M50 campaign keeps graffiti tradition alive

Yang Jian
The largest graffiti wall in downtown Shanghai has been demolished to give way for a new shopping complex but the M50 Art Park has opened its doors to artists of the genre.
Yang Jian
M50 campaign keeps graffiti tradition alive

The graffiti wall on Moganshan Road has been mostly demolished to give way to the opening of a nearby shopping mall.

The largest graffiti wall in downtown Shanghai has been demolished to give way to the opening of a new shopping complex.

The 600-meter wall on Moganshan Road, which featured hundreds of examples of graffiti created by artists from home and abroad, has been torn down to open up the riverside space for the commercial project.

The “1,000 Trees” project, dubbed the city’s Hanging Gardens of Babylon, has been testing its illumination system at night. It will open to the public early next year with restaurants, museums, art galleries and entertainment sites.

The wall along Moganshan Road, which was one of the earliest sites for graffiti art in China, dates back to 2005. It became one of the city’s most popular attractions, attracting not only artists but also tourists from around the world.

As people lamented the loss of the graffiti wall, neighboring M50 Art Park said artists were welcome to create art in the park to continue the graffiti tradition.

A “Keep Shaking” campaign initiated by the park and graffiti artists encourages painters to move their art creations to the walls, houses and other structures in the park.

An exhibition invites visitors to appreciate some of the new works mainly painted by artists who once drew on the former wall.

“Graffiti shall never be the flowers growing in the greenhouse. To be removed and recreated is part of the nature of the graffiti art,” said Lewis Le, art director of the Bkstore brand and curator of the campaign.

“Those old paintings should not be kept like specimens and graffiti painting should grow widely across the city to attract talented artists to paint freely,” he said.

The campaigners are calling for more local sites, art galleries and museums to offer a platform for young graffiti artists.

M50 campaign keeps graffiti tradition alive

New graffiti at the M50 art park.

Zhou Bin, general manager of the M50 Culture and Innovation Co, said the campaign aims to protect the free art creations amid the city’s urban renewal projects. He said the park along with the new graffiti paintings is expected to become a key attraction along the Suzhou Creek waterfront.

Since the M50 Art Park was created at the turn of the millennium, over 150 galleries and art institutes have chosen to make it their home.

Also on Moganshan Road in Putuo District, M50 was one of the first and most notable cases of industrial heritage being given new life as a cultural agglomeration. The site, covering 24,000 square meters along Suzhou Creek, contains 50 buildings that were once home to the New China Textile Co, an iconic enterprise of the city’s industrial development. It is one of the best preserved industrial sites downtown.

New street art on walls, corridors, street corners and parking spaces has been created across the park to reignite an enthusiasm for the location and call new attention to the history of the site.

Liu Yi, a professor with the Shanghai institute of Visual Art, said: “We want visitors not only enjoy the art here, but also to understand the history behind the heritage.”

On a water tower, for instance, Wang Hongyi, another professor at the institute, painted a group of giggling workers and a single child. The painting is an attempt to express to passersby the happiness of the workers, as well as offering a glimpse into working conditions at the factory.

M50 campaign keeps graffiti tradition alive
Ti Gong

The “1,000 Trees” shopping complex, dubbed the city’s Hanging Gardens of Babylon, along the Suzhou Creek. There are up to 1,000 balconies filled with plants and trees, giving the structure a hill-like appearance.

Urban graffiti art originated in the 1960s in New York’s Brooklyn. It became popular in Shanghai after the year 2000 with multiple sites being converted into a paradise for graffiti.

The urban management authority once cracked down on such spontaneous creations, but changed its attitude in recent years as the public began to show interest in and an affection for the art.

A graffiti wall, for instant, was unveiled on the city’s popular “sweet love road”, in north Hongkou District to encourage the romantic outpourings of the city’s Romeos and Juliets.

Tian’ai Road, which translates as “Sweet Love,” has long attracted couples thanks to its name, and also led many to draw their loved one’s initials, as well as hearts, arrows, and general declarations of eternal love.

The designated “graffiti wall” was erected in the middle of the 600-meter-long road to make it a more popular attraction for local love birds while stymieing the scribbled declarations of love that once plagued it, according to the Sichuan Road N. Subdistrict. Red-color pens have been placed beside the walls.

Graffiti on downtown Wuyi Road in Changning District also became an attraction as part of a project to fill the historical road with culture and innovation. Cartoon characters and elements such as SpongeBob, Captain America’s shield, smiling baby faces and sunflowers have been painted on manholes, bicycle parking slots and beside trees and fire hydrants on sidewalks.

“Graffiti has become a popular art genre among the youngsters along with other once non-mainstream arts like rap, street dance and skateboarding,” said Le. "It lives with the new generation," he added.

M50 campaign keeps graffiti tradition alive

A visitor poses for a photograph in front of the new graffiti wall.

M50 campaign keeps graffiti tradition alive

Visitors take photos of the new graffiti wall in the M50 art park.

M50 campaign keeps graffiti tradition alive

A visitor takes photos in front of a new graffiti wall in the M50 art park.

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