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Hope Wanted: Wall Writing Protests in Times of Economic Crisis in Athens

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This paper discusses the urban writing on Athenian walls as an imaginative medium of intercommunication occurring during the socioeconomic and political crisis era in Greece, over the last seven years. The street art activity on the city’s walls as a linguistic and imagery phenomenon could be approached as the main symbolic mode of public expression generated by the crisis. To investigate it fieldwork research was conducted in central Athens from January to July 2015. Three research methods were applied: participant observation into two graffiti crews, consequent photo documentation of wall writings, and eight semi-structured interviews with street artists. The research findings disclose the metamorphosis of public walls into an interactive public notebook as an attestation of the processes in the Athenian multimodal urban landscape.
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“HOPE WANTED”
Wall Writing Protests in times of Economic Crisis in Athens
Georgios Stampoulidis
Master’s Thesis in Modern Greek
Centre for Languages and Literature, Lund University
January 2016
Supervisor: Vassilios Sabatakakis
2
Abstract
This paper discusses the urban writing on Athenian walls as an imaginative medium
of intercommunication occurring during the socioeconomic and political crisis era in
Greece, over the last seven years. The street art activity on the city’s walls as a
linguistic and imagery phenomenon could be approached as the main symbolic
mode of public expression generated by the crisis. To investigate it fieldwork
research was conducted in central Athens from January to July 2015. Three research
methods were applied: participant observation into two graffiti crews, consequent
photo documentation of wall writings, and eight semi-structured interviews with
street artists. The research findings disclose the metamorphosis of public walls into
an interactive public notebook as an attestation of the processes in the Athenian
multimodal urban landscape.
Keywords: street slogans, political graffiti, Athens, crisis, semiotics, multimodality
3
Acknowledgements
First and foremost, I would like to express my warm thanks to my thesis supervisor
Vassilios Sabatakakis for his kind support during the entire process of my thesis until
the point of its achievement.
In addition, special thanks are due to Marianna Smaragdi for her invaluable
proofreading of my Master`s thesis and for her valuable suggestions. I wish also to
thank Henrik Rahm and Marianne Gullberg for their useful comments and ideas on
earlier versions of my thesis, which have informed the revisions of it. Any errors or
inadequacies that may remain in this work are entirely my own.
I am also grateful to Stefan Lindgren from the Humanities Lab at Lund University,
who kindly sent me the required digital voice recorder for conducting the interviews
in Athens.
Furthermore, I would like to express my sincere appreciation for all the people that
contributed to the completion of this thesis, for their help and guidance within the
realm of graffiti. I owe my knowledge about wall writings to the following street
artists who generously shared their insights, and without their personal experiences,
this thesis could not have been written: Bleeps. gr, Exit, Mapet, NSK, SX, Tona, WD
and Yiakou.
Finally, I give my gratitude to the financial support of Birgit Rausing Language
Programme in Lund University. This research project would not have been
accomplished without funds supported by this organization.
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Table of Contents
Abstract ........................................................................................ 2
Acknowledgements ............................................................................ 3
Table of Contents ................................................................................ 4
List of Figures ...................................................................................... 7
List of Tables ....................................................................................... 9
CHAPTER 1 Introduction .................................................................. 10
Introduction ........................................................................................... 10 1.1
Aim of Research ..................................................................................... 12 1.2
Motivation of Research .......................................................................... 13 1.3
Limitation of Research ........................................................................... 13 1.4
Greek Crisis - Situating Athens ............................................................... 14
1.5
Previous Studies on Wall Protest Language .......................................... 17 1.6
Previous Studies on Athenian Wall Writing ........................................... 17 1.7
Problem Definition ................................................................................. 20 1.8
Disposition ............................................................................................. 21 1.9
CHAPTER 2 Research Background .................................................... 22
Introduction ........................................................................................... 22 2.1
Street Slogans ........................................................................................ 22 2.2
Graffiti .................................................................................................... 23 2.3
2.3.1 The Evolution of Graffiti ................................................................. 23
2.3.2 Street Art Crews and Society .......................................................... 24
5
2.3.3 Graffiti: Art or vandalism ................................................................ 28
2.3.4 Graffiti Styles and Techniques ........................................................ 28
CHAPTER 3 Theoretical and Methodological Framework ................. 32
Visual Semiotics; an approach to reading Athenian Politicized Wall 3.1
Writings .................................................................................................. 32
Multimodal Discourse Analysis (MDA) .................................................. 33 3.2
Thematic Analysis .................................................................................. 35 3.3
Intertextual and Interdiscursive Interpretations ................................... 37
3.4
CHAPTER 4 Research Design ............................................................ 39
Introduction ........................................................................................... 39 4.1
Participant Observation - Photo Documentation .................................. 39 4.2
Semi-Structured Interviews / Sample .................................................... 40 4.3
Data Classification .................................................................................. 42 4.4
Applying the Theoretical and Methodological Framework ................... 43 4.5
Ethical Considerations............................................................................ 43 4.6
CHAPTER 5 Results and Discussion ................................................... 45
Introduction ........................................................................................... 45 5.1
Most Frequents Words / Word-Phrases ................................................ 45 5.2
Street Slogan Analysis ............................................................................ 49 5.3
5.3.1 Category “Bank” ............................................................................. 49
5.3.2 Category “Against Politicians-Bankers” .......................................... 55
5.3.3 Category “Greek Crisis Lexicon” ..................................................... 61
Wall Paintings - Graffiti Analysis ............................................................ 66 5.4
5.4.1 Category “Call for Action” .............................................................. 66
5.4.2 Category “fascism-nazism” ............................................................. 75
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5.4.3 Category “Freedom (Liberty) – Fear Hope” ................................. 80
Discussion of Intertextual References ................................................... 87 5.5
CHAPTER 6 Concluding Remarks and Further Research ................... 88
Introduction ........................................................................................... 88 6.1
Interpretation of results ........................................................................ 88 6.2
Answer to Research Questions: Combining Theory and Results ........... 89 6.3
Further Research .................................................................................... 91 6.4
References ...................................................................................... 92
Website List ...................................................................................... 97
Appendices ...................................................................................... 98
Appendix A Ethics Protocol ............................................................................ 98
Appendix B Interview Sources ........................................................................ 99
Appendix C Interview Schedule .................................................................... 100
Appendix D Access to the data corpus ......................................................... 101
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List of Figures
Figure 1 Fieldwork research in central Athens ................................................................. 15
Figure 2 I am tormented, Sturnari Street-Exarchia, Athens ............................................. 26
Figure 3 I am tormented, Gazi-Pireos Street, Athens ....................................................... 26
Figure 4 Wrong, SHOULD WE OPEN GOVERNMENTS?, Benaki Street-Exarchia, Athens . 27
Figure 5 YOUR SYSTEM IS Wrong, University of Athens, Panepistimiou Street, Athens .. 27
Figure 6 Example of Tagging, Mesologiou Street-Exarchia, Athens ................................. 29
Figure 7 Example of Poster-up, Spirou Trikoupi Street-Exarchia, Athens (street artist:
Absent) .............................................................................................................................. 30
Figure 8 Example of Stencil, ΨΗΦΟΣ ΣΕ ΚΑΝΕΝΑ - VOTE FOR NOBODY, Iera Odos Street,
Athens (street artist: Bleeps.gr) ........................................................................................ 31
Figure 9 BETTER PENNILESS WITH DRACHMA THAN SLAVES IN EURO, Ermou Street,
Athens ............................................................................................................................... 50
Figure 10 BURN A BANK YOO TOO; YOU CAN DO IT, Plaka, Athens ................................. 52
Figure 11 BURN THE BANKS, Panepistimiou Street, Athens ............................................. 52
Figure 12 FIRE TO THE BANKS, Solonos Street, Athens .................................................... 53
Figure 13 BANK OF BERLIN, Panepistimiou Street, Athens .............................................. 55
Figure 14 THE THIEVES ARE HERE, Stadiou Street-Omonoia Square, Athens .................. 56
Figure 15 THEY STEAL YOUR LIFE AND YOU GO TO VOTE THEM AND THEN YOU SIT ON
THE COUCH AND BELCH, Metaxourgeio, Athens .............................................................. 57
Figure 16 ROBB€RS: BANKS GOVERNMENT MONEY, Kerameikos, Athens ...................... 58
Figure 17 ONCE A THIEF, TWICE A THIEF; THIRD TIME A MINISTER, Metaxa Street-
Exarchia, Athens ................................................................................................................ 59
Figure 18 ROBBERS / CLASS AGAINST CLASS / MOLOTOV NOT LOANS…, Panepistimiou
Street, Athens ................................................................................................................... 60
Figure 19 TROIKA GET OUT, Panepistimiou Street, Athens .............................................. 61
Figure 20 NO TO FEAR, Athens ......................................................................................... 62
Figure 21 NO TO TERROR, Athens ..................................................................................... 63
Figure 22 WHERE IS MY DRACHMA?, Athens ................................................................... 64
Figure 23 MERRY CRISIS AND A HAPPY NEW FEAR, Sina Street, Athens .......................... 65
Figure 24 NAK€D CHRISTMAS!, Evripidou Street-Psiri, Athens (street artist: Bleeps.gr) . 67
Figure 25 WAKE UP, Psiri, Athens (street artist: Bleeps.gr) .............................................. 69
Figure 26 40 YEARS, Corner Theatrou square & Menandrou Street-Psiri, Athens (street
artist: Bleeps.gr) ................................................................................................................ 69
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Figure 27 WE LIVED OUR LIVES; WRONG· SO WE CHANGED OUR PATHWAY (LIVES),
Corner Konstantinoupoleos & Iera Odos Street-Kerameikos, Athens (street artist:
Bleeps.gr) .......................................................................................................................... 71
Figure 28 No, Panepistimiou Street, Athens ..................................................................... 74
Figure 29 N€IN, School of Fine Arts-Kallithea, Athens (street artist: N_Grams) .............. 74
Figure 30 I fought the fascists so that my grandchildren could bring them back,
Mesogeion Street, Athens (street artist: Mapet) ............................................................. 75
Figure 31 The only good fascist is a dead one, Tsamadou Street-Exarchia, Athens (street
artist: SX) ........................................................................................................................... 77
Figure 32 Crash THE FASCISTS, Kerameikou Street-Metaxourgeio, Athens (street artist:
SX) ..................................................................................................................................... 78
Figure 33 WE LIVE TOGETHER, WE WORK TOGETHER, LOCALS IMMIGRANTS CRASH THE
NAZIS, Corner Stournari & Zaimi Street-Exarchia, Athens ................................................ 79
Figure 34 ANTINAZIS OF MESOLONGIOU STREET, Mesolongiou Street-Exarchia, Athens
(street artist: NSK) ............................................................................................................. 79
Figure 35 I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, But I am a SLAVE, Benaki Street-Exarchia,
Athens (street artist: Bleeps.gr) ........................................................................................ 80
Figure 36 I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am free (Epigraph on the grave of N.
Kazantzakis in Heraklion, 1957) ........................................................................................ 81
Figure 37 FREEDOM-LIBERTY, Mesolongiou & Tzavella Street, Exarchia, Athens ............ 82
Figure 38 I WON’T PAY, I WON’T PAY, HAIL, O HAIL, LIBERTY, Panepistimio metro station,
Athens (street artist: NSK) ................................................................................................ 83
Figure 39 THEN THEY USED TANKS…NOW THEY USE BANKS, Spirou Trikoupi Street-
Exarchia, Athens (street artist: Cacao Rocks) ................................................................... 84
Figure 40 Hope WANTED, Kerameikos, Athens (street artist: Bleeps.gr) ......................... 85
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List of Tables
Table 1 Wall Writing Categories ....................................................................................... 43
Table 2 Political System .................................................................................................... 47
Table 3 Society and Politics ............................................................................................... 47
Table 4 Economic Terms ................................................................................................... 48
Table 5 Interview sources ................................................................................................. 99
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CHAPTER 1 Introduction
Introduction 1.1
This early exploratory study deals with wall writing forms (Felisbret 2009: 58)
including word-centric street slogans (“Political Stencil,” retrieved 2015/02/26) and
political graffiti in the center of Athens during the financial crisis period, considering
that graffiti, according to Lewisohn (2008) constitutes an extremely harsh visual
language (ibid: 55). To avoid any misunderstandings throughout this study, it is
worth defining from the beginning, what wall writing is based on Felisbret (2009).
Wall Writing is a highly organized culture. It has a clearly defined code
of ethics as well as ideas, motivations, and goals that dictate behavior
and aesthetics. The code is structured in a fashion that aids in the
growth and preservation of the culture (ibid: 58).
The online version of the Oxford English Dictionary (2005) defines graffiti as writings
or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a
public place and slogans as short and striking or memorable phrases associated with
political actions or movements (“OED”) .
In this study, I will present the scope, the motivation and the limitations of the
research. Furthermore, I will present my expectations, the research questions, the
methodological tools, and also the analysis of some indicative examples derived
from my corpus.
This study on socially politicized public writing includes both multilingual street
slogans as a unique type of literacy of mainly “anti-government content” as noted by
Kitis (2011: 2) and wall murals of unified text and image in the center of Athens,
during the crisis period. The definition of public writing as social and also politicized
is justified by the variety of wall posts in central Athens, which have an impact on
contemporary social structures and political ideologies. This means that the
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Athenian society should be approached as an ongoing altering area, which follows
the sociopolitical changeover.
This work examines the activity of wall writers expressing their thoughts on any
available surface, conveying underlined messages, which serve as channels for the
street artists’ voice. The definition of graffiti writers (graffitists) and street artists will
refer to the same group. It has been decided to share the same entity due to the
proximity of terms (at least for this study’s needs), even though there are
dissimilarities. It would be interesting to study the distinct names, but the study’s
scope, here, is the analysis of public writing from a multimodal perspective; either it
is supposed to be a street slogan, graffiti, or in other words, a wall painting.
Consequently, the message of wall writing is given either via text, in the case of
street slogans, or via the unity of a body text and a figure in the case of graffiti.
Simultaneously, this study explores the street art as a field of protest and
complaint, following the mind of street artist Exit.
Greek graffiti reverberates the current urban turmoil. A big city like
Athens without color and freedom of speech on public display is like a
busted city. (Interview with Exit, February 2015).
According to NSK, street art includes both street slogans and graffiti, constituting an
interesting form of the new generation’s expression.
Graffiti is generally a spray-paint activity with the aim of expressing
personal feelings and political statements. Street art includes spray-
painted murals, stickers, posters and stencils. Everything that is
placed on the street is considered street art. The spray can is your
voice! (Interview with NSK, February 2015).
