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Graffiti Art

Graffiti Art

Graffiti Art

Graffiti Art

Belgrade abounds with graffiti, not all of it art. Though much of it is obviously done by talented artists, many of it is just scribbles or love notes. Nearly every building in the heart of Belgrade is stained with graffiti. You will find it on apartment buildings, schools, cafes, banks, even churches display a fair share of graffiti. In the US, when you see graffiti, it symbolizes a bad neighborhood, once you start seeing it, you kindof want to leave the area. But here, you can’t have that mentality, or else you would think all of Belgrade was a giant ghetto. And it certainly is not. My idea is to scrub it all off and then paint over it from 20 feet down on all the buildings with chalkboard paint, and therefore, graffiti could be drawn, erased, and redrawn on every building, and the canvas space would be indefinite.

Here are a few of the standout graffiti art displays, most of these are from around blok 45 in Novi Beograd. Some are from near the faculty of law area near Studenski Trg. “The Kids are not Slaves” is near Slavija.

Graffiti Art

Graffiti Art

"The Kids are Not Slaves" with an anti-child trafficking message following

Graffiti Art

I can’t say it better than this girl, Maggie Page. This is an excerpt from her facebook posting:

“On the political side of things, there are a lot of messages about Kosovo, mostly insistences that Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Nearly every street has some sort of anti-European Union tag and I have seen more than one swastika hastily sprayed onto buildings, including one on my street.

I think the mentality leading to copious amounts of graffiti in the inner cities of the U.S. is the same that leads to so much of it here. Graffiti seems to be a way of expressing oneself when other forms of expression feel fruitless. It is simultaneously anonymous and in-your-face, a visible and at least semi-permanent way to be seen and heard.

Graffiti happens when entire generations feel disenfranchised and ignored by their government, culture, or the rest of the world. To a certain extent, I think the Balkans have been ignored be the rest of the world (or, perhaps more accurately, given only negative attention). Ask the average American what they know about Serbia and most of them (in my experience) will think you are asking about Siberia. Ask about Bosnia or Kosovo and they will tell you about ethnic cleansing. That isn’t much to build a national identity on, and it isn’t accurate, because there is so much more to these places than the wars they have seen.

In my preparation to come here I learned about war and politics and fear and hate. No one told me that the coffee was so good I would be tempted to stay forever. No one told me I would be welcomed with open arms into every home I visited. No one mentioned that Belgrade is full of beautiful parks, second only to Glasgow for the city with the most green space in Europe. No one said the art scene is flourishing on Belgrade’s ancient streets. In light of that, I would like to do my part for this strange and wonderful part of the world. The stories of violence and suffering are true, a lot of terrible things have happened here in recent years and no one escaped without some kind of scar, but there is so much more than that here. There is life and fun and love and beauty in every corner of this place just waiting to be discovered.”

Graffiti Art

Graffiti Art

Graffiti Art

Graffiti Art

Graffiti Art

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Zemun, New Belgrade, and the Gypsy Slums

It’s getting down to the wire here, I leave on Subota from Belgrade, and I am SO SAD!! I do not want to leave this place!!! So I’ve entered the frantic zone, rushing around to see as much as I can see, meet as many people as I can, and of course, learn as much Serbian as humanly possible before I leave here. So last weekend I saw Novi Beograd, Zemun, Avala, and a collection of great graffiti art.

Novi Beograd and Zemun really each deserve their own post, but for sake of brevity, I will combine them.

If you go to Novi Beograd, take a taxi. I stubbornly refused to take the easy way out and cab my way all day, and I ended up getting a really nice long confusing string of bus tours all over who knows where before I finally found my way back that night. But so what? I made in on public transportation speaking 80% Serbian to do it, so it was worth the hours I spent confused and lost on the busses. I bussed from old town Belgrade to Novi Beograd, then from there to Zemun and back to Stari Grad.

Novi Beograd means New Belgrade, but don’t let the name deceive you, it’s not new. It seems to have been built after WWII, and its mostly filled with shopping malls and tall apartment buildings. There are some great pedestrian zones along the river which include clubs, bars, and restaurants, and lots of people out walking dogs, rollerblading (yes, it’s still practiced here), and strolling along the river.

Floating Cafe/Bar in New Belgrade

While finding my way there, I passed the Gypsy slums. I had heard about this area, but it was nothing like I expected. To educate a few ignorant foreigners (I myself belonged to this category regarding this subject not too long ago), the Gypsies are an actual ethnic group of people who live in this area, and also in other countries nearby in the Balkans. Their actual name is the Roma people, and they tend to be great musicians, very artistic, but also extremely poor. It’s clear here that they basically are seen as a lower class of society. When I passed the Gypsy Slums I actually thought we were passing a landfill at first. But instead, it was landfill, with shacks sloppily put together amidst the trash. There was literally hills of trash, a huge field full of litter, and a few handfuls of dirty shacks pitched atop the layer of junk. Gypsy kids were walking back and forth among the shacks carrying things and generally moseying about. It’s one of the most unusual things I’ve seen while here, and all this exists just down the street from a very large, very modern, American style shopping mall called Delta City.

Gypsy Slum

In addition to seeing Novi Beograd and the gypsy slums, I also found my way to Zemun, using my broken, but improving, Serbian.
Zemun used to be a separate city from Belgrade, and more under the Austro-Hungarian influence rather than Turkish. This difference is obvious in the architectural style. It is clearly more colorful, more beautiful, more ancient looking than Belgrade. Along the riverfront you can find a handful of fish restaurants and floating cafes, and if you follow the curving, cobblestone streets up to the top of the hill, you can take in a fantastic view of the city. Terracotta colored roofs make for an exquisite view of the neighborhood beneath you, and a few church steeples break up the unity with breathtakingly beautiful towers.
In the heart of Zemun, I noticed less English, and in fact, practically no street signs, bus stop maps, or even the use of the latin alphabet. It was pretty much all in Cyrillic, and no one spoke a word of English.
Overall, a beautiful day exploring and seeing the surrounding districts outside the heart of Belgrade.

View from Atop Zemun

That night I found myself befriending a few girls at a wine bar, one from Montenegro, one from a small town in Serbia, and they were more than happy to help me practice my Serbian with them. In fact, they taught me my most useful phrase yet! Reci Polako, meaning, speak slowly!! That one has already gotten tons of mileage 🙂

Not bad, for my last Sunday in Belgrade.