The Right to Write
Birmingham is graffiti city and since the late 1980s graffiti writers have written on the walls under the Hockley Flyover and specifically the five subway tunnels. We carried out a photo survey to explore a) what graffiti is present b) the battle over space between graffiti writers and Birmingham City Council and c) how urban spaces provide spaces for creative expression and are a mode of communication.
Our photo survey recorded a large number of tags painted on walls and other surfaces underneath the flyover and especially in the subways.
The tag is the simplest form of graffiti writing, the tag is quickly executed rendering of the graffiti writers name. The aim is to put it everywhere.
We also found evidence of a high number of throwies again the subways were the most poplar location. Throwies or throw ups are essentially larger versions of tags - consisting of outlined, traditionally 'bubble letters' which are grouped together and sometimes filled in with colour.
The general popular often cite that they regard tags and throwies as a nuisance but more detail pieces are often more popular. Pieces is short for masterpieces and reflect the more detailed work that are often larger, colourful, with more elaborate and stylistic designs. We photographed lots of pieces in the subways that regular change.
Writing the Subways
There is a longstanding practice of painting subways in Birmingham which includes Hockley Flyover. Typically, the walls are painted and light boces that run along the top of the walls. The low lighting and changing external light/weather can add dramatic effect to the visual effect of the graffiti in the subways.
We found that the flyover is more of graffiti zone with relative few examples of street art found there. Street art is more popular in areas such as Digbeth.
This mural was painted in April 2020 by the artist VOID One in one of the subways.
We found a much smaller amount of daubed graffiti where people have daubed words or made statements on the walls. There was a few examples of polish football graffiti and some evidence of kids writing sexual messages.
We photographed significantly high number of painted patches of varying sizes that were applied by Birmingham City Council's contractor as part of anti-graffiti policy. People felt this was making the area worse and in some case preferred the graffiti. These painted patches are known as buffing.