Therefore, street art has become a dependent link of Athenian resistance,
constituting the call for reaction. According to the stencil street artist Tona the so
called “urban art” is an art form that got influenced mainly by the street art
movement (copying or rearranging the topics and aesthetics of street art).
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Urban writing is the call to fight back against all sorts of repressions.
In a world that often seems unfair, mean and brutal and people are
blinkered, my motivation is to confront this distorted perception, not
only with a dreamy, dynamic, sensual and emotional perspective but
also with a revolutionary praxis. (Interview with Tona, February 2015).
For the reasons outlined above, I decided to examine public wall writing in the city of
Athens, following the point of view of Kalogiannaki & Karras (2013), who consider
the wall language as a specific literary genre; not only dynamic, ironic and socially
politicized, but also colorful and multiform” (ibid: 12).
However, it’s also important to note that the investigation of this particular
urban genre deals with the discursive creativity of literary elements, as well as
literary quotations, thematic content related to the contemporary crisis, and
multiple semiotic modes.
Lastly, the choice of both street slogans and wall writings (graffiti), which have
been selected for this study as the data corpus, express certain political views. The
central Athens and especially the area that I took the pictures (i. e. Exarchia) are
mostly anarchist and left-wing thinking areas. Thus, it would be impossible to find
out wall writing protests expressing other political views.
Aim of Research 1.2
The research aims are to examine the wall writings from both linguistic and imagery
perspectives (Chmielewska 2007: 148), via sociolinguistic aspects. Applying a
multimodal approach, textual and pictorial matters will be explored through the
prism of recent crisis. More specifically, the analysis will be restricted to the textual
and visual “representational functions” (Gee 2014: 167) of the open dialogue as a
transmitting medium of the sociopolitical opposition during the period from 2008
until now (2015) in Athens. Gee (2014) defines the representational function, as
13
the idea that (visual) language connects directly and straightforwardly
(objectively) to the world out there” (re-presents it)…based on the
people’s lived experiences (ibid: 167).
Finally, this paper will provide evidence that the understanding of wall statements
(street slogans) and literary artifacts (graffiti) is a basis for comprehending the
dominant “urban political discourse, as defined by Kitis (2011: 55).
Motivation of Research 1.3
The motivation for this research project was not so much the artistic form of wall
paintings, but the linguistic content, as well as literary forms and modes, the
wordplay as a literary technique, and the freedom of thought. The street artists who
agreed to take part in this study assert that street art helps them to share their
thoughts with all those who pass accidentally in front of one of their works, and
express themselves through partly concealed linguistic features.
These facts outweigh the ephemeral nature of their projects, and based on the
theory of Franz Fanon (1967) “every human problem must be considered from the
stand-point of time (ibid: 14-15), the social researchers like the writer of this study
carried out the research in a distinct area, where sociopolitical changes occur.
Greece, and more particularly Athens, faces significant problems moving
forward, which give birth to the idea that if, some years later, somebody found what
was written on Athenian walls that would be their testimonial of the indignation and
sadness of our times. Nevertheless, I could only discover a small part of all those due
to the fact that they are inherently so alternating and mutable.
Limitation of Research 1.4
Given the limitations of this paper, it should be mentioned that it would be
impossible to document every political graffiti and street slogan and to interview
every street artist. Therefore, this paper excludes graffiti accompanied by text in
languages other than Greek or graffiti without any text at all. Nevertheless, for
14
avoiding any misunderstandings, it is important noting that some characteristic
pictures with text in English language have been included in this study. They concern
some indicative words (crisis, drachma), which have been introduced in the
contemporary vocabulary of crisis with some differences in their meaning.
Therefore, it has been deemed necessary to include these instances. Most of my
photographs are the outcome of sporadic urban roaming conducted from the 1st of
January until July 2015, even though there are some pictures derived either from
social media or from personal web pages of graffiti writers.
A second limitation is the ongoing nature of wall writing; the wall pieces are
constantly reproduced and repainted. Therefore, an important technique in this
research was to visit the same places in Athens several times.
Another limitation of this paper is regarding the metaphors conceived by the
combination of both linguistic and iconographic elements. Only some concrete parts
of the analysis refer to metaphor as a function of the applied multimodal approach.
The focal point is how wall writing conveys messages (either verbally or visually) and
ideas to the public, and thus the metaphor theory seems to be irrelevant for the aim
of this study.
Greek Crisis - Situating Athens 1.5
Before I continue describing the perspectives of this work, I assume that it would be
effective to briefly address the general crisis
1
outline according to Giovanopoulos
(2011), such as the causes, the effects, and the reflections of Greek society (cf.
Alogoskoufis 2012; Giovanopoulos 2011; Kyriakopoulos 2012; Matsaganis 2013).
The scope of this study does not allow a description in detail of the crisis.
Therefore, for a better understanding of what is called crisis and how it has
influenced the Greek economy, the political stability, and subsequently the social
structures, the aforesaid studies are highly recommended.
However, how and why the crisis is interconnected to urban protest language on
the walls? Based on Matsaganis (2013: 34), the crisis of the contemporary political
1
It is worthwhile to cite what exactly crisis means and also the word’s originality from the Greek.
“…even if the colloquial meaning of the word suggests a downfall, in its original (Greek) meaning…the
notion of crisis may also imply a moment of rapid change…”
15
system, characterized as the failure of politics to address the needs and demands of
citizens, has strongly affected social structures. Therefore, the political instability and
the insecurity of citizens lead not only to peaceful mass manifestations of protests in
traffic areas (areas with high visibility for slogan writing) such as Panepistimiou and
Stadiou Streets, but also to riots and continuous strike actions. The International
Troika, consisted of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Union (EU)
nations and the European Central Bank (ECB) have agreed on bailout packages for
Greece (Goutsos & Polymeneas 2014: 683; Matsaganis 2013: 4). Afterwards, the
reduction of incomes was unexpectedly announced, and thousands of Greek citizens
came out in the streets in order to share their collective frustration (Matsaganis
2013: 5-6).
For the purpose of the analysis, the following map displays the fieldwork
research area in central Athens in a perimeter of about twelve kilometers.
Figure 1 Fieldwork research in central Athens
16
The street artist, Yiakou, claims that the financial crisis has created a new kind of
urban wall writing, as a form of “outcry communication” in Athenian districts, one
that is more artistic.
The street art is a form of communication that meets the receiver
(public) without the creator (transmitter). You are painting in a public
spot, because you are waiting for the answer from the social chain.
Well, this form of outcry communication is such a dynamic agent that
can awake emotions and hidden thoughts. (Interview with Yiakou,
February 2015).
More particularly, I will focus on political wall writing as a communication channel in
the center of Athens, as defined by Avramides (2012: 1), where the recent urban
turmoil has led to a new artistic language of disillusionment against Greek reality.
WD and Exit explain their motivation to reconstruct the Athenian walls, admitting
that the crisis has influenced their art in a direct way.
Athens is characterized by a sweet chaos that makes her so vivid! I
love this kind of chaos because it gives me unexpectable inspiration.
(Interview with WD, February 2015).
Wall-fever has become apocalyptic, reflecting the heartbeat of a
boiling city. (Interview with Exit, February 2015)
As the crisis in Athens continues, the quantitative growth of street art works
motivates new researchers to capture the visual-lingual messages on the streets. The
street artist, Yiakou, explains why his activity is mainly based on emotional freedom.
The economic crisis does not make you poor in emotions, unless you
have a poor mind. However, if crisis causes negative thoughts or
feelings as anxiety, fear, and depression; then I will be there in order
to speak emotionally! (Interview with Yiakou, February 2015).
17
Previous Studies on Wall Protest Language 1.6
Three case-studies in the context of the boom of graffiti
2
constitutive of text
analysis (Fairclough and Wodak 1997: 276) during hard social times have
contributed to the investigation process of this paper. Both studied the universality
of graffiti’s impact on society.
The first two cases, “Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics” (Gröndahl
2009) and “Revolution Graffiti: Street Art of the New Egypt” (Gröndahl 2012)
comprised an extended collection of wall protest messages that have been published
by the Swedish writer and photographer Mia Gröndahl. Interviews with some local
Gaza and Egyptian street artists were conducted.
The third study “Moscow Graffiti: Language and Subculture (Bushnell 1990) is a
cultural linguistic project dealing with the interpretation of the walls of Moscow. It
supports the idea that contemporary sociopolitical rebellious changes give birth to
graffiti painting.
Previous Studies on Athenian Wall Writing 1.7
This subchapter attempts to look at the previous studies around the subject of
Athenian street art. Even though, somewhat tardily, Greece has produced a few
scholarly papers on the subject, it is noteworthy that increasing interest has been
focused on graffiti and street art.
One example is Zaimakiss (2013) sociological study of graffiti “Η ετερογλωσσία
του γκράφιτι στην ποιοτική έρευνα: μεθοδολογικές διασταυρώσεις σε ανοίκειους
κοινωνικούς κόσμους.” Zaimakis’s approach according to the Heteroglossia term
follows.
The heteroglossia of graffiti in qualitative research: methodological
intersections in unfamiliar social worlds. Zaimakis explains that
heteroglossia is what insures the primacy of context (urban Athenian
environment) over text (wall writing)…At any given time, in any given
2
Except for these three studies, several academic articles and publications (including PhD and
Master’s theses) have dealt with the urban writing phenomenon from different perspectives around
the world.
18
place, there will be a set of social and economic circumstances that
will insure that a word uttered in that place and at that time will have
a different meaning than it would have under any other conditions
(ibid: 2013).
Zaimakis suggests that we should examine the types of subcultures that have been
developed mostly by young people in their quest to find an audience - suitable for
their political voices, and their communication practices. The definition and meaning
of subculture, as it is given by Hebdige (1979)
includes the expressive forms and rituals of those subordinate groups
[] the meaning of subculture is, then, always in dispute, and style is
the area in which the opposing definitions clash with most dramatic
force (ibid: 2-3).
In short, subculture is connected with political antithesis and resistance against state
institutions. This paper uses an analytical framework based on the combination of
mainly qualitative methodologies focused on: the semiotic analysis of pictorial and
linguistic decoding of graffiti, the context of each piece, and the social processes
behind them.
Another researcher of this political subculture discourse is Kitis (2011), who in his
article entitled “Street slogans: a specialized genre” analyzes wall slogans captured in
the Thessaloniki area, as the most dominant characteristic of Greek urban landscape.
Kitis, using a quantitative analysis, verified his main hypothesis; street slogans
constitute a distinct genre with anarchist content, often produced during mass riots
in traffic areas.
Moving forward, Tsoumas with his paper The aesthetic impact of graffiti art on
modern Greek urban landscape (2011) discusses about the graffiti practice from
architectural perspectives not only as a collective action, but also as a new way of
public decoration.
Yet another architectural researcher is Avramides (2012); his paper “'Live your
Greece in Myths': Reading the Crisis on Athens' walls” reflects the idea that the
19
politicized urban art on Athenian walls functions as a creative testimony for later
generations reconstructing the whole Athenian urban environment.
Tsilimpounidi, in her doctoral thesis, “Remapping Athens: An Analysis of Urban
Cosmopolitan Milieus” (2012) and also via the collective recent study (2014)
“Remapping 'Crisis': A Guide to Athens, approaches the street art scene
sociologically, including, not only the wall statements and artworks as physical
markers of social place, but also the multiple projects in Athenian space organized by
local authorities and artists (music concerts, filmic/photographic exhibitions) and
urban manifestations. This work provides a critical perspective of protest and
sociopolitical actions in contemporary Athenian capital, focusing on its streets.
Several authors examine the Athenian urban writing story during the crisis from
different views (architecturally, historically, and sociologically). Based on the editors
Tsilimpounidi and Walsh (2014) “…its scope allows for contributors to engage with
empirical details that testify to the lived reality of life in a state of crisis” (ibid: 9).
Furthermore, Tsilimpounidi (2015) publishes a paper entitled “If These Walls
Could Talk”: Street Art and Urban Belonging in the Athens of Crisis, as a continuation
study of her PhD thesis. Her perspective in this work is again sociological and focused
on the new urbanism aesthetics. To cite her quotes: “Political street art…subversive
imagining on the walls…directly challenges the inevitability of capitalist ideology
(ibid: 33).
Later on, Tulke (2013) conducts an ethnographic research project, “Aesthetics of
Crisis,” based on the artistic code of Athenian street art. She investigated the
crossing of urban theory and visual-iconographic culture.
Lastly, Leventis (2014) publishes his study “Walls of Crisis: Street Art and Urban
Fabric in Central Athens, 2000-2012.” The paper checks thoroughly the production
and the continuation of the urban art fabric of Athens from 2000 to 2012, through
the 2004 Olympic Games, proposing that the respective sociopolitical and financial
stress influence the socio-urban landscapes, at least from an architect’s perspective.
The foregoing projects have focused mainly on the crisis in Greece, and have
unquestionably played a significant role in influencing my decision to write this
thesis exploring the sociolinguistic implications of the crisis on Athenian urban
semioscape.
20
However, as I continued my literature review, I found that no previous studies have
examined the issue of Athenian wall writing protests during the crisis from a
sociolinguistic multimodal appeal. Therefore, even though it is crucial to recognize
the previous studies conducted as useful data for the present study, this research
project opens new paths into an unexplored area of the Athenian case.
Problem Definition 1.8
For as much as this work is a case research, no specific upshots or proper hypotheses
are preoccupied, apart from a general expectation that “wall writing expresses
sociopolitical messages through the visual and verbal code.”
Main Research Question: As a primary research question, I examine what the graffiti
and slogan phrases seen during the crisis on Athenian walls mean, and how the
messages are conveyed in them.
In order to answer this question, this study addresses the following three subsidiary
research questions, which aim at clarifying the research topic.
Subsidiary Questions:
What message do street artists and youth groups intend to pass on to Greek
society via text and image?
What is the main thematic content and what are the contextualized
interpretations of it?
Are any intertextual sources derived from Greek history, traditional culture,
oral poetry or literature used?
The nature of my research questions is strongly related to my aforementioned
expectation in terms of the influence of distinct sociocultural issues, particular
language usage, symbols, political ideals and beliefs based on current Greek reality.
Hence, semiotics and multimodal discourse analysis have been selected as the main
theoretical framework to analyze the slogans, graffiti forms, colors and lettering, but
21
also situated meanings (Gee 2014: 185) embedded in the Greek street subculture,
depending on the sociopolitical occasions and also on the given sociocultural models
(ibid: 185-186).
Ultimately, it is to be hoped that the research findings of this MA thesis
contribute to the body of knowledge surrounding the Greek graffiti language of the
crisis. More precisely, the research hypothesis is going to be displayed in the last
concluding chapter of this study, after the analysis (results section), functioning as a
basis for future research in this field.
Disposition 1.9
This work consists of six parts.
