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Unlike banners that bring attention to affiliation, other forms of protest art are clandestine in nature, reproduced in the shadows under the protection of anonymity as stencils and graffiti. Josh MacPhee (2004) does not distinguish between the two, stating that stencils are graffiti when they are painted onto public or private property without permission. Stencils are one of the oldest forms of printmaking, “commonly used in Egypt during the time of the pyramids and in China when the Great Wall was built” (Ibid p12). Stencil cutouts are portable, allowing for multiple reproductions of the same visual or textual message onto any surface. It was used for Charlemagne’s signature throughout Europe (circa 750AD) and by European political parties in the 1940’s and 50s to mark their territory. The stencil became a favoured print technique for oppositional movements, around the world in the 1960s and 70s. It was used by students and union workers in France during May 1968, by the anti-Somoza Sandinista revolutionaries in 1970’s Nicaragua, by the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa and radical artists in Mexico during the 1970s and 80s. The western side of the Berlin Wall is famous for its stencils and political murals created during the 1980s (Manco 2002).
World famous stencil artist, Banksy, has had his stencilled images (and the walls they are painted on) removed from their original location. The stencil, Slave Labour (Bunting Boy) that sold at auction on June 2, 2013 at the London Film Museum for $1.1M1 is one such example. It was previously withdrawn from an estimated $500,000 value sale at a Miami auction after a councillor from the London neighbourhood where it was originally painted, claimed that “this piece was given freely by Banksy to our area, it belongs to the community and it should be returned to Wood Green”2. Banksy has managed, despite his global notoriety to retain his seditiousness despite his popularity and he continues to anonymously decorate public spaces with his oppositional art.
Now-well-known Montréal stencil artist, Roadsworth, who began stencilling city streets in 2001 was “motivated by a desire for more bike paths in the city and a questioning of ‘car culture’ in general”3. In 2004, Peter Gibson (aka Roadsworth) was arrested and charged with 53 counts of mischief. The popular support he received, a documentary film by Alan Kohl and a book about his work4 have contributed to his current popularity which — unlike Banksy — robbed him of his subversiveness, with commissioned exhibits in commercial shopping centres and elsewhere.
In the context of the Printemps québécois, the stencil and graffiti are both utterances of dissent that most often appear overnight in alleyways, on building foundations and underpass pillars to confront passersby with deliberate modifications of a neighbourhood’s visual landscape. Within a cityscape that is otherwise congested with consumer advertising, oppositional stencils and graffiti art are deliberate non-commercial appropriations of public space. This unbridled expression of dissent is generally considered vandalism. Municipal by-laws in Montréal require “that property be kept graffiti free”5 whereby building owners must remove graffiti at their own expense or face fines of $100 for property owners and $300 for business owners for first offences6. During the student strike, stencils and graffiti appeared throughout Montréal neighbourhoods to present to the public an evolving discourse. Many remain to this day.
1 http://www.cbc.ca/news/arts/story/2013/06/04/banksy-street-art-sold-auction.html (viewed June 24, 2013).
2 http://www.cbc.ca/news/arts/story/2013/05/13/banksy-graffiti-art-auction-sale.html. Details of the removal of the stencil can be read here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/yourcommunity/2013/02/bansky-graffiti-ripped-off-london-wall-put-on-auction-in-us.html (both viewed May 26, 2013).
3 The quote is from Roadsworth’s website: http://roadsworth.com/home/about/ (viewed May 26, 2013).
4 Roadsworth: Crossing the Line was produced in 2008 by Loaded Pictures in association with the National Film Board of Canada http://www.cinemapolitica.org/film/roadsworth-crossing-line (viewed May 26, 2013). The autobiographical book, Roadsworth was published in 2011 by Goose Lane Editions: http://www.gooselane.com/books.php?ean=9780864926388 (viewed May 26, 2013).
5 A by-law requirement in the Montréal borough of Côte-des-neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grace. http://ville.montreal.qc.ca/portal/page?_pageid=7657,82605603&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL (viewed May 26, 2013).
6 Fines for not removing graffiti within the Montréal borough of St-Leonard http://ville.montreal.qc.ca/portal/page?_pageid=7337,75917616&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL (viewed May 26, 2013).