Graffiti & conflict

Reading social realities through graffiti and street art in conflict-affected societies

Dr Billy Tusker Haworth (they/them or he/him) – Chief-investigator and project manager, Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute (HCRI), University of Manchester and Leadrrr
Dr Eric Lepp (he/him) – Co chief-investigator, University of Waterloo
Dr Birte Vogel 
(she/her) – Co chief-investigator, HCRI, University of Manchester
Dr Catherine Arthur (she/her)- Co chief-investigator, HCRI, University of Manchester
Dr Dylan O’Driscoll (he/him)  – Co chief-investigator, The Centre for Trust, Peace & Social Relations, Coventry University and Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

2019: HCRI Research support fund (competitive) for project titled ‘A spatial and thematic analysis of graffiti in divided Nicosia, Cyprus’, University of Manchester – disrupted/postponed due to COVID-19.
2019: HCRI Research support fund (competitive) for project titled ‘The writing on the wall: reading social realities through graffiti and street art in conflict-affected societies’, University of Manchester.

Street art and graffiti represent a diverse range of artistic, social, cultural, and political practices in urban landscapes, whereby writers publicly mark their different intentions, forms of expression, and potential impacts on communities. Graffiti defines places in dynamic spatial and temporal ways, and often garners divided views. Graffiti is frequently understood as either vandalism or art, but this dichotomy under-represents graffiti; it provides rich insight into societies and social life, including different cultures, social issues, trends and political discourse, and spatial and territorial identities. As both a contributor to and commentary on contested spaces, graffiti is particularly valuable in (post)conflict societies undergoing social and political transformation as it furthers knowledge of peace and conflict practices.

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Street art in the north of Nicosia, June 2019 (Photo: Billy Haworth)

We are exploring the following questions:
1. What can be gained from an analysis of graffiti writings and occurrence for the management of contested spaces, promotion of peace, and everyday experiences of politically-divided territories?
2. To what extent does graffiti play a role in not only commenting on public and political discourse relating to peace, but in shaping it?
3. How can participatory action research tools, such as walking interviews and qualitative GIS, be useful in advancing understandings of the relationships between graffiti, space, and peace?

Associated  outputs/activities to date:

Haworth, B.T., Lepp, E., Arthur, C., & Vogel, B. (2022). “Your wall cannot divide us”: Graffiti in Cyprus and insights into conflict-affected landscapes. SAUC-Street Art and Urban Creativity, 8(2), 35-49. 

Haworth, B.T. (chair; co-organiser with Vogel, B.). Public research event: ‘Bombing Walls: Perspectives on the functions of graffiti and street art in conflict-affected spaces.’ HCRI Seminar Series, 4 March 2021. Speakers: Eric Lepp (Waterloo), Lydia Cole (Durham), Dina Yunis (King’s College London).

Vogel, B., Arthur, C., Lepp, E., O’Driscoll, D. & Haworth, B.T. (2020). Reading socio-political and spatial dynamics through graffiti in conflict-affected societies. Third World Quarterly 41(12): 2148-2168.

Digital photo exhibition / Story Map: “Your Wall Can(not) Divide Us

February 2020, photo exhibitions at University of Manchester, at the HCRI Careers Day reception, and in the Sam Alex Building.
4 more exhibitions were planned for 2020, including 2 at Manchester community events and festivals, and 2 at international conferences (Stockholm; London) – all postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19.

2019 established the International Consortium for Conflict Graffiti (ICCG)

Haworth, B.T., Arthur, C. & Lepp, E. (2019, July). Cyprus’ graffiti paints a rich and complex picture of a society dividedThe Independent.

Haworth, B.T., Arthur, C. & Lepp, E. (2019, July). Graffiti in Cyprus paints a rich and complex picture of this divided societyThe Conversation.

Arthur, C. & Haworth, B.T. (2019, presented paper). Reading social realities through graffiti and street art in conflict-affected societies. Advancing Peace Geographies conference, Coventry, July.

Haworth, B.T., Lepp, E. & Arthur undertook a scoping visit to Nicosia and other parts of Cyprus to observe graffiti, meet local artists and academics, and assess potential for future fieldwork/research, June 2019.

Haworth, B.T., Arthur, E., Lepp, E. & Vogel, B. (workshop conveners). Graffiti workshop: space, peace & conflict, and interdisciplinary approaches (workshop with internal and national and international external participants), HCRI, University of Manchester, 28 May 2019.