Chapter 2 presents the graffiti origin and evolution and the description of street
slogans as certain urban discourse.
Chapter 3 examines the theoretical and methodological framework of this study.
Chapter 4 focuses on data gathering tools and research design.
Chapter 5 is devoted to the in-depth analysis, which examines the instances of
wall writings during the current sociopolitical situation in Greece by focusing on the
period of crisis. The selected examples for the analysis part are investigated in terms
of linguistic and visual features. A discussion of the wall writing protests in Athens
through the intertextual references is also presented.
Chapter 6 is composed of some concluding considerations and prospects for
possible future paths in this field.
22
CHAPTER 2 Research Background
Introduction 2.1
In this chapter I will proceed to the definition of both types of urban writing. It
should be highlighted that forms of wall writing, as noted by Avramides (2012), are
created by different people, in different landscapes, for different purposes and
under different conditions (ibid: 6). Therefore, the task of public writing developed
nowadays in Greece is spread around via the following means: a) street slogans
(verbal) and b) wall paintings and graffiti (verbovisual). It is important to clarify that
the street slogan writers (Greek youth protesters) write slogans on the walls
especially during demonstrations, whereas graffiti writers (or street artists) try to
communicate their conceptions throughout their art. Thereafter, the overview of the
theoretical background will follow.
Street Slogans 2.2
Kitis (2011) suggested that street slogans constitute a mode of communication based
on a “visually riotous poetry (ibid: 54) with an individual dynamism (ibid: 56). It is
considered a type of graffiti, with mainly written language, with no attention paid to
the form. They have mainly anti-state political content (ibid: 53-54), and they have
some affinity with sociopolitical graffiti. According to Sidtis (2004) they are
characterized by stereotypical traits (ibid: 5), trying to communicate with the wider
public as shared protest. Thereby, it isn’t clear if they are individual or collective
actions, even if it is broadly known that their authors-creators support a collective
identity.
In addition, Kitis (2011) proposed that the slogan-writers are concerned to show
an anarchistic identity (ibid: 63, 66), transmitting collective visions directly to the
passersby. According to their linguistic form, predominantly Standard Modern Greek
is used in Athenian slogans and thus they can be understood by Greek standard
speakers. Besides, it should be underlined that either common slang terms, or words
derived by Katharevousa, the “purist” form of Modern Greek are used.
23
Graffiti 2.3
Graffiti is supposed to be the inscription of text, as signs or the paintings in surfaces
where they are usually found in public spaces, as the walls. Felisbret (2009) defines
the graffiti phenomenon as follows:
Graffiti international phenomenon is a largely illegal movement;
extremely controversial and misunderstood…Practitioners of graffiti
refer to the art form simply as writing and to themselves as writers.
Graffiti is considered a derogatory and inappropriate media-imposed
label that carries a great deal of stigma and prejudice, as the root of
the word means to scratch or scrawl… (ibid: 6-7).
Etymologically, according to DeNotto (2014), graffiti is derived from the Italian word
“graffiti, which refers to artworks originating from the artist’s attempt to draw
shapes, political figures, symbols, and catchy letterings into a city surface (ibid: 208).
2.3.1 The Evolution of Graffiti
Worldwide, from ancient to modern times, the form and content of
graffiti remained remarkably unchanged until the mid-1960s, when
much larger-scale graffiti began appearing in Philadelphia (Ley and
Cybriwsky 1974: 491 in Stewart 2009).
The form of current sociopolitical graffiti was born in 1960s New York (ProQuest
Historical Newspapers, The New York Times,” n.d., Taki 183 Spawns Pen Pals, Jul 21,
1971, retrieved 2015/08/09). The American political activists became ambassadors
of the urban iconography, coupled with local gangs and immigrants, who adopted it
as an expressed reaction in the urban scriptural landscape. Hebdige (1979) argued
that the official authorities declared the graffiti as illegal, because of its relation to
24
ghetto districts and gangs, while simultaneously the critics of art began recognizing it
as a new form of literary avant-garde art (ibid: 27).
In addition, a long tradition of inscription-sign style graffiti could be found in
Greece. According to Tsoumas (2011: 18), the graffiti sign took the form of resistance
in occupied Greece 1939-1945, in the postwar period and particularly in the
dictatorial seven-year period 1967-1974 (Dimaras 1981). Thereby, the era of political
changeover was characterized by political signs and slogans, featuring a
multidimensional meaning with strongly anti-authoritarian overtones.
In consequence, graffiti in connection with the movement presented in New
York, was propagated in Greece in closed groups, initiating from the Greek group
TerrorXCrew that created the first graffiti between 1989 and 1990 (Tsoumas 2011).
Today, according to Tsoumas (2011), the omnipresence of sociopolitical graffiti in
Athens has contributed to the development of an alternative aesthetic to urban
politics, via the significance of bold political quotes with anti-memorandum content.
With increasing intensity, the last seven years in Greece have seen new paths
opened in the direction of free expression and creation on city surfaces.
2.3.2 Street Art Crews and Society
The members of the Athenian street art writing community, who participated in the
ongoing research project, as WD and Yiakou in the following interview quotes,
believe that presenting their works in the active environments and sharing their
artistic vision with the social change of the current period, is the best way to gain
audience for their ideas, opinions and thoughts. The graffiti also acts as a rebellion
against an anonymity that affects large cities.
As a part of the Greek reality, I cannot, and I do not want to
ignore what is happening in the society through all these years of
austerity. The increase of poverty, the increase of homeless people,
the increase of unemployment, the increase of suicides, the rise of a
neo-nazi party, I just can't close my eyes... When you walk in the
city and see the people's desperation, anger or depression, then you
25
can't go and paint a blue sky or a beautiful beach, like the campaign
Live your myth in Greece. Most of my works are inspired by social
phenomena such as poverty, unemployment, injustice. (Interview
with WD, February 2015).
The truth is that people who paint on the walls are characterized by
their nature with spirit of reaction and release. In general, there are
many anti-fascist messages, poverty and war images. (Interview with
Yiakou, February 2015).
Some graffiti phrases are generally short and concise but there are some others
using only one word like βασανίζομαι meaning I am tormented or λάθως meaning
wrong, which is repeatedly found in many ways and in many different places in
Athens (Figures 2, 3, 4, and 5). The graffiti crew names βασανίζομαι and λάθως are
considered as the most interactive artworks during the recent years, not only as
dense expressions of diffuse collective dysthymia but also as an expression of a
philosophical standpoint.
It is worth analyzing this intentionally misspelled word λάθως-wrong. The λάθως
is a wall movement; it is a form of reaction to everything that they were told they
should not do because it is wrong. The Greek translation of the English word wrong
is λάθος (noun). Nevertheless, they prefer to write it in a slightly different way, as
λάθως, which in the Greek language refers to the grammatical category of adverbs
of manner. From the ongoing conversations with the graffiti crew members, the
following explanation could be drawn; the adverbs of manner indicate how the
energy denotes the verb. So, graffiti denote action; energy to be active, with the
ironical misspelling.
Most of the Athenian graffiti artists clearly seek to combine their art with
propaganda techniques, as NSK clearly admits. So, the graffiti artist’s job is mostly to
pass the hidden political message out, and to make their presence visible.
New messages are written on Athenian walls every single day,
replacing the old ones. Graffiti applying mostly propaganda
26
techniques has been the indication of the political situation in Athens.
(Interview with NSK, February 2015).
Both crew names, βασανίζομαι and λάθως, describe the torment of the Greek
people and the wrong-ness in their present lives. Both statements enlist the help of
the Greek language to cause discomfort, in most cases through the dissemination of
socio-political propaganda. A study of these words proves that all wall statements
are designed and executed by the same group of people, even though there are
some changes in handwriting. They are repeated in the same place, which means
that this is a way to promote propaganda directly against the Greek state.
Figure 2 I am tormented, Sturnari Street-Exarchia, Athens
“Βασανίζομαι…”
“Vasanizome…”
“I am tormented…”
Figure 3 I am tormented, Gazi-Pireos Street, Athens
“Βασανίζομαι…”
27
“Vasanizome…”
“I am tormented…”
Figure 4 Wrong, SHOULD WE OPEN GOVERNMENTS?, Benaki Street-Exarchia, Athens
“Λάθως, SHOULD WE OPEN GOVERNMENTS?
Lathos, SHOULD WE OPEN GOVERNMENTS?
Wrong, SHOULD WE OPEN GOVERNMENTS?
Figure 5 YOUR SYSTEM IS Wrong, University of Athens, Panepistimiou Street, Athens
“Λάθως ΕΙΝΑΙ ΤΟ ΣΥΣΤΗΜΑ ΣΑΣ ”
“Lathos INE TO SISTIMA SAS”
YOUR SYSTEM IS Wrong
28
2.3.3 Graffiti: Art or vandalism
Concerning the role and the importance of graffiti, opinions vary. Felisbret (2009)
argues that for some it constitutes a phenomenon of creation as an appreciable
work of art, and for others a phenomenon of destruction and desecration of public
property (ibid: 13).
As can be extracted from my personal experiences during fieldwork in Athens,
there are a number of people who view graffiti positively, who see it as avant-garde
art, and as a form of direct expression of sentiments and political ideals. For them, it
is considered a culture of the street, opposed to color monotony and to the grey
background of ideological construction of space,” (Hodge and Kress 1993: 212) that
is present in Athens. Those who see graffiti with suspiciousness consider it to be an
expression of marginalized social groups and often they characterize it as art through
vandalism, according to Stewart (2008), and also as a fold of subculture (ibid: 89),
while on the contrary, leading critics of art characterize graffiti as an important
artistic creation , according to Hebdige (1979: 64).
Nowadays, graffiti is made by various social groups of people and serve several
social needs expressing different social interests, which should be studied in a wider
sociopolitical and ideological but also sociolinguistic frame (ibid: 13). For most
people graffiti constitutes the global youth language (ibid: 14-16), which reflects
changes in the society.
2.3.4 Graffiti Styles and Techniques
As I observed, while techniques vary from person to person, most graffiti artists use
standard spray cans to broadcast their message. According to the artists’ experience,
these materials give the possibility for greater speed in the implementation because
graffiti most times are considered illegal (as aforesaid in Section 2.3.1).
For the creation of graffiti, the graffiti (street) artist will have to select a
nickname, referred to as a tag (Graffiti Glossary 2012) and experiment him/herself
with a preliminary draft on a paper. In other words, the artist makes the first lines of
the selected drawing with bright colors and continues adding the basic colors for the
29
fill-in. With a darker color, from fill-in colors, the artist stresses outlines, which is the
most important process. Finally, the graffiti artists give depth (3D) and create a
background, giving more volume to the graffiti. In graffiti the signature is small and
can be either in the drawing or under the drawing in the edge. The tag can also be
created independently of the existence of graffiti.
3
When a signature or graffiti
overlaps the work of another, it is called tagging. They can be seen especially on
walls with tags and graffiti, which have been destroyed by the passage of time.
However, it is worth clarifying that my knowledge about urban (graffiti) culture
derived mainly from my participation in some of the most active street art crews in
Athens (βασανίζομαι, λάθως). The conducted interviews reveal that the members of
the urban writing community respect each other and avoid repainting the works of
other artists. Nevertheless, they usually repaint or rewrite quotations or artifacts on
worn walls and public surfaces, which have already been destroyed due to external
conditions or anarchist quotes.
Figure 6 Example of Tagging, Mesologiou Street-Exarchia, Athens
Consequently, the paste-up (poster is the technique to create big printable stickers)
and stencil technique have become very popular in this space. The stencil creators
print their work, then they plasticize it and cut it. Afterwards, they paint it onto
public place. Both techniques are used for the production of artifacts on any
available surface in order to generate new visual protest representations. The
3
The specific information about graffiti styles and techniques comes directly from the ongoing
observation during the fieldwork process in Athens.
30
following are indicative examples of aesthetically new arts detected in central
Athens:
Figure 7 Example of Poster-up, Spirou Trikoupi Street-Exarchia, Athens (street artist: Absent)
This poster vividly presents Greek national symbols and the Euro currency as a
bomb. According to its creator, Absent, it expresses the untamed spirit of Greek
people referring to the Greek War of Independence of 1821 against the Turks and
the historical past of Greece. The euro currency symbol of the monetary union is
presented as a lit Molotov cocktail. As shown, the image of Theodoros Kolokotronis
comes; the immortal symbol of the Greek nation as the hero of the Greek Revolution
of 1821.
31
Figure 8 Example of Stencil, ΨΗΦΟΣ ΣΕ ΚΑΝΕΝΑ - VOTE FOR NOBODY, Iera Odos Street, Athens
(street artist: Bleeps.gr)
This stencil is inspired by the ancient Greek culture. Bleeps.gr applies the well-known
symbols such as this ancient Greek monument. Again, the historical past of classical
antiquity with the cultural ideals is reconceptualized and interconnected with the
Greek present. The meaning of this artwork is specified by the subsequent textual
content on the placard “VOTE FOR NOBODY,” which is addressed to all Athenian
voters.
32
CHAPTER 3 Theoretical and Methodological Framework
Visual Semiotics; an approach to reading Athenian Politicized Wall 3.1
Writings
Visual semiotics, as defined by Kress and van Leeuwen (1996), in Reading Images:
The Grammar of Visual Design; is referred to as the study and the analysis of
conventional meanings produced by images. The scholars propose a practical
conceptualization about the interpretation of visual images, providing evidence that
visual images, in our case graffiti and street slogans, have their own “semantics,
syntax, and unique grammar expressing messages of great complexity (ibid: 34).
In addition, the social and visual semiotic principles have been chosen in order to
decode the special linguistic nuances of the Athenian urban landscape including
symbols and signs. So, it should be understood that the semiotic analysis serves to
illustrate how meaning is conveyed and generated by texts and artifacts in relation
to the urban sphere. It is obvious, from what has been said so far, that the focus on
iconographic messages does not mean that the verbal text is not substantial
compared to wall paintings. Based on Lester (2011: 142-143) the most effective
messages are united with words and pictures equally. This strengthens the opinion
that nothing written or painted on the wall exists in isolation from the specific
environment, implying that they are social processes interconnected through the
cultural bonds of society (Lefebvre 1977: 63 in Tsilimpounidi 2012: 23). Thus, visual
semiotics examines signs and symbols as physical markers of experiences, and ideas
as representative images, which take the form of a word, a picture or an object
(Jacobson 1960: 358-359).
