In Athens, street art vents anger over austerity

In Athens, street art vents anger over austerity
A giant lion roars before a frayed Greek flag on a graffiti by BANE on a wall of a primary school in Athens suburb of Nikaia.

ATHENS - A giant lion roars against the backdrop of a battered Greek flag in wall art covering the side of a school building in a working-class Athens suburb.

The creation is one of many examples of street art across the Greek capital expressing the despair of ordinary people after four years of government belt-tightening at the behest of international creditors.

The artist, BANE, is among around 60 contributors to Athens' second annual street art festival, using some 30 public buildings in the run-down districts of Nikaia, Rentis and Tavros as their canvases.

Several of the works defy the three-month festival's title "Crisis, What Crisis?" apparently aimed at steering artists away from the gloom of soaring unemployment and sweeping poverty with Greece beginning to make timid steps towards recovery.

"The notion of reconquering public space predates the crisis," argues a young artist who uses the pen name This Is Opium.

Among foreign participants in the festival is Franck Duval of France, originally a collage artist who took up street art in 2006. "We are all paying for this crisis, whether in Greece or elsewhere," he said.

Duval, who is taking part for a second time and helped paint a mural inspired by "Zorba the Greek", added: "The walls of Athens deserve a little more colour and joy." Panos Haralambous, a vice dean of the Athens School of Fine Arts which is staging the event, told AFP: "We seek to evoke reactions, no longer just in studios but outside. Art is not just for the few." Street art has "exploded in the city these past six years," he said. "It is a form of protest that takes the artist out of his studio.

"Young people are looking for ways to express themselves in hard times, and street art is an ideal vehicle for that," he added.

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