I’m a guerrilla geographer and an urban explorer. When I travel, I always keep my eyes peeled for unusual and unexpected works of art — work that creatively subverts culture, rules, and politics and forces us to see “places” in a new way.
The work of guerrilla artists can be seen around the world. As I travel through cities, I have mixed feelings about the street art and graffiti I experience.
For me, the location, quality, and purpose of the work all have to come together beautifully if any collateral damage is to be “excused,” but I also accept and respect the truly subjective nature of guerrilla art: that it means different things to different people.
As a guerrilla geographer, I’m always on the look out for how artists use geography to make their point (if they have one).
Tagging is mostly a physical mapping out of presence and territory. It’s about occupying a space to turn it into a place that has meaning to the tagger. Anyone who has walked the streets of a city or ridden a train through one has enjoyed, endured, and perhaps even recognized these symbolic marks.
But more complex (and often more accepted) street artists will intentionally disrupt geographies to communicate directly with their “audience.”
Their message may be playful and amusing, beautiful and amazing, or — what interests me most — political and refractory. It’s in my nature to enjoy art that amplifies a point of view, allowing it to be “heard” above the din of a loud and busy city.
Here are 11 of my favorite (well-known) street artists at work around the world. In an effort to avoid ranking them like some kind of Olympic event, I’ve listed them alphabetically.
Darius and Downey (USA)
Haas & Hahn (The Netherlands)
Know Hope (Israel)
Mentalgassi Collective (Germany)
Ricky Lee Gordon (South Africa)
Daniel Raven-Ellison is an Emerging Explorer at National Geographic who advocates for “guerrilla geography” that challenges individuals to see places, people, and the world in more meaningful and surprising ways.
- Follow Daniel on Twitter @RavenEllison
- Learn more about his work by checking out his Urban Earth film series and Mission:Explore, a collaborative effort to spark children’s curiosity about the world.
- If you’re traveling to London soon (or if you live there already), read Daniel’s recommendations for seeing the city through different eyes: I Heart My City: Daniel’s London.