Based on Barthes (1971) in Hebdige (1979: 100), images are complex
articulations of specific codes and practices,” which means that the study of
representation of meanings depends on deliberate strategies. To make matters
more concrete, referring to Saussure's theories (1983), the linguistic sign is divided
into two parts, “the signifier and the signified” (ibid: 67). The signifier is designated
as a meaningful mental image or word and the signified refers to the meaning
(broader concept) of the idea it represents. Kress and van Leeuwen (2006: 6-8), on
33
the other hand, define these terms as “form and meaning,” respectively. As can be
easily extracted, signifier and signified” or “form and meaning” with different words
cannot be separated, because both constitute strongly dependent constituents of
the same sign entity. Besides, they do not necessarily mean or represent the same
notion in every place. Because of this, the meaning of a sign is defined by its synergy
with an object and other sign systems within a particular society in order to be
interpreted by the public.
In short, when someone gives a meaning to an object, their experiences and
ideas are organized into that sign system, revealing what they know about it.
Therefore, in order to understand and gain insight into the Greek society, any
symbols and particular signs as well as the current sociopolitical process must be
examined. Obviously, by scanning the living semiotic Athenian landscape as a text,
contact with the particular coding systems is established in order to be able to
decode its multiple sociosymbolic meanings.
Multimodal Discourse Analysis (MDA) 3.2
Multimodal Discourse Analysis (MDA) is considered an important part of the broader
concept of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). According to Fairclough and Wodak
(1997), CDA functions as a framework for orderly connecting the discourse modes
with the sociocultural and political models. However, the multisemiotic analytical
frame is a useful medium to determine meaning constructed not only by verbal
discourse modes but also by numerous semiotic resources” (Halliday 1978 in
O'Halloran 2008: 444). Van Leeuwen (2005: 281) shows that “multimodality is the
combination of different semiotic modes in a communicative artefact or event.”
O'Halloran’s volume (2008) inspirated by Halliday (1978) explores the laminated
form of meaning-making across several modes of communication Gaze, Color,
Shape, Movement, Framing, Layout, and Lighting (ibid: 461) and their special
usage and pragmatic interactive process with the sociocultural bound context within
the society in which they occur (Kress & van Leeuwen 1996: 2). Thus, the concept of
multimodality is surely the most important part of the semiotic environment in
which humans live and act and constitutes a semiotic activity, which produces and
34
reproduces possible symbolic meanings (cf. Kress & van Leeuwen 2006: 35;
O'Halloran 2008: 442,461).
Furthermore, Kress and van Leeuwen (1996) pursue their theory underlining the
juxtaposition between the “context of production and the context of reception,”
acknowledging the semiotic resources which contribute to the understanding and
decoding of any sociocultural and political synergies. In particular, the model of the
scholars’ Hodge and Kress (1988) is emerged from the Hallidayan theoretical
framework of “social semiotics” (ibid: 261) about the systemic functional grammar
(cf. Halliday 1978; O'Halloran 2011). The systemic functional grammar, based on
Halliday (2003), constitutes the basic rules considering the decoding of meaning of
any verbal text (Kress and van Leeuwen 2006: 42). Halliday (2003) introduced three
accurate functions and defined them as metafunctions: ideational, interpersonal,
and textual.” Kress and van Leeuwen (2006), inspirated by Halliday’s framework,
applied their theoretical construction, handling the following three criteria (ibid: 42-
44), which constitute the main pillars of the analysis of this study:
1. Visual representation: This first level of ideational metafunctions of analysis
concerns what artistic practices are apparent in graffiti and slogan images.
2. Representation and interaction: The analysis of interpersonal metafunctions
focuses on various “non-verbal perspectives of interaction semiotic,
multimodal, visual;” (Wodak & Meyer 2008: 2), characteristics of
sociopolitical references (sings/symbols), lighting, style and color are
provided. Salience and framing as tools of spatial formation of message are
also described in detail. Salience could be realized as the size of the image /
figure or the specific color application. Framing could be realized as the frame
lines to emphasize distinct imagery and iconographic features.
3. Representation and textual design: The analysis of textual metafunctions
focuses on the meaning organization in a piece of wall writing. It investigates
any grammatical, lexical, semantic, or typographical features of the verbal
text.
Person, number, tense
Size of verbal text
35
Size of letters and style
Intertextuality: poems, extracts, idioms, well-known stereotypical
phrases, and word-games
Use of punctuation marks
The “Grammar of Visual Design” introduced by Kress and van Leeuwen (2006) proves
that the images are constructed through a multiplicity of elements, which can be
split up during the process of meaning-making in order to form complex meaningful
symbolisms (ibid: 42-44). Therefore, it is obvious that the meaning of visual
representations comes from the synthesis of different varied visual and textual
characteristics and the “message is independently organized and structured” (ibid:
18) by both image and verbal text. The aforesaid criteria imported by Kress and van
Leeuwen (ibid: 42-44) constitute the proposed formula for the reconstruction and
decoding of any modalities and semiotic representations.
Complementarily, critical discourse analysis (CDA) of the political environment,
based on Wodak & Meyer (2008: 9), affirms visual signs and textual elements
indicating that the “language usage with power and control” investigates multiple
social conditions and political actions (ibid: 2). Broadly speaking, I have decided to
apply primarily MDA in the analysis because multimodality validates a more
objective and clear comprehension of visual symbols and cues.
Thematic Analysis 3.3
Thematic analysis, as defined by Boyatzis (1998) in Braun & Clarke (2006: 5) and
other scholars, is a form of both analytic and flexible qualitative method, which
performs the analysis of quotations (street slogans) and images accompanied by text
(wall paintings/graffiti) data that are linked by frequent theme or ideas
widespread patterns allowing me to classify this kind of visual text into categories.
Through its theoretical freedom, thematic analysis provides a flexible and useful
research tool, which can potentially provide a rich and detailed, yet complex account
of data (ibid: 5). The terms “data” and “patterns” have been found in Braun &
Clarke (2006).
36
Similarly, based on Holloway & Todres (2003) in Braun & Clarke (2006), the thematic
analytic framework is considered the main tool for qualitative clarification. They
determine that “thematizing meanings” is a way of collecting similar thematic codes
to relevant groups of meaning, as this paper on the analysis of wall writing
categories demonstrates (See Table 1 Wall Writing Categories).
To make this more concrete: the scope of the thematic analysis of this essay of
urban discourse illustrates its thematic content and provides coherence to the study.
It is necessary to clarify the following issue; both street slogan writers and graffiti
writers are sharing common concerns. Therefore, throughout my field work
experience and also the photographic survey, it should be asserted that the thematic
patterns can overlap. Thus, even though in this study the data corpus is distinguished
into thematic categories in order to be able to examine the content and the
contextual meanings of some characteristic examples of public writing, the dividing
lines between the categories are avowedly not completely noticeable. The material
discrimination is based on the word and thematic motif frequency. Due to the
limitation of space, five instances per thematic category (key themes) will be
examined in this paper (fifteen instances per data subset). As Day (1993) argues
the important point is that our analysis throughout should be animated
by an endeavor to identify and develop key themes and features, to
which all the individual details of analysis can be related. We need to set
boundaries or we can easily get lost in the mass of data (ibid: 76).
Following Tsilimpounidi (2012: 78), the reason that I did not apply an automatic
thematic coding on my data corpus, as complex data analysis software, is that my
main objective was to be in continuous contact and interaction with my data; several
times I needed to change the certain thematic categories depending on my analysis
route and the growing data corpus. Therefore, I made the decision to define the
precise deadline of my fieldwork for this paper. The time limit was set to July 2015,
even though new wall projects and street slogans are constantly added to my
photographic corpus.
37
Hence, my main purpose for conducting this thematic analysis in an inductive way
according to Frith & Gleeson (2004) in Braun & Clarke (2006: 12, 17) was not only the
possibility to categorize my data into groups of themes, such as socio-political
(fascism, future, hope, poverty, racism, social alienation), economic, or even anti-
state, but also to investigate my visual material in-depth. It is quite important to
highlight the difficulty in distinguishing the social from the political thematic content
due to their complementarity in issues adapted not only to social but also to political
contemporary circumstances.
Intertextual and Interdiscursive Interpretations 3.4
To answer the third research question about the intertextual resources, it seems
important to clarify that traditions play an important role among people who live
inside and outside the borders of that culture. Along these lines, this study deals
with the figurative lexicon specific for the Greek crisis used in the urban scenery of
Athens in recent years. Cultural, historical, traditional and other social features
including typical or not symbols are being considered significant factors, which
influence the expansion of contemporary urban writing, as it is admitted by
Bleeps.gr.
Since the economic crisis I have created a series of works related to
the credit crunch, but not as a straight commentary. I prefer to create
allegorical images, borrowing from historical events similar to the
ones in the present, philosophical researches, poetry and quotes
which I alter usually to create an obscure meaning; my aim is to link
the present with the past somehow. Always the past can teach us and
drives us in the future. (Interview with Bleeps.gr, March 2015).
The use of color plays a crucial role in graffiti paintings. According to Danesi (2004:
75) “colors are, in effect, signs that we can use to represent whatever we deem
appropriate.” Remarkably, colors bear a lot of symbolic sense and, can therefore be
interpreted in many various ways.
38
For instance, the color red can be interpreted either as a symbol of battle/
fighting/protest/war or intensity/strength/vitality. Red and black colors are usually
found in the Athenian landscape and are exploited to convey rebellious and riotous
conceptions together with descriptive logos or signs (e.g. an enclosed A for
anarchists) and colors (e.g. red for leftist groups or the combination of black and red
signifying anarchism).
In the light of the above, Kress & van Leeuwen (2006) suggest that colors and
forms might be said to acquire different meanings within different sociocultural
contexts “…color clearly can be used to denote people, places and things as well as
classes of people, places and things…” (ibid: 229). The social groups, based on the
scholars (ibid: 229), share prevailing ideas and thoughts around the color issue in
order to express visual and linguistic representations. For example, blue and white
colors in Greek culture represent national Greek symbols like the Greek flag, as
noted by Berlin & Kay (1969) in Davies (2006: 6). Hence, it becomes clear that wall
writers/painters use colors to highlight and describe ideas, to communicate in a
code.
39
CHAPTER 4 Research Design
Introduction 4.1
This chapter aims to describe the data gathering tools. During the time of conducting
the study I lived in Athens, collecting data for my MA thesis in various contexts in the
local society. I used a methodological approach, which includes participant
observation, photo documentation and semi-structured interviews (Litosseliti 2010:
158) with urban street artists. Interviews have been carried out only with the street
artists (graffitists), not with the street slogan writers. The conducted interviews were
undertaken to gain a better understanding of issues that could not be completely
comprehended from the photographic corpus alone. Mainly the qualitative empirical
approach has been used, as my main focus is to qualitatively describe and analyze
what kind of linguistic trends occur in Athenian urban writing. Thus, the study is a
case study, and it would not be possible to come to universal principles, as stated at
the outset.
Participant Observation - Photo Documentation
4.2
For collecting authentic visual data that reflect the wall writing usage of Athenian
scene, the initial methodological tool for running this study was participant
observation, since it serves to create an in-depth understanding of what street art
means. Participant observation of this study was held occasionally from mid-January
until mid-March 2015, in different environments. Being an active participant-
member of the groups gave me the opportunity to decipher and explain the reasons
why they transform the walls into a sociopolitical magazine.
I work a lot, for the people that spend a lot of time on the streets.
Unlike elsewhere in the street art world (which probably works more
with criticism and irony), my motivation is to deconstruct the viewers
“ordinary” perceptions, give them inner peace, joy or a smile as a new
communication medium. (Interview with Tona, February 2015).
40
Regarding photo documentation, I recorded my personal experiences in a data
collection, which grew larger during the fieldwork in Athens, with a satisfactory
number of photographs of wall writings either with the aid of my mobile camera
phone during several days of roaming in central Athens or via personal websites of
street artists. Naar (2007) argued that they are full-color and text images, which
indicate the inspirational artistry, the humor and the sarcasm, the courage and the
energy (ibid: 12).
The photographic corpus contains of a total of about 1500 pictures from places in
central Athens during the crisis. Some of them existed before January 2015, when I
started my fieldwork in Athens. However, the majority of these wall writings have
been either repainted by other works or destroyed due to weather conditions and
passage of time. Nevertheless, the preexisted wall writing projects have also been
included in the data corpus, because they all come up with similar issues of the
current Greek crisis. This was deemed as necessary for the reliability of the research.
Besides, I have decided to share a sample with everyone using Flickr. Flickr is a
website that allows users to post and store photos online. Everyone can access this
photo repository without username or password by clicking on the following link:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/athenian_wall_writing_2015/
Semi-Structured Interviews / Sample 4.3
Eight semi-structured interviews took place from 1st of February until the 1st of
March 2015. They were carried out either in Greek or in English when the
interviewees did not speak Greek. Three of them were conducted with a voice
recorder, mostly in public spaces in the Exarchia district, which is an intellectual and
restless neighborhood in downtown Athens where mainly left thinking people,
anarchists, artists, but also ordinary people live, one of them via the online call
service Skype and four of them via e-mail. Broadly speaking, an average interview
lasted around 30 to 40 minutes. The audiotape set of recordings and online call
service Skype have all been transcribed and translated into English by me.
The interviews were semi-structured, which means that they were pre-decided
and were the same for all participants (Appendix C). Most of my questions were
41
focused on my fundamental research question: What do the graffiti and catchy
slogan phrases on Athenian walls mean and how the messages are conveyed on
them? The order of the questions was different for each participant (if I excluded the
interviews conducted via email) and, thus, the interviews were held as normal
conversations about fixed issues.
The sample (Litosseliti 2010: 158) is consisted of six male Greek street artists
(Bleeps.gr, Exit, Mapet, NSK, SX and Yiakou), one male stencil street artist from
Germany (Tona), who has created a great amount of public artworks in some places
in Europe, including Athens, but also in Asia. Lastly, one Indonesian male street artist
(Wild Drawing well known as WD) participated in this project (Appendix B).
Nonetheless, it should be noted that the process of arranging and conducting the
interviews was fairly hard and challenging due to their outlawed activity; it is difficult
for them to trust someone, who is not a member of their so-called closed network
and who attempts to enter with the status of a researcher. This justifies why only
three interviews were managed face-to-face and the rest, five, were carried out
either via the online call service Skype or via email. Additionally, the interviewees
appear in this study only with their tags in order to “ensure respondents’ anonymity”
(Litosseliti 2010: 64). To make it clearer, the most important interview sections are
the following:
1. The impact of the crisis on the Athenian street art.
2. The sociopoliticized character of the Athenian urban art.
3. Typical symbols, messages, colors and forms, highly charged emotionally
words and connotative messages/meanings.
4. Certain images or symbols with a particular meaning.
5. The most frequent words/word-phrases that appear in Athenian graffiti
paintings and slogan writings.
42
Data Classification 4.4
The content of public writing gathered for this paper unveils that society and politics,
economic crisis, fiscal austerity
4
measures and similar issues are considered common
motifs to the street artifacts displayed in the Exarchia district and generally in the
center of Athens.
