Nuart Festival 'Rise Up!' - The Street Works!

Its easy to imagine after running a festival for 17 years you might fall back on the same formulaic curation and take the easy route of churning out the same instagram friendly murals each year. But as we quickly learned during Nuart Aberdeen, Martyn Reed doesn't take the easy road! 'Rise Up' the title for this years festival brought with it the question of power and asked 11 artists to respond. For almost 2 decades street artists have been challenging the notion of public space, forming an atethisis to the paid for advertisements that all too often dominate our cities. Many artists chose to use the street as their canvas to share ideas and to challenge those established norms, making a visible comment on social & political issues, subverting the city while others turn it into a game, find the invader or enjoy the optical illusion!

When we think of street art the path has been well and truly laid by Banksy, his distinctive stencils have raised awareness for many of the big issues of our time, Brexit, the migrant crisis and the closure of his old youth club but I feel the back bone of his work is lost on some people as they see an investment opportunity or a new talking point for their next party. And that's ok, I've always thought people should be able to take what they want from art and if that's home decoration so be it. But when so many peoples view of the movement is framed in this context along with the rise of the mural festival and all that it entails we're in danger of only seeing the monetary value or social kudos, losing sight of what makes street art so essential and special.

And this years Nuart aims to steer the conversation back to its starting point by looking at a selection of artists, few of whom operate in the mural world and assessing the values of the movement from the works of early pioneer John Fekner up to modern day ad busters like Vermibus. Each of the artists selected for this years festival bring something different to the table and through new works explore the question of 'power' via both street interventions and an indoor exhibition.

Below you will see some of the work by the artists along with a new piece by Add Fuel created at Stavanger airport. The Add Fuel piece wasn't intended to be part of this years festival but his work is an important starting point as you could class it in the populist mural movement but Diogo spends a great deal of time researching the places he plans to paint, looking at tile designs, their history and colours distinctive to his location. Nuart have been given permission to paint in what is usually one of the most sacred and protected of spaces, the airport which is a powerful gesture in itself and shows the impact they've had on the city. But with such wide spread acceptance can they still push the boundary of what's acceptable and can they challenge the white cube establishment?

The artists set about using the city as a canvas but also turning it into a playground for its citizens. Red and white safety tape turned park benches into no go zones while flipping the script on dead space and turning it into a focal point. Advertising billboards and bus shelters were hijacked, replaced with artworks and small tiles with eyes appeared in the nooks and crannies of the street. Another piece declares the artists honesty for all to see, instantly making me feel suspicious and wanting to know more. Of course the people expect the big grand stand murals and these we're delivered with an incredible portrait of Finish transgender activist Sakris Kupila (read more about it here) and a spattering of large scale works around the city. Even these aim to challenge the viewer, asking us to asses our own prejudices and power struggles. The painting of 'OILYGARCHY' in 20 foot high letters on the new dock side development, an area recently bought up by a single individual is at once honest and controversial, we know it happens, people have money but lets not talk about it ok. If I'm honest the development was quite beautiful, the spaces created with the people who inhabit them in mind, more so than many new developments taking place in Scotland that's for sure but the idea of one person owning so much is more than a little sickening.

But with the belief that good street art can challenge and activate the viewer I wonder if anyone bothered to rip off the officious tape and take back the benches? Or if a passive viewer contacted their local estate agent to enquire about the beautiful property with the big red circle? The masses certainly turned out for the walking tour which highlighted a number of smaller works dotted around Tou Scene and beyond. We found ourselves walking down familiar paths but a left turn here, a right turn there led to the discovery of more artworks, both old and new which we'd yet to find. It proved to me that our cities should be explored but also exploited for the numerous, wonderful walls and spaces they contain. The text slogans carefully placed on retaining walls and boundaries seemed to add life to the streets while the cryptic stencils (they were actually Arabic but even the Norwegian language is a challenge for me) imply dissent but also invite the viewer to engage with Arabic speakers to learn their meaning, such a simple yet powerful gesture. One artist even pushed the boat out, quite literally which led to my first sailing experience.

Interactions, story telling, group walks, discussion, debate these are all part of the Nuart experience. Although the festival aims to challenge the established norms its aims to challenge itself the most, taking a harsh look in the mirror and peeling away the bullshit to get to the truth. And I guess its that street art is as important now as its ever been. Somewhere along the line the messages might be lost and the methods might have changed but the power still lies in the individual. The small act of making an art work for the streets, whether a mosaic celebrating the LGBT+ community or a stencil that kicks off a revolution, can have a deep impact that ripples through society. It can be subtle or it can be dropped like a bomb, you could be looking at it and not even realise and it can take you into parts of your city you didn't even know existed. It can also be used to unite people and to heal personal wounds.

With only one Nuart Aberdeen under our belt its safe to say they have a captive audience but its not the first street art to happen in Aberdeen. Inspired by the theme I made up some special zines which trace almost 2 decades of street art in the Granite City from the original wolf man stencil back in the early 2000s to the Honkemon stones from last year. My own portal into street art came through the passing of a friend who'd been out pasting up bears and Victorian children around Aberdeen. Suffice to say he set me on a path which some ten years later still finds me looking for meaning through art and creativity but also through connections and interactions. And as I said before that's where the real power lies, in the people who are out engaging with their cities and spaces but also the people we meet on this journey, the Nuart team and volunteers who have been fantastic to work with but also all the people who are still coming to the Nuart Aberdeen tours and chatting and asking questions.

So how to sum it up? I'll leave that to you but if you're looking for me ill be about, just look for the signs out there on the streets!

To find out more about Nuart 'Rise Up' and to see more photos of the work check out this great street art blog by Giulia here, Brooklyn Street Art here, Juxtapoz here and the Nuart Facebook page here. P.S. due to being so busy on production I didn't manage to snap all the works but borrowed photos are credited below, feel free to borrow any of my pics too.

Photo © Slava Ptrk
Photo © Slava Ptrk

Photo © Tor Ståle Moen (
Photo © Tor Ståle Moen (

Photo © Blocal Blog
Photo from Nuart Festival Facebook page
Photo © Tor Ståle Moen (
Photo by Igor Ponosov
Photo © Ian Cox (

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