It was a little weird going to an exhibition to see photos of graffiti and street art. After all, the whole point of street art is to see it in the raw in the city and suburbs.

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Seeing photos of graffiti hung on a wall is strange. Somehow, it feels a little wrong, especially when the explanatory statements printed on neat white cards alongside the photo create even more of a gallery feel. And the smallish size of the photos can’t help but diminish the impact of the works that once covered the outside of a train or took up an entire wall . From the looks on the faces of other visitors checking out the exhibition (some of whom I suspect may have been the original artists) they were having the same “is this right or wrong?” debate in their minds about the slick packaging of what was once a rebellious and dangerous act of creative expression.

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Nevertheless, Where it all Began is an excellent exhibition that uncovers the history of the street art movement in Brisbane from its earliest days. And having Brisbane’s Powerhouse – once a favourite spot for street artists that has preserved many original pieces on its brick walls – as the setting for the exhibition did add more power, especially when the wall pieces were a backdrop for the photos. I laughed out loud at the 1988 newspaper article that described graffiti crews as “cults” but it is amazing that less than 30 years after that article  denouncing graffiti artists as criminals, their work is being exhibited as an important part of the city’s culture.  Equally important is the history shared, which explains how several of Brisbane’s earliest graffiti artists went to jail, even though they were still in high school.

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Brisbane is a city that still has issues with dealing with the legitimacy of street art, as world renowned, Brisbane-born artist Lister found out when he found himself in court in January 2016. It seems the Brisbane City Council, despite its strong support of other forms of street art such as the signal box project, like their street art to be bound by their own laws. So it’s great to see the Brisbane Street Art Festival celebrate graffiti and street art, and honour its beginnings in the city’s railway yards with this exhibition.

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All images from the Where it Began exhibition from my personal collection.