5
As Tsilimpounidi (2012) states, the use of images provides not only accuracy and
objectivity to the data analysis, but also can help the researcher to validate the
findings (ibid: 79). Therefore, characteristic instances of contemporary public writing
are classified into two groups: street slogans and wall paintings/graffiti (Table 1). To
further verify the originality of the outcomes, three thematic categories per group of
data are analyzed in detail (Sections 5.3 and 5.4).
The selected images of the analysis part in this study constitute characteristic
instances of the thematic coding content, and thus, the classification criteria are
qualitative. This means that these distinct images were not selected unintentionally;
the criterion was the frequency of the thematic content. On the other hand, it was
considered crucial to include some quantitative information about the most frequent
words and word-phases, used by the street artists and youth indignant writers. The
list of the most common words and word-phases (Section 5.2) allows me to take into
consideration the repeated thematic motifs of graffiti language, and thus, it makes
the division into three thematic categories per group of data valid, as can be seen in
the following table.
The table has been inspirated by Avramides (2012: 6), who divides the Athenian
public writing into three groups: slogan, wall painting, and graffiti. He supports the
opinion that the street slogan writers express their opinions, the wall writers express
their internal sentiments without being interested in influencing the public opinion,
and the graffiti writers do both depending on the situation. His own interpretation
derives from the architectural perspective; whether and how public writing can
change the contemporary urban environment. On the other hand, this work, as a
4
The word “austerity” is a fairly new definition term to describe cutbacks in government spending. It
has been introduced in crisis lexicon the recent years and is being detected in various articles and
academic papers.
5
However, my corpus does not include street slogans of distinct political parties or organizations.
43
sociolinguistic study, investigates the situated meaning of public writing via the data
classification into thematic categories from a semiotic and multimodal appeal.
Table 1 Wall Writing Categories
Wall Writing
Thematic Categories
Creators
Content
Form
Audience
Street Slogans
1. Bank
2. Against Politicians-
Bankers
3. Greek Crisis Lexicon
Youth Indignant
Sociopolitical,
economic
Verbal Code
Passersby
Wall Paintings,
Graffiti
1. Call for Action
2. fascism-nazism
3. Freedom (Liberty)-
Fear-Hope
Street Artists /
Graffitists
Sociopolitical,
economic
Imagery Code
Passersby
Applying the Theoretical and Methodological Framework 4.5
My understanding of the application of semiotic and multimodal resources for
analyzing and decoding the empirical data has influenced the interpretation of street
slogans and wall paintings. In particular, the contextual sign coding systems, and
also, the multisemiotic nature of the Athenian wall discourse, are examined in the
light of my individual personal experiences and reflections on the graffiti subculture.
In addition, via the data collection tools, the sociocultural background and the social
conceptions of interactive communication of the wall writers are detected in the
graphic images. The style of lettering, the reconceptualized symbols, the colors and
the logos, as well as the wall writers’ thoughts, are included in the data analysis,
which, as shown, is closely connected with the theoretical and methodological
framework, and thereby makes it valid.
Ethical Considerations 4.6
Since this study deals with the task of urban writing, which in a broader concept is
characterized as unauthorized and unlicensed, ethical issues should be evaluated. At
44
first, all participants were informed about the special interest of my research as a
sociolinguistic scrutiny about graffiti meaning decoding. In consequence, the Ethics
Protocol (Appendix A) has been carefully read and signed by each of the
interviewees. However, due to the reason that wall writers wish to keep their
existence secret, their anonymity has been maintained; they appear only with their
tags. Lastly, the set of recordings and e-mail material is internal and cannot be
recovered by the participants.
45
CHAPTER 5 Results and Discussion
Introduction 5.1
My aim in this chapter is to peruse the sociolinguistic perspective of graffiti painting
and slogan writing, considering the variety of sociopolitical meanings depending on
the different thematic environment. However, before going through the abstract
concept of the Athenian wall writings, it is worth briefly noting that the subsequent
analysis part through the prism of multisemiotic analytical perspective is open to
further discussion. As Gee (2014) highlights
[] the validity analysis is never once for all [...] other people working on
our data, or similar data, will discover things that support, revise, or
challenge our own conclusions. Validity is social [] (ibid: 122, 167).
Thus, whether they are true or not, the approach is debatable and may be subject to
revision. Having that in mind, some readers might have some objection, considering
that certain images and text representations provide a strong influence of the
ideological viewpoint of graffiti. This issue becomes highly understandable, if one
considers, according to Kress & van Leeuwen (1996), the difficulty of the task as “a
highly political enterprise” (ibid: 42).
Most Frequents Words / Word-Phrases 5.2
The following tables summarize the most frequent words and word-phases found on
Athenian walls during the generalized debt crisis period by grouping the research
data for thematic similarities. Before elaborating this presentation, it is important to
highlight that the Athenian wall language as all wall writing establishes an instant
reaction to the times of crisis and a reflection of the situation in which the writers
live.
Furthermore, new literary artifacts and slogan phrases appear on the public
sphere replacing the old ones, as has already been mentioned in the methodology
46
chapter. Thus, the research material is not static; it increases and changes
constantly. Hence, the following three word tables establish the thematic framework
of the most frequent words and word-phases in Athenian graffiti context at the time
of the study.
Consequently, new texts have already appeared on the walls; as the anger and
the frustration are perpetually rising to the surface due to social and financial
problems, so the artistic inspiration and the dialogic imagination are multiplied.
Therefore, in order to manage my verbo-visual documentation of public writing, I
divided these words into three word categories, as follows: 1) Political System, 2)
Society and Politics, and 3) Economic Terms (words with different meanings during
the crisis). Day (1993) argues that
In general, it will involve going through the data case by case in a
systematic way, and deciding whether and how bits of data should be
categorized. This requires considerable concentration, in order to
ensure that all the appropriate categories for all the data have been
considered (ibid: 126).
Moreover, it becomes feasible to address the research question of this study with
these three categories of words; the various reasons for the extended Athenian wall
writings are fairly presented.
Finally, I decided to list these words in an alphabetical index of terms in the
nominative case (either singular or plural form), devoting particular attention to the
interpretation of certain frequently recurring words. The word frequency can be
found in the following thematic categories with the indicative street slogans and
graffiti figures. However, it was impossible to include all the instances in this work;
thus, the potential readers can easily have access to the data corpus, and then, it
could be figured out the bidirectional link between the word frequencies and the
thematic patterns (Appendix D).
47
Table 2 Political System
1. εξουσία power
2. κράτος state
3. κυβέρνηση government
4. νόμοι laws
5. πολιτικό σύστημα political
system
6. σύστημα system
7. υπουργός minister
Table 3 Society and Politics
1. αγώνας fight
2. αλληλεγγύη solidarity
3. αναρχία anarchy
4. αναταραχή agitation
5. ανατροπή overturn
6. ανεργία unemployment
7. αντίδραση reaction
8. αντι-ναζί anti-nazi
9. αντίσταση resistance
10. αντιφασισμός antifascism
11. ανυπακοή disobedience
12. αξιοπρέπεια dignity
13. αστυνομία police
14. δίκαιο right
15. διαφθορά corruption
16. εκδίκηση revenge
17. ελευθερία freedom/liberty
18. ἐλπίς hope
19. εξαθλίωση seediness/misery
20. εξέγερση revolt
21. επανάσταση revolution
22. επιβολή
enforcement/infliction
23. επίθεση attack
24. ευρο-εξόντωση euro-
extermination
25. θάνατος death
26. κατάθλιψη depression
27. κλέφτης thief
28. κοινωνία society
29. κρατιστές statists
30. κράτος τρομοκράτης
terrorist state
48
31. λαός people
32. λήθη oblivion
33. μάχη battle
34. (χωρίς) μέλλον (no) future
35. μετανάστες immigrants
36. μίσος hate
37. μολότοφ molotov cocktail
38. μπάτσοι cops
39. νεο-ναζί neo-nazi
40. νέος κόσμος new world
41. ξένοι foreigners
42. όχι no
43. παραίτηση resignation
44. πολιτισμός του φόβου
civilization of fear
45. ρατσισμός racism
46. σκλάβος slave
47. ταξικός πόλεμος class war
48. τρόμος terror
49. υποδούλωση submission
50. φασισμός fascism
51. φόβος fear
52. φτώχια poverty
53. χάος chaos
Table 4 Economic Terms
1. Γκρέξιτ GREXIT Greek Exit
from the Eurozone
2. Διαπραγματεύσεις
negotiations
3. διάσωση
bailout
4. Διεθνές Νομισματικό Ταμείο
ΔΝΤ International Monetary
Fund IMF
5. δραχμή drachma
6. ΕΕ EU
7. ευρώ euro
8. Ευρωπαϊκή Κεντρική Τράπεζα
European Central Bank (ECB)
9. κούρεμα haircut
10. κρίση crisis
11. λεφτά/χρήματα
money/funds
12. λιτότητα austerity
49
13. μνημόνιο memorandum
14. νέα μέτρα new measures
15. τράπεζα bank
16. τρόικα troika
17. φόροι taxes
18. χρεοκοπία default
19. χρέος debt
Street Slogan Analysis 5.3
In this part of the study, five instances of street slogans per thematic coding category
are to be examined. I have chosen the most frequent thematic framework, as shown
in the above tables. The most frequent thematic content of the Athenian urban
landscape could be summarized in the following key-themes listed alphabetically:
anarchy, (anti)-nazi, (anti)-fascism, bank, crisis, drachma, (neo)-nazi, politicians,
troika. However, due to the limited space of this work, I decided to classify the
sample of street slogans data into the three following broader thematic categories;
Bank, Against Politicians-Bankers, and Greek Crisis Lexicon, taking into account the
thematic pattern frequencies.
5.3.1 Category “Bank”
The first category is referred to banking system of Greece and the socioeconomic
impact of the current Eurozone financial crisis on the Greek banking system. The
sample of this category consists of five characteristic instances derived from a wide
spectrum of pictures, which particularly indicate the indignation of street slogan
writers against the banking system. Subsequently, as defined by Matsaganis (2013),
it describes the rise of Greek social resistance and disobedience against the bailout
and the harsh austerity programs (ibid: 4-6). The messages of these wall writings are
considered of particularly economic nature with social perspectives. Thereon,
multimodal analysis of the wall language message follows.
50
Figure 9 BETTER PENNILESS WITH DRACHMA THAN SLAVES IN EURO, Ermou Street, Athens
“ΚΑΛΥΤΕΡΑ ΔΡΑΧΜΗ ΚΑΙ ΑΦΡΑΓΚΟΙ ΠΑΡΑ ΕΥΡΩ ΚΑΙ ΣΚΛΑΒΟΙ”
“KALITERA DRAXMI KE AFRAGI PARA EURO KE SKLAVI”
“BETTER PENNILESS WITH DRACHMA THAN SLAVES IN EURO”
The picture in figure 9 was captured in downtown Athens a short time before the
conduction of the Greek bailout referendum on 5th July 2015 (“Referendum July 5
2015,” n.d., Final Results of the July 5th Greek Referendum section, retrieved
2015/07/12).
6
This street slogan is written on the exterior wall of the bank next to
ATM machine and expresses the thoughts of writer(s), sending a message to lenders
of the bank. Almost fifteen different facets of this wall lettering have been found in
different places around the city of Athens. These instances are included in my data
corpus. Kitis (2011) argues that the exterior wall of the bank is obviously strongly
connected to the memorable meaning of the street slogan.
…the meaning of slogans is not dependent on the texts alone; their
physical context on the street is just as important (ibid: 63-64).
The same applies to all the examples. The public space is the canvas and the spray is
the struggling voice of urban protesters. Regarding the linguistic form of the
lettering, the capitalized letter and rhyme formation should be mentioned. A rhyme
6
The focal question of the Greek referendum 2015 was whether Greece should continue fiscal
austerity programs imposed by its creditors’ willingness or not.
51
is a saying when two or more words have similar terminal sounds (άφραγκοι
[penniless] –σκλάβοι [slaves]). In fact, rhyming can be an important technique to
help the readers remember the meaning and content of the street slogan. Rhythm,
rhyme, and imagery of this street slogan can provide great support for the phrase
meaning memorization.
From a multimodal understanding of this sample of protest wall writing, the Euro
symbol () as the European currency unit is being equivalent with the swastika (as
can be seen from the picture). Through the analysis and the careful consideration of
the interaction between the street slogan thematic content and the historical past of
Europe, one could memorize the role, the history, and the beliefs of the nazi party in
Germany in the 1930s. This can be explained by Kress & van Leuven (2006), who
state the basic pile of their theory; the space and communicative (semiotic) modes
are interconnected and should be comprehended through the light of historical and
social context. Also, the explanation by van Dijk (2003: 89) should be added that the
social context encapsulates both the individual and collective interactions as a field
of sociopolitical process. What can be found particularly interesting in this comment
is that the contemporary street slogan writers express their frustration against the
censured influence of Germany and the country’s control of the European Union.
They stress that they prefer their national currency “Drachma” instead of the Euro.
In this writing the Greek national currency is associated with freedom whilst the euro
currency is connected with slavery, respectively. The slogans express the vivid
Athenian environment in which issues of “freedom and slavery” have been detected
several times. They are ongoing themes.
52
Figure 10 BURN A BANK YOO TOO; YOU CAN DO IT, Plaka, Athens
“ΚΑΨΕ ΚΙ ΕΣΥ ΜΙΑ ΤΡΑΠΕΖΑ; ΜΠΟΡΕΙΣ”
“KAPSE KI ESI MIA TRAPEZA; BORIS”
“BURN A BANK YOO TOO; YOU CAN DO IT”
Figure 11 BURN THE BANKS, Panepistimiou Street, Athens
“ΚΑΨΤΕ ΤΙΣ ΤΡΑΠΕΖΕΣ”
“KAPSTE TIS TRAPEZES”
“BURN THE BANKS”
53
Figure 12 FIRE TO THE BANKS, Solonos Street, Athens
“ΦΩΤΙΑ ΣΤΙΣ ΤΡΑΠΕΖΕΣ”
“FOTIA STIS TRAPEZES”
“FIRE TO THE BANKS”
The interpretation of the foregoing three pictures (Figures 10, 11, and 12) explains
why they constitute political slogans with mostly economic thematic content written
either on the exterior wall of the bank, next to the ATM machine, or on any public
surfaces.
All of them adhere to the idea that the banking crisis has affected the living
conditions of the social majority globally. More specifically, Greek protesters make
explicit their rage and hatred against the whole banking system using this form of
hate language in public facilities. If we delve into these slogans, from a linguistic
perspective, it becomes evident that the second person singular or plural usage in
imperative mood “Κάψε/Κάψτε Burn” indicates that the street slogan creators
induce someone, in our case the angry Greek citizens, to perform an action, which is
presented here as something imperative.
