Doug Gillen

Doug Gillen

3 May 2018 - 15:14 BY The Arts Society

Accredited Lecturer of The Arts Society, Doug Gillen makes the case for the art we see on our streets.

Art lies at the heart of social unrest, a voice for those who cannot be heard.

It can even, accidentally, start a civil war.
In February 2011, a young boy armed only with a can of spray paint did just that. ‘Your turn next, doctor’ were the words of 14-year-old Mouawiya Syasneh and his friends scrawled across surfaces throughout his hometown of Deraa, Syria.
Such an act of defiance, aimed at the tyrannical Syrian dictator (and doctor of ophthalmology) Bashar al-Assad, would not be tolerated by the regime, so the boys were incarcerated. Stories of torture and injustice spread like wildfire through the economically ravaged farmlands of the region.
Support for action grew, protest marches followed and, before long, Mouawiya was the catalyst at the heart of a revolution.
What made Mouawiya so special was that, through his spray paint, he acquired something so many of his countrymen and women did not have: a voice.
In art, context is everything. The wild scribbles of youth that plaster bus shelters and hoardings in towns and cities are often mistaken for nothing more than acts of Nihilism. In reality, they contribute to a movement drenched in history, driven by the desire to be seen and heard.

‘What made Mouawiya so special was that, through his spray paint, he acquired something so many of his countrymen and women did not have: a voice’
One street artist truly seen and heard today is Banksy. Removing the barriers set in place through hundreds of years of institutionalisation, his stencilled murals and pop-up art happenings have bridged the gap between artist and audience like never before.
It’s because of this that a crudely cut, single-layered stencil, sprayed onto the wall of a shop in Shoreditch, east London, is now one of Britain’s most adored pieces of art. A monochromatic girl in a dress, letting go of a red balloon – a piece that took less than 20 minutes to paint – had outranked work by some of the most technically gifted painters of all time.
I believe this is down to context. It’s unlikely that you’ll walk to the shops and pass a Caravaggio on the way. To see such work, you have to be proactive; you must enter the world of procedure and protocol: in short, you must go to a gallery.
Art is a voice for those who demand to be heard; and what better gallery to exhibit in than the streets in which we live?

Doug is involved in documenting the street art scene in London and abroad through his project Fifth Wall TV ( His lectures for The Arts Society include: Hidden Canvases: Street Art and the City and Empowering People: The Real Voice of Street Art.
Follow Doug on Twitter @douggillen

Image: Tom Medwell


The Arts Society has a directory of speakers and we are always interested to hear from enthusiastic, knowledgeable and entertaining lecturers who speak about the arts.



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