home is of course their schools. Because no one can predict how long they will have to stay in this camp, Arabic-speaking Turkish teachers have been assigned to conduct classes for them. These teachers have grouped the children into age groups and teach them in tents, turned into makeshift classrooms.

Certainly the education Syrian children receive here is inadequate compared to their regular schools but it is obviously a much better alternative to idleness and at least helps further their learning. New camps are under construction in the same region and school buildings are part of their planned infrastructure, evidence of the importance attached to the continued schooling of these children.

Painting a favela

By Nacho Doce

Before I was able to experience a Sao Paulo favela firsthand, my knowledge of that world was mostly defined by a movie I saw only a few weeks earlier called “Linha de Passe,” or “Passing Line” in English. The title is a metaphor of the concept of teamwork, the imaginary line that connects players passing the ball in soccer. In the movie the players are the four brothers of a family, and the ball is life itself. What I took away from the movie about a slum family’s struggle to survive, was an idea of what it’s like to live on the edge of life, on the edge of a precipice.

That movie and a newspaper article about a social graffiti project in one of the city’s largest favelas ignited my curiosity, so I searched out and met founding members of the project named OPNI, a Portuguese acronym for “Unidentified Graffiti Artists.” OPNI was founded in 1997 by 20 youths in the city’s marginal slums with the goal of transforming the streets into an open-air gallery where the community can express its gripes. Of the original 20 only Cris, Val and Toddy are left after most were either arrested, abandoned the activity, or died from drug abuse.

To reach OPNI in the Vila Flavia favela on the outskirts of Sao Paulo took me two hours by bus and train, the same time it takes for many of the slum’s mothers and daughters to travel to the city’s better-off neighborhoods where they clean homes for a living. That’s a four-hour round trip, every day.