Approaching the text’s plot in a more in-depth linguistic way focusing on the
vocabulary choice would certainly guide us to foresee the visual and textual manners
that Greeks use in sample wall writing. Via the specific chosen style with font and
deep black or red color as a mode, the reader observes the bold political statements.
As Kress and van Leeuwen (2006: 229) claim, the “…color is primarily related to
54
affect…” The statements, on the other hand, appear as repetitive writing codes,
revealing the gravity and decisiveness of the wall writers, on the one hand, and their
exasperation with the world banking system crisis, on the other. The writer(s) of
street slogan in figure 10 BURN A BANK YOO TOO; YOU CAN DO IT applies the
technique of stereotypical phrases, as the phrase YOU CAN DO IT,which is easily
memorized by the public. It is a popular expression, which is widely used in both
advertising language and in political statements. The street slogan writer, via these
techniques (intertextual references and different discourses), expects to transmit the
idea that the political expression of the writing is crucial for the potential reader.
Besides, it is worth mentioning the obvious connection between the ideas
significance of fire and bank in most of the derived slogans from my corpus, which
refer to the banking crisis in Athens. As can be seen, the words burn and fire
accompany the feelings of hate and resistance of the wall writers against the bankers
and may display repressed feelings of anger and anxiety (Goutsos & Polymeneas
2014: 682).
7
Thus, these slogan writings were applied in the political context as
repetitious statements, recommending a section for interaction and dialogue
processing between the wall writers and the readers. Additionally, an exclamation
mark “!” is sometimes added at the end of those phrases, underlining the strong
feelings of the demonstrators.
Furthermore, if the word order in those slogans, like the lyrics of a revolutionary
anti-state poem would be examined, then, it would be obvious that there is a focus
on the word “τράπεζα/τράπεζες bank/banks,” denoting that the banking system
is mainly one of the multiple causes of the financial crisis as a core of what
happened. As a consequence, analyzing the text in terms of social interaction,
thoroughly taking into account both the power relations among writers and the
public opinion (Kress and van Leeuwen 1996: 2), it could be affirmed that this form
of hate speech acquires an extended comprehension of how effectively protesters
express themselves against the social degradation.
7
In the period of May 2010, when the first impacts of the economic crisis were felt in many
neighborhoods of Athens, three people “died of asphyxiation from the bomb’s toxic fumes.” This
incident was a tragic consequence of a fire in a bank in central Athens during the anti-austerity
demonstrations and also a big shock for the Greek society. Noteworthy, it should be noted that this
incident occurred once and it unquestionably constitutes a negative and unpleasant memory of that
period.
55
Figure 13 BANK OF BERLIN, Panepistimiou Street, Athens
“BANK OF BERLIN…”
The picture in figure 13 was taken on February 2015 during the peaceful
demonstrations outside the Greek Parliament in Syntagma Square in Athens. It is a
street slogan belonging to the coding thematic category “BANK”, as has been
determined from the data classification and it refers to the German pressure against
Greece. Obviously, special attention has been paid to the sociopolitical commentary
of the slogan writer demonstrator, who has made a circle around the letters EEC
referring to the European Economic Community, which, according to the writers,
aims at financial and political “slavery” towards financially weaker countries of the
EU.
8
The writer here apparently attempts to make a sociopolitical comment
expressing the indignation about the context of European equality among EU in the
current circumstances. The dots probably indicate the idea of the perpetuation of
that situation in Greece. Additionally, this warning wall graphic could visually express
that the future of the Greek people and possibly the future of the Eurozone (via the
circle round EEC -European Economic Community-) is still uncertain.
5.3.2 Category “Against Politicians-Bankers”
In this thematic category special attention has been devoted not only to the Greek
political corruption, which has been approached as the heart and the cradle of the
Greek crisis but also to the corrupt banking system. Street quotes with the words
“κλέφτες-thieves, ληστές-robbersappear almost everywhere in Athenian center.
8
The analysis doesn’t show what the letters “H” and “C” outside the circle mean.
56
Concerning this group of street slogans, one might assert insult since slogans
constitute a warning and an extremely alarming act. The insults against politicians
and bankers are considered caustically ironic and they are strongly related to the
common idea among indignant Greek demonstrators that politicians do not care
about the people’s will, that they are immoral and that they do not express the
“ideology” which elected them. Hebdige (1979) explains the term of ideology as “the
word ideology came to acquire a much wider range of meanings than had previously
been the case” (ibid: 10).
Similarly, the slogans also refer to the banker’s assault against the Greek people,
who are driven by their quest for more money (bankers). Street slogans such as
“ψεύτες-liars” and “κλέφτες-thieves” codify, through constant repetition, the
general impression about politicians and bankers within the Athenian urban
landscape, especially during the last years of Greek crisis and struggling economic
circumstances (Matsaganis 2013: 14, 16).
Figure 14 THE THIEVES ARE HERE, Stadiou Street-Omonoia Square, Athens
“ΕΔΩ ΕΙΝΑΙ ΟΙ ΚΛΕΦΤΕΣ”
“EDO INE I KLEFTES”
“THE THIEVES ARE HERE”
57
Figure 15 THEY STEAL YOUR LIFE AND YOU GO TO VOTE THEM AND THEN YOU SIT ON THE
COUCH AND BELCH, Metaxourgeio, Athens
“ΣΟΥ ΚΛΕΒΟΥΝ ΤΗ ΖΩΗ ΚΑΙ ΠΑΣ ΚΑΙ ΤΟΥΣ ΨΗΦΙΖΕΙΣ ΚΙ ΥΣΤΕΡΑ ΑΠ’ ΤΟΝ ΚΑΝΑΠΕ ΣΟΥ ΚΑΘΕΣΑΙ
ΚΑΙ ΒΡΙΖΕΙΣ”
SOU KLEVOUN TI ZOI KE PAS KE TOUS PSIFIZIS KI ISTERA APTON KANAPE SOU KATHESE KAI
TOUS VRIZIS
THEY STEAL YOUR LIFE AND YOU GO TO VOTE THEM AND THEN YOU SIT ON THE COUCH AND
BELCH
The unlocking of the first two slogans of this category Against Politicians-Bankers,”
shown in Figure 14 and Figure 15, respectively, from a multimodal semiotic
perspective, develops the general idea that Greek politicians are not only liars and
thieves, creating the circumstances for the development of political corruption, but
also that bankers steal money of the Greek people.
In the first picture the local adverb “ΕΔΩ-HERE” introduces the significance of
location (central Athens, close to Greek Parliament). According to Goutsos &
Polymeneas (2014) local adverbs like “ΕΔΩ-HERE” have acquired high frequency in
the Athenian public space (ibid: 688) and have also been detected several times in
my data corpus in instances where it relates to the social interactions within a
certain place. As defined by Hart (2010: 57) and Chilton & Schaffner (2002: 30) in
Goutsos and Polymeneas (2014: 690) , the local adverb “ΕΔΩ-HERE” functions not
only as a medium of locality within Athenian centre but also as cognition between
Athenian demonstrators with the collective identity “WE” and the bankers-
politicians with the criticism “THEY.
58
In the second picture the third person plural pronoun or verbal type “ΚΛΕΒΟΥΝ-THEY
STEAL” is mainly negatively classified in terms of collocation in contrast to the first
person plural pronoun “ΕΜΕΙΣ-WE” defining the collective spirit. It is clear
throughout these cases that the slogan writer(s) try to alert the Greek citizens by
writing either on the exterior walls of banks or on any public surface. In the second
example the second person pronoun and verbal types “YOU GO, YOU VOTE, YOU SIT,
and YOU BELCH” indicate the direct and instant address to Athenian passersby to be
activated in the light of irony and sarcasm.
Figure 16 ROBB€RS: BANKS GOVERNMENT MONEY, Kerameikos, Athens
9
“ΛΗΣΤ€Σ: ΤΡΑΠΕΖΕΣ ΚΥΒΕΡΝΗΣΗ ΧΡΗΜΑΤΑ”
LISTS: TRAPΕZΕS KIVERNISI CHRIMATA
“ROBB€RS: BANKS GOVERNMENT MONEY”
Similarly, picture 16 could be considered an attempt to show that the message
connotation is that the government and the banks steal money from people. In the
first word of this slogan, “ΛΗΣΤ€Σ-ROBB€RS,” the use of the euro sign “€” indicates
the critical perspective on EU in the Athenian landscape.
9
This figure was found on the following website http://www.euractiv.com/sections/euro-
finance/greece-eurozone-seen-reaching-last-minute-deal-312252 (retrieved 2015/06/05).
59
Figure 17 ONCE A THIEF, TWICE A THIEF; THIRD TIME A MINISTER, Metaxa Street-Exarchia,
Athens
“ΜΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΚΛΕΦΤΗ, ΔΥΟ ΤΟΥ ΚΛΕΦΤΗ, ΤΡΕΙΣ ΚΑΙ ΕΓΙΝΕ ΥΠΟΥΡΓΟΣ”
“MIA TOU KLEFTI, DIO TOU KLEFTI, TRIS KE EGINE IPOURGOS”
“ONCE A THIEF, TWICE A THIEF, THIRD TIME A MINISTER”
The visual writing shown in figure 17 is derived from the Greek proverb “Μια του
κλέφτη...δυο του κλέφτη...τρεις και τον τσακώσανε, which means that someone
got away the first two times, but the third time, he got caught. Concerning its
format, the slogan is written with uppercase letters, as most of the street slogans in
my corpus, and it is divided into three parts, possibly representing the lyrics of a
revolutionary voice, giving musicality, conceptuality and a certain rhythm to the
statement.
This particular wall writing is relevant to a political movement trying to get rid of
politicians who are considered to be “thieves” in the Greek government. It is a
frequent indicative slogan of the social scream or declaration placing the Greek
society in a war condition with the state. This social language of popular indignation
towards the government and the state, dominates when anarchists, demonstrators
and mostly leftist political thinking people express their thoughts on public walls of
abandoned public buildings or monuments. These topics refer to riotous
demonstrations, or even satirize the ruling class as in our case. Furthermore, the
words are expressive and the caustic message is overemphasized via the specific
visual arrangement of the lyrics (Kress and van Leeuwen 1996: 40-41). The main
situated meaning of this writing is the political corruption and also the willingness of
Greeks to change it.
60
With reference to the above, it should be mentioned the Indignant Movement
Αγανακτισμένοι (Aganaktismeni) from May to August 2011, which was a protest
action at the Greek Parliament Building on Syntagma Square (Goutsos & Polymeneas
2014: 675), calling ministers “thief-ministersor “Graecokleptocrats” that demand
reelection. The rhythmic repetition of various protest slogans like “Hellas, Hellas” or
“once a thief, twice a thief, third time a minister” was enhanced with collective
practices - mountzas - (a traditional offensive gesture among the Greeks), chanting
“Κλέφτες! Κλέφτες! - Thieves! Thieves!” near the Greek Parliament Building (ibid:
680, 685).
Figure 18 ROBBERS / CLASS AGAINST CLASS / MOLOTOV NOT LOANS, Panepistimiou Street,
Athens
“ΛΗΣΤΕΣ / ΤΑΞΗ ΕΝΑΝΤΙΟΝ ΤΑΞΗΣ / ΜΟΛΟΤΟΦ ΟΧΙ ΔΑΝΕΙΑ…”
“LISTES / TAXI ENANTION TAXIS / MOLOTOV OCHI DANIA…”
ROBBERS / CLASS AGAINST CLASS / MOLOTOV NOT LOANS…”
The visual representation featured in figure 18 includes three slogans, intending to
be a very meaningful symbolic writing as a whole. The first one is “ROBBERS,” which
refers to the corrupted Greek political landscape, the second one is “CLASS AGAINST
CLASS,” which constitutes a social commentary on the economic slowdown and class
war, and the last one is “MOLOTOV NOT LOANS,” which is connected with the Greek
indignation.
All these slogans are represented by quite short phrases, which are written with
bold black capital letters to draw public’s attention. Therefore, as these words could
61
need an explanation, in our case these slogans constitute clear and unequivocal
commentaries expressing that for the youth almost everything that had value
disappeared or was carelessly squandered by a society caring only about money
(loans). In the eyes of the youth, Greek society seems to be ready to sacrifice
everything of value just for the sake of a fake social status linked to having temporal
success. Moreover, it is noteworthy that these revolutionary street slogans focus on
the dramatic impacts of austerity on the lower middle classes.
5.3.3 Category “Greek Crisis Lexicon”
This category consists of words with different, mostly connotative, meanings
concerning their emotional gravity since the last seven years of struggling (three
bailouts). It is crucial to include all these common words and themes in this paper,
since they to the fullest extent reflect the microcosm of the current social problems;
the feelings of anxiety and fear for the future of the Greek nation.
10
Figure 19 TROIKA GET OUT, Panepistimiou Street, Athens
“ΕΞΩ Η ΤΡΟΙΚΑ”
EXO I TROIKA
“TROIKA GET OUT”
10
The last two street slogans in this category are written in English. It was deemed appropriate to
include the words “crisis” and “drachma” (even though they are written in English), because they
appear everywhere in the center of Athens; this proves the universality of these street slogans and
also reflects in the best possible way the current Greek situation.
62
The financial term “TROIKA, or mainly the Hellenized word “ΤΡΟΙΚΑ,” is mentioned
several times, not only on any public surfaces in Athens, but also in every article
globally dealing with the financial crisis in Greece.
11
The public writers of this slogan
apply uppercase bold characters shouting angrily to the “TROIKA” to get out and
hollering against the subsequent sociopolitical degradation of quality of life. The
application of the local adverb “ΕΞΩ-OUT” functions as an indication of a social
location (Goutsos & Polymeneas 2014: 688), meaning out of Greece. Practically, the
main objective of this large lettering slogan is to transmit a direct and clarion
message to the “TROIKA.”
Figure 20 NO TO FEAR, Athens
“ΟΧΙ ΣΤΟ ΦΟΒΟ”
“OCHI STO FOVO”
“NO TO FEAR”
11
The EU “TROIKA,” based on the Financial Times Lexicon is a slang term for the three European
institutions which have the most power over the economic future of Greece as it is clarified within the
European Union. The three organizations are the European Commission (EC), the International
Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Central Bank (ECB).
