ATHENS – On either side of an otherwise abandoned street in the port city of Piraeus, two well-known Greek street artists contemplate a pair of large garbage containers, waiting for inspiration.
It does not take long and they proceed to get out their paint sprays and rollers.
Within hours, the containers turn into the latest street-smart works of art in this millenary port near Athens.
“With the passage of time, Athens became the world’s capital of graffiti,” says Cacao Rocks, one of the Piraeus street artists who spoke to EFE on this hot May afternoon.
Look around, and nearly every square meter (yard) of walls along the 10-kilometer (six miles) distance between the two ancient cities on the Attica peninsula seem to have been covered in graffiti, artistic merit notwithstanding.
The exclusion of tags or graffiti signatures, made famous by young street rebels during the 1990s, has become one of the symbols of the Greek capital.
Others describe the visual explosion of paint as a plague.
“According to Greek law, graffiti is forbidden but, as often happens in this country, the prohibition is simply ignored,” he adds.
The same happens with the anti-tobacco laws or wearing motorcycle helmets, nobody takes any notice, he said.
You cannot explain the Greek graffiti explosion without taking into account the brutal economic toll the crisis had on Greek society.
Graffiti became less street art and more a graphic expression, a writing on the wall, of the growing popular discontent of the social, political and financial crisis Athenians live in.
And it was no longer just Greeks, but graffiti writers from all over the world.
“The last five years have been decisive,” says Cacao Rocks, who is now more than 30 years-old, and has been a graffiti artist since he was 12.
Greek graffiti are barbed personal expressions against the bailouts, corruption, austerity policies, the international financial creditors and overall, the seemingly never-ending chain of misery the country has endured for the past seven years.
There are also homages to citizens who became martyrs of the Greek social resistance which, in turn, became a source of artistic and political inspiration.
The Pantheon of Greek social austerity boasts figures such as Alexandros Grigoropulos, whose life was mowed down by a policeman during a 2008 riot.
The Athens city hall has tried to come to terms with this visual eyesore problem, and in recent years has tried to encourage policies that may, slowly, contribute to reducing the sheer volume of graffiti citizens face on a daily basis.
It drew up a short list of options: commissioning graffiti walls, imposing more severe fines or devoting more resources to cleaning the walls.
Another possibility was to educate the next Greek generation. Since Nov. 20, Athenian schools have launched an initiative by which schoolchildren adopt their city monuments.
Each school chooses two monuments or sculptures. First, they learn about their history and later they are responsible for cleaning and looking after them.
Although the graffiti writer’s ethical code says that sculptures and monuments are off-limits, sometimes in Athens, all rules go out the window.
“The limit should be: respect the artistic work of others, everything else is public space., says Exit, the other artist to accompany EFE on a graffiti expedition.
Exit has just finished his street artwork of the day, a figure with male-looking factions, armed with a paint roller, leaving behind a black line.
Beside him, large capital letters spelled a message in English: “Have you filled your emptiness?”