New urban canvas, no jail term for Taiwan’s graffiti artists

Taepei, October 11

Once vilified by the authorities and threatened with jail, Taiwan’s graffiti artists are now being encouraged to get out their spray cans to revive urban areas.

Rundown districts around the island have become legalised graffiti zones as Taiwan seeks to cast itself as a hub for creativity and design. But while some artists welcome the chance to show off their skills without repercussions, others say sticking to areas approved by authorities goes against the spirit of the anti-establishment art form.

In Taipei’s Ximending shopping district, drab city walls have been brightened with large scale technicolour graffiti. A few blocks away from the area’s main neon-lit hub of chain stores and food vendors, a network of alleyways is home to smaller boutiques and a thriving street culture scene. The walls of this area have become a legal canvas for graffiti artists, with images ranging from giant snakes to political caricatures.

Jimmy Cheng, 39, a former graffiti artist, manages the zone — artists come to him to show their portfolio before they are allowed to spray on the walls.

“We don’t have any rules, apart from no swear words and no pornography,” says Cheng. “I think having these kind of areas is definitely a good idea,” he adds. “On a riverside wall you can spend a day painting, then the next day someone else covers it up. We tell our artists which parts they can paint on.

Everybody follows the rules. “Also we’ve introduced lots of events, like street dance and tattooing as well as graffiti.”