63
Figure 21 NO TO TERROR, Athens
“ΟΧΙ ΣΤΟΝ ΤΡΟΜΟ”
“OCHI STON TROMO
“NO TO TERROR
The pictures 19, 20, and 21 introduce three word terms, “τρόικα-troika, φόβος-fear,
and τρόμος-terror,” which have received a considerably different semantic meaning
during the times of crisis. Given the oversized graffiti lettering of the linguistic code
as a discursive function of red and black graphics in font according to O'Halloran
(2008: 450), the impression is committed that the Greeks will be bond “slaves” in
case they fail to repay the massive loans from their creditors on time. The above
street slogans appeared in central Athens some days before the Greek referendum
in July 2015. They reveal the full extent of the feelings of the Greeks against
European institutions and the country’s creditors. They also claim to show that the
Greek nation can recover without fear, terror, and submission.
Furthermore, from the historical perspective of these street slogans, as an
intertextual reference, the written word “ΟΧΙ-ΝΟon the Athenian walls reminds
THE DAY OF NO! of October 28th 1940, when the Greek Prime Minister and
dictator Ioannis Metaxas strongly gave a negative response of “OXI-ΝΟ
12
to
Mussolini’s demands to take over Greece, thus repulsing the Italian attack. October
28th of each year is dedicated to the National Day of No for Greeks. Accordingly, the
link between the Greek past and present, and also the possible interpretations of
similar situations, constitute a source of motivational stimuli for slogan writers.
12
A closer transliteration of the Greek word “OXI” would be “OCHI.”
64
Figure 22 WHERE IS MY DRACHMA?, Athens
Figure 22 responds as a dynamic street slogan written in English on the exterior wall
of a bank in central Athens ending with a question mark. In terms of
contextualization, the writer asks “WHERE IS MY DRACHMA?” referring either to
nostalgia of a group of Greek people for their national currency or to the value of the
Drachma and the purchasing power of the Greeks before and after joining the euro.
The message is composed entirely with capital letters and the question mark “?”
allows the beginning of a dialogue processing between the writer and the public.
From a multimodal perspective the usage of capital letters and the punctuation
mark gives access to the reader’s perceptibility realizing the font and the style of the
slogan. Additionally, following Martin’s (1968) thought cited in Kress & van Leeuwen
(2006), it could be noted that the message is characterized by high communicative
power emphasizing on the word “DRACHMA” (ibid: 140). According to the scholars
(ibid), the picture is at eye catching level (as most of the instances analyzed in this
paper) influencing both the reader’s ideological perspective and the social power of
the statement. From a sociοlinguistic perspective, it is worth noting that the
decoding of this distinct meaning is not accidental. Having in our mind that the social
texts written under certain social circumstances profess specific social meaning, it is
easy to accept that the post WHERE IS MY DRACHMA?” is strongly related to the
broader context of the banking crisis. Hodge and Kress (1988) suggested that the
“…social context and purpose…” are intrinsically intertwined (ibid: 5).
65
Figure 23 MERRY CRISIS AND A HAPPY NEW FEAR, Sina Street, Athens
“MERRY CRISIS AND A HAPPY NEW FEAR” constitutes a wordplay slogan directly
connected with the common phrase related to the Christmas season “Merry
Christmas and a Happy New Year. Christmas is replaced by crisis and year is
replaced by fear respectively. The strong link between the words fear and crisis
uncovers the feelings of sadness and subsequent anxiety associated with the
economic measures. Based on the Greek political discourse, the word crisis was
introduced into the contemporary everyday vocabulary of the Greek people as the
main key word slogan of the 2008 revolution in Athens, after the shooting of 15 year
old student by the police on December 6, 2008 in the Exarchia district (“Kathimerini
Newspaper,” retrieved 2015/03/17).
13
As wall protesters write, they feel the need to
express the perception of the country's dismal future. Thus, according to
Alogoskoufis (2012), the protest actions in 2008 constituted the onset of the 2008
financial crisis;” the mass student demonstrations signified the end of Greek society
of the last decades (ibid: 2, 5, 11).
13
The newspaper Kathimerini published an article on December 6, 2014. Six years after the dramatic
events of December 2008.
66
Wall Paintings - Graffiti Analysis 5.4
In this part of the study, five instances
14
of political graffiti writing per thematic
coding category with the most frequent thematic framework are analyzed. The most
frequent thematic framework of the Athenian political graffiti paintings could be
summarized in the following words listed alphabetically: (anti)-fascism, crisis,
fascism, fear, freedom, hope, nazism, slavery. However, again, due to the limited
space of this study, the sample of political graffiti is divided into the three following
broader thematic categories, considering not only the word frequencies, but also the
material data; Call for Action, fascism-nazism, Freedom (Liberty)-Fear-Hope.
5.4.1 Category “Call for Action
The first thematic category of political graffiti sample consists of some typical
pictures, which highlight the voice of the Athenian society; how Greek Athenian
street artists face the effects of the crisis. The transmission of political messages via
wall paintings, as well as their conceptual visualization, contributes to the
development of sociopolitical propaganda. Wodak & Cillia (2006) argue that
[] discourses express societal power relations, which in turn are affected
by discourses. This ‘overall discourse’ of society, which could be visualized
as a ‘‘diskursives Gewimmel’’ (literally: discursive swarming) [] (ibid:
714).
This assigns various meanings analyzing the images, whose content is connected
with iconic and semantic symbols and logos.
14
Figures 28 and 29 are examined jointly.
67
Figure 24 NAK€D CHRISTMAS!, Evripidou Street-Psiri, Athens (street artist: Bleeps.gr)
“ΓΥΜΝΑ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥΓ€ΝΝΑ!”
“YIMNA CHRISTOUY€NNA!”
“NAKED CHRISTMAS!”
In the first example, figure 24, the linguistic code is analyzed in accordance with the
pictorial code, as they are strongly unified as a whole. This sociopolitical graffiti
constitutes an ironic social commentary, which according to O’Halloran (2008: 448)
conceptualizes the linguistic content image and the image language during the
Christmas period. Everyone would see the cowardly efforts to promote a festive
atmosphere as a gradually deconstructed market. Thus, it acquires an ironic satirical
tone, as the iconographic representation with the festival sense is contrast to the
religiosity and to the reality of fictitious happiness. It is justified by the fact that the
festive element does not exist if the citizens cannot consume. The obvious irony
could also be symbolized by the exclamation mark “!at the end of the statement
(Kress & van Leeuwen 2006: 48) and by the iconic gesture of a sad compliant face of
a young woman with “…subversive value (Hebdige 1979: 3).
It could be asserted that this image with the special facial expression and body
posture creates a visual form of direct address (Kress & van Leeuwen 2006: 117-
118), which means that the figure looks straight with a direct gaze at the potential
reader, trying to start a dialogue. The political discourse in this mural refers to the
homeless people and exploits the Christmas period of love at a time when poverty
and homelessness exist. So, in essence, according to the Athenian street artist Exit, it
is a social commentary, which reflects the whole idea of modern society.
68
Social and caustic commentary uses anything recognizable. We do
not forget our culture and our roots, but nevertheless not remain
inactive. It is purely symbolic. It's a way to stay within the narrow
graffiti and create something that is communicated to a wide
audience. (Interview with Exit, February 2015).
The mode of blue color is used repeatedly as the main background in the artifacts of
Bleeps.gr playing an important role in the project. The scholars assert that “the color
modality is characterized as an important aspect for decoding the compositionality
of image” (ibid: 228). According to the creator, Bleeps.gr, this figure may not have a
clear political handling, but it transmits a clear political idea and color, because as
the artist stated, both of them have social dynamics in Greek society.
Accordingly, the consolidation of both semiotic modes builds a metaphor
showing expanded synergy of the situated meaning. The “€” symbol, as a mode, is
accompanied by the sad compliant face of the figure, which is intersected with the
framework of the Eurozone crisis along the prevailing pessimistic financial climate.
On the other hand, the figure wears the Christmas symbols like the Christmas cap
and the Christmas garland, whereas the focal point remains the warning wake-up
message for action against poverty, among others. In visual details Bleeps.gr,
according to Chaffee (1993: 8-9) in Tsilimpounidi & Walsh (2014: 87), applies mostly
special coding systems along with textual-iconographic syntheses in order to develop
deeper sociopolitical and ideological implications. However, at the same, his painting
technique aims to be easily decoded and quickly comprehended by passersby.
69
Figure 25 WAKE UP, Psiri, Athens (street artist: Bleeps.gr)
15
“ΞΥΠΝΗΣΤΕ!”
“XIPNISTE!”
“WAKE UP!”
Figure 26 40 YEARS, Corner Theatrou square & Menandrou Street-Psiri, Athens (street artist:
Bleeps.gr)
16
“40 ΧΡΟΝΙΑ”
“40 CHRONIA”
“40 YEARS”
The images featured in Figure 25 and Figure 26
17
respectively, highlight the
relationship between Greece and EU as it is perceived by the Athenian street artist’s
15
Figure 25 is based on the “Wake Up” project, which took place in central Athens for several years in
the past, available at www.bleeps.gr. The following “The Wake Up Call” documentary describes the
Street art activity in downtown Athens. Here you access the video: https://vimeo.com/55286729
(retrieved 2015/10/23).
16
The street artist, Bleeps.gr, gives the title “40 Years of Debtocracy” to his work.
70
gaze, Bleeps.gr. The creator highlights his attempts to force Greek people to look
around on the urban landscape by applying both artistic and activist political sub-
discourse.
Metaphorically, the first project is considered a reverberating game through a
visualized stimulus, which strives to advance internal thoughts, but finally in the
realistic motif of everyday life is considered the wakeup call for the Athenian society.
The choice of a girl blowing the trumpet is not accidental; it emphasizes innocence.
Therefore, this wall artifact can be considered as either an exhortation or a
reminder.
Furthermore, figure 26 is an equally complex and diachronic updated political
graffiti found in Athens, which depicts a woman (metaphorically the figure could
refer to Greece), keeping a bag full of Euros with a yellow halo on her head, and with
the title “40 Years.” The golden leaf could also refer to Byzantine iconography by
portraying the Virgin Mary. This work, according to the creator Bleeps.gr, was
created in 2011 and is still on display in downtown Athens. The fact that it seems
exceptionally relevant nowadays could be said to make it diachronic.
To cite the writer’s quotes from an interview conducted by Nicole Blommers (15
June 2015): “I would have thought art activism can intensify certain initiatives and
the subjects, thus play a part in spreading ideas and yes a discourse on various
topics” (“Street Art Europe,” retrieved 2015/07/03). In essence, even though it is
confirmed by numerous scholarly studies that street art opens a dialogue platform
with the passersby influencing the urban scenery and ideology, the street artists Exit
and WD assert that a piece of art on walls cannot be a chance to open a dialogue
among other people. They do not believe that their aesthetic intervention could set
off any changes; they do not accept the idea that street art could solve the current
society’s issues. As can be uncovered, the street artists’ opinions vary depending on
their individual approach to sociopolitical affairs.
17
It is noticeable to refer that in these two instances both languages are used; Greek and English. This
characteristic has been identified in numerous artworks. However, the reason remains open for
further discussion.
71
Figure 27 WE LIVED OUR LIVES; WRONG· SO WE CHANGED OUR PATHWAY (LIVES), Corner
Konstantinoupoleos & Iera Odos Street-Kerameikos, Athens (street artist: Bleeps.gr)
“ΠΗΡΑΜΕ ΤΗ ΖΩΗ ΜΑΣ; ΛΑΘΟΣ· ΚΙ ΑΛΛΑΞΑΜΕ ΖΩΗ”
PIRAME TI ZOI MAS; LATHOS· KI ALLAXAME ZOI
WE LIVED OUR LIVES; WRONG· SO WE CHANGED OUR PATHWAY (LIVES)
This artwork borrows elements of the traditional art and, thus, the insertion of the
chair, table and other painted elements (glass with water, the painted urn with
roses) in blue are explained by referring to the classic colors of the Aegean Sea. All
this referring to Greek tradition reminds people of the remote past. Bleeps.gr claims
that in this project the human figure within the fake wooden frame gives the
impression of relics. Also, he mentions that the hat with the Greek national emblem
creates an ironic comment on the established Greek perceptions. Moreover, the
protagonist figure refers rather to a fashionable hipster, according to Bleeps.gr,
wearing an imprinted T-shirt with the flags of Great Britain and USA, which can be
explained as the obvious fear of the increasing globalization of the world economy.
Hence, it should be mentioned that it could refer to the crisis period as one of the
main root causes for the current Eurozone crisis. A deeper look at this picture,
according to the scholars Kress & van Leeuwen (2006: 119), provides the
connotations of the ideological background of national superiority via the visual
representation of the national emblem of Greece (“Hellenic Presidency,” retrieved
72
2015/03/18),
18
which combines the message of opposition to the European
integration.
According to Fairclough (1992) intertextuality is defined as:
[] text may incorporate another text without the latter being
explicitly cued: one can respond to another text in the way one words
one's own text [] (ibid: 102).
In terms of intertextuality, a verse from the poem Denial (Άρνηση) of Greek poet
Seferis
19
can be identified, including the musical version of Mikis Theodorakis, on the
label that the figure keeps. According to Anagnostakis (2012)
the issue could not have been that “notorious” missing semicolon in
the penultimate line of the poem “Denial” alone. Theodoraki’s
melodic phrase turned Seferis’s emphatic noun “λάθος” (“We took
our life: a mistake!”) into an adverb (“We took our life in a wrong
way!”). Whereas Seferis’s version implies a certain hubris in even
daring to take control of our life, Theodoraki’s rendition leaves the
possibility open of taking our life the right way as well (ibid: 59).
The textual code is also interrupted, as the artist claims, by the symbol of the Holy
Roman Empire of Germany,
20
indicating the dissolution of the German Confederation
18
The national emblem of Greece consists of a blue escutcheon with a white cross totally
surrounded by two laurel branches.The figure probably refers to Greek guards in front of the Greek
Parliament.
19
http://www.translatum.gr/poetry/seferis.htm (retrieved 2015/03/18).
Denial
[…]
With what spirit, what heart,
what desire and passion
we lived our life: a mistake!
So we changed our life.
ΑΡΝΗΣΗ
[]
Mε τι καρδιά, με τι πνοή,
τι πόθους και τι πάθος,
πήραμε τη ζωή μας· λάθος!
Κι αλλάξαμε ζωή.
20
http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/de_roman.html (2015/03/18).
73
in 1866 Austro-Prussian War of 1866 (Van Evera 2009: 1). The street artist
probably symbolizes and ironically criticizes the hegemonic positionof Germany,
then and now, with the special role that it plays in the European Union, commenting
on the historical discrepancy. To illustrate this, modalities such as treat symbols,
forms and styles of the past (i.e. the national emblem and the Flag of the Holy
Roman Empire) extend the political creativity of the street art scene based on
historical knowledge. Signs are combined with iconistic portraits and elements in
order to create a visual poetry with challenging contextual features; either symbols
or intertextual references.
The many identified social reports on Athenian walls as the socioeconomic crisis
deepens, make it necessary to cite Bleeps.gr quotes:
[…]I care for what happens in this world [] I care about the social
problems [] In Athens when we look at those inscriptions on the
walls, firstly the sociopolitical writings come to our minds. (Interview
with Bleeps.gr, February 2015).
Going through the examination of the textual information, it should be noted that
the text is simplified, and as a consequence the message through this political
painting is expressed more forcefully. The first person plural pronoun and also the
verbal types “WE LIVED” and “WE CHANGED” tend to strongly relate with the
meaning of collectiveness among Greeks.
21
What is interesting here is the meaning
of “life change,” which is included in these verbal types. Apparently, the wall actors
visualize their collective identity implying their “Wake-up” action and interaction
with their intentions (Goutsos & Polymeneas 2014: 689-690). Simultaneously, it
becomes clear that the wall writing creators of the Greek crisis generation try to
communicate through Greek literature. The sociopolitical difficulties faced by the
communities attract the artistic interest (either it is poetry in Seferis case or it is
graffiti as a visual poetry in the Athenian street art case).
21
The first person plural pronouns and verbal types have been appeared many times in the data
corpus.
74
Figure 28 No, Panepistimiou Street, Athens
“OXI”
“OCHI”
“NO”
Figure 29 N€IN, School of Fine Arts-Kallithea, Athens (street artist: N_Grams)
“N€IN”
“NO”
Figures 28 and 29 depict the protest of street art against the last Greek bailout
program. The first one is a street slogan, which has been found in central Athens
written in Greek “OXI.” The second one is graffiti by N-Gram, which has been found
in the Kallithea district (at a close distance from central Athens). It indicates the
power and the willfulness of Greek writer(s) by switching into German answering
“OXI-NO” to the Greek referendum on 5th July 2015. The German word N€IN, as an
artistic interference, is written on the EU flag as a background, with four bold white
uppercase characters at the same font size as typographical features (Kress & van
Leeuwen 2006: 147-150). ΟΧΙ-Ν€IN is integrated into the picture with the twelve
75
golden stars one of them is red and it could be referring to Greece of the EU flag
on a blue field. Moreover, it is important to note that the second character of the
slogan is replaced by the “€” symbol, increasing the significance of the “silent”
message.
5.4.2 Category “fascism-nazism”
The thematic spectrum of sociopolitical graffiti in this category is represented by the
concept of fascism and nazism. The roots of the ideology of fascism and nazism are
deep in Europe, and still influence the memories of the Greeks from the World War II
and after. Among the older population of Greeks there is a fear of the return of
fascism because, as history has shown, fascists were able to gain power in countries
where class war existed, surfacing during periods of deep financial crisis and social
uprising (“Noam Chomsky,” AlterNet, “Austerity Is Just Class War,” retrieved
2015/07/09). After the experience of fascism in the period of German occupation,
most Greek people fear the rise of the political party Golden Dawn, as noted by
Georgiadou (2013) in Matsaganis (2013: 5). Along these facts and given the
predominant situation, a booming of street artifacts and slogans focused on the
ideology of anti-fascism and anti-nazism has been observed in central Athens.
Figure 30 I fought the fascists so that my grandchildren could bring them back, Mesogeion
Street, Athens (street artist: Mapet)
“Πολέμησα τους φασίστες για να τους φέρουν πίσω τα εγγόνια μου..”
“Polemisa tous fasistes gia na tous feroun piso ta egonia mou..”
76
“I fought the fascists so that my grandchildren could bring them back..”
This mural taken in Mesogeion Street in Athens
22
illustrates an important connection
between history and politics. In this large scale stencil by Mapet, which expresses
the main anti-fascist message with the enormous caricature of an old man smoking a
cigarette, a combination of both genres of urban writing can be seen. Mapet creates
art mainly around central Athens and implies social arousal themes in his artworks.
The messages are mainly political and social and living in Greece in
2015 things are difficult and most people want to express
something. The crisis is a source of imagination in general. The
projects are focused on issues such as fascism, and especially during
the crisis that Golden Dawn has gotten higher rates. This is also a
source to talk about fascism and general issues concerning problems
facing modern society. This figure brings to mind the sadness and
melancholy like most Greeks feel. (Interview with Mapet, February
2015).
While some political interpretation might be given here, the central mode of
communication seems to be a word-image combination (Kress & van Leeuwen 1996:
89) with the presence of the red color in the lowercase lettering. The adjacency of
imagery and linguistic code transmits confirming messages, notifying the audience-
reader in a way that is pressing to attract attention (Kress & van Leeuwen 2006:
124). As the scholars Kress & van Leeuwen (2006) note, this type of political message
does not ask for an answer; the statements rank alone as textual markers of
modality, which are not only meaningful and intentional for older Greek people, but
also true according to the current sociopolitical condition, thus expressing the fear
about the fascism’s return. To cite their quotes
22
This particular stencil has been found several times in Athens in different areas and sometimes with
different lettering style. Most of these instances are included in the data corpus.
77
[] a social semiotic theory cannot claim to establish the absolute
truth or untruth of representations. It can only show whether a given
'proposition' (visual, verbal or otherwise) is represented as true or not
[] (ibid: 159).
Moreover, it should be mentioned that the most essential reference here is the
gradual increase of the extreme right Golden Dawn party over the last four years.
The fascist ideas and movements were generalized during the period of the crisis.
Figure 31 The only good fascist is a dead one, Tsamadou Street-Exarchia, Athens (street artist:
SX)
“Φασίστας καλός μόνο νεκρός”
“Fasistas kalos mono nekros”
“The only good fascist is a dead one”
In Figure 31 the message is absolutely clear and comprehensive. Through the
unification of textual and iconographic code, the street artist attempts to portray
Adolf Hitler killed, accompanied by the phrase The only good fascist is a dead one.”
In this graffiti, in which Hitler’s figure is featured, the social commentary about
fascism and nazism is evident. There are no good fascists, according to the writer,
and society should reject them.
Regarding the lettering application, the writer handles lowercase characters
similarly to the previous one, providing more space to the pictorial code rather than
to the textual. The dominant function of pictorial code with blood trickling from the
eyes and the nose of the protagonist figure, as the main multimodal technique, is
78
highlighted, whereas the verbal text visually represents its auxiliary function.
Without doubt, it should be understood that the contextual meaning of this political
message about fascism and nazism concept is transmitted by the merging of both
codes.
Figure 32 Crash THE FASCISTS, Kerameikou Street-Metaxourgeio, Athens (street artist: SX)
“Τσακίστε ΤΟΥΣ ΦΑΣΙΣΤΕΣ”
“Tsakiste TOUS FASISTES”
“Crash THE FASCISTS”
Figure 32 was captured close to the Metaxourgeio metro station in Athens. It is
important to comment that during my fieldwork experience, the above picture is one
of the most exciting and interesting political graffiti as its underlying structure caught
my attention immediately. The warm colors (red and orange) come in contrast to the
light and dark lowercase “τσακίστε-crash” and uppercase letters “ΤΟΥΣ ΦΑΣΙΣΤΕΣ-
ΤΗΕ FASCISTS.” In this image, there is a synthesis between linguistic and
iconographic code, as stated for the previous figure as well. The red-orange contrast
between the red wall as background and the black characters in this photo take
charge and make the message easily comprehensible. This means, according to the
scholars, that lightening and darkening (dark sketch and bright colors in the
background) different parts of the graffiti emphasize the theme (Kress & van
Leeuwen 2006: 152); the revolt against the fascist ideology.
In addition, it is worth highlighting that the graffiti creator uses special gesture-
based techniques in order to escalate the destined meaning (ibid: 152). In this image,
the iconic gesture of kicking accompanied by the angry facial expressions of the
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figure (ibid: 117-118, 144) could probably signify the indignation of the writers
against fascism and nazism.
Figure 33 WE LIVE TOGETHER, WE WORK TOGETHER, LOCALS IMMIGRANTS CRASH THE NAZIS,
Corner Stournari & Zaimi Street-Exarchia, Athens
“ΖΟΥΜΕ ΜΑΖΙ, ΔΟΥΛΕΥΟΥΜΕ ΜΑΖΙ, ΝΤΟΠΙΟΙ ΜΕΤΑΝΑΣΤΕΣ ΤΣΑΚΙΣΤΕ ΤΟΥΣ ΝΑΖΙ”
ZOUME MAZI, DOULEVOUME MAZI, DOPII METANASTES TSAKISTE TOUS NAZI
“WE LIVE TOGETHER, WE WORK TOGETHER, LOCALS IMMIGRANTS CRASH THE NAZIS
Figure 34 ANTINAZIS OF MESOLONGIOU STREET, Mesolongiou Street-Exarchia, Athens (street
artist: NSK)
“ΑΝΤΙΝΑΖΙS OF MESOLONGIOU STREET
The last two figures of this category (Figure 33 and Figure 34) can roughly be said to
express the same anti-nazi sentiments of Athenian graffiti writers. The first image
constitutes a stencil anti-nazi slogan, which urges the public to oppose nazism. At
this point, it is important to mention a result derived from my case research; the
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repetition of ethically charged words within my corpus, like the verb “ΤΣΑΚΙΣΤΕ-
CRASHis remarkable. Thereupon, approaching this figure as visual poetry, it could
be seen that the words “MAZI-NAZI” – “TOGETHER-NAZI” as rhymed words share the
same sound. Following Kress & van Leeuwen’s (2006) observation, it is revealed that
a repeated visual rhyme provides coherence to the whole message (ibid); it makes it
readily apparent and memorable.
The last figure reflects the opposition to the nazism doctrine via the synergy of
text and image. The street artist adopts the “swastika” as the nazi symbol in
combination with hand gesture techniques (Kress & van Leeuwen 2006: 117-118)
based on knowledge of the nazi salute. Furthermore, attention should be paid to
another symbolism in this graffiti; even though the army boots are connected to
fascist and nazist political movements, here it can be understood that the boot kicks
this kind of ideology and dissolves it. Concerning the textual code of this figure, the
short capitalized phrase “ΜΕΣΟΛΟΓΓΙΟΥ ΑΝΤΙΝΑΖΙ-ΑΝΤΙΝΑΖΙS OF MESOLONGIOU
STREET is referred with intense and dynamic vocabulary against the nazi
movement.
5.4.3 Category “Freedom (Liberty) Fear Hope”
Figure 35 I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, But I am a SLAVE, Benaki Street-Exarchia, Athens
(street artist: Bleeps.gr)
“Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα, δε φοβούμαι τίποτα. Όμως είμαι ΣΚΛΑΒΟΣ
Den elpizo tipota, de fovoume tipota. Omos ime SKLAVOS
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I hope for nothing, I fear nothing. But I am SLAVE
Figure 36 I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am free (Epigraph on the grave of N. Kazantzakis in
Heraklion, 1957)
“Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα, δε φοβούμαι τίποτα, είμαι λέφτερος”
“Den elpizo tipota, de fovoume tipota, ime lefteros”
“I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am free”
A political wall mural that embodies the themes of this last category is the mural
shown in Figure 35, which was captured in the Exarchia district and is painted with a
bright blue background, and a black bold lowercase font. However, the last word of
this statement, “ΣΚΛΑΒΟΣ
SLAVE,” is written with capital letters in italics, and
occupies the most space, and is the focal point of this mural. The artist attempts to
declare his conviction that, nowadays, Greeks are presented as slaves within the
financial crisis. Looking more closely at this project, it can be seen that the word
“ΣΚΛΑΒΟΣ
SLAVE” is written over the word “λέφτερος free” - this is a recurring
technique used by the wall artists.
It is critical to note the semantic contrast between the terms freedom and
slavery; Greeks have lost their freedom because of the current economic
depression and recession. In this way, the street artist, applying the same hand
writing as the Greek author and poet, paraphrases the original meaning of a quote of
Kazantzakis “I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am free,” as an intertextual source.
From a linguistic approach, it could not be neglected that the certain word “Όμως
But” is also written in italics as a typographical feature (ibid: 59), giving emphasis and
changing the mural’s meaning masterfully. Accordingly, the semiotic modalities of
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both words, as presented above, function to realize these semantic relations (ibid:
46-47).
As stated, these quotes constitute a masterful paraphrase of the famous
inscription on Nikos Kazantzakis’ grave, in an existential version by the Athenian
street artist. The eight carved words on Kazantzakis’ grave referring to hope and fear
indicate the ideological and philosophical background of the Greek poet. Thence, the
main contextual meaning of this mural is the awakening of the Greek soul; Greeks
should be activated in order to gain the esoteric freedom that Kazantzakis did.
Figure 37 FREEDOM-LIBERTY, Mesolongiou & Tzavella Street, Exarchia, Athens
“ΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΙΑ”
“ELEFTHERIA”
“FREEDOM-LIBERTY”
Figure 37 and 38 refer to the concept of Liberty, as a necessary element for the good
of society. The first piece (figure 37), even though it is considered a street slogan by
its nature, has been included in the category of wall paintings; the choice was made
due to the deliberately chosen scenery, the balanced writing between the lettering,
and the colors and painting on the background (ibid: 161). In the case of street
slogans, as I extracted from my fieldwork data, the protest writers do not care about
the lettering style or specific characters; they care only of expressing their hatred
and mostly anti-authoritarian feelings on any public surface.
Correspondingly, this visual abstract of protest could be described as an
emphatic demand for freedom and release among the Greeks, and its sociopolitical
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content is seen as a reminder of the ideals of freedom and democracy. From a
textual aspect, it should be noted that it is written not only with uppercase bold
characters as most of the urban wall writings in the corpus, but also that its last
character, “A,” is encircled; the anarchist symbol embodies ideals and revolutionary
feelings against state authorities.
Figure 38 I WON’T PAY, I WON’T PAY, HAIL, O HAIL, LIBERTY, Panepistimio metro station,
Athens (street artist: NSK)
“ΔΕΝ ΠΛΗΡΩΝΩ, ΔΕΝ ΠΛΗΡΩΝΩ, ΧΑΙΡΕ, Ω ΧΑΙΡΕ ΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΙΑ”
“DEN PLIRONO, DEN PLIRONO, CHERE, O CHERE, ELEFTHERIA”
I WON’T PAY, I WON’T PAY, HAIL, LIBERTY, HAIL,
The picture featured in figure 38 is a particularly interesting wall mural stencil, found
in central Athens, which refers to the National Anthem of Greece - the first two
stanzas of the Hymn to Liberty (in Greek: Ὕμνος εἰς τὴν Ἐλευθερίαν). The Hymn to
Liberty is a long poem written by the Greek poet Dionysios Solomos in 1823. The
phrase “ΧΑΙΡΕ, Ω ΧΑΙΡΕ ΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΙΑ - HAIL, LIBERTY, HAIL” are the