I was walking down a street in downtown Reykjavik when I caught a glimpse of explosive color on the walls of a courtyard behind a bar. I couldn’t stop myself. I walked in and found myself in a riot of art and color.
I snapped a photo then turned around; there was a man in the courtyard, having a smoke. We struck up a conversation–where I’m from, what I was doing in Reykjavik–and then he asked how I liked the city.
“Reykjavik is great fun,” I said, “and has a lot of really cool things to do. But the street art is fantastic.”
As I said this he beamed. I saw the look on his face and asked, “Wait, are you a street artist, too?” He said he was (but not of the art in this photo). He said there are a handful of street artists that work in Reykjavik, some on commission from building owners, some independently. And they’re generally incredibly creative and resourceful, kind of funny, and respectful of each other’s work.
And the street art is everywhere. Note: All my photos were taken in downtown Reykjavik (remember, I was only in the city for three and a half days and we had some packaged trips to take, so downtown was where we wandered in our free time. I hardly claim this is an exhaustive display of Reykjavik street art). And I have ZERO background information on how this all started. I just know the art on the walls was thrilling to see. Vibrant. Fresh. Occasionally challenging.
I mean, I grew up in New Jersey. New York was my training city, and there was precious little that would compel me to walk down an unfamiliar alley in New York. And yet in Reykjavik…
Some art is decidedly helpful.
Some art seems to be more…political? Maybe?
And with some art, the politics are unquestionable.
Here’s how the Icelandic and German sections of this statement roughly translate (and I confess, I presume my readership is fluent in English, so for the red part you’re on your own).
Part 1 (in green, in Icelandic): Gender equality has not been achieved. Multiple invisible thresholds still exist in the traditionally male-dominated power system.
Part 2 (in blue, in German): The Convention* entered into force in 1981 and was an important step in the recognition of women’s rights as human rights.
*The Convention refers to The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), ratified by the UN General Assembly in 1979 and brought into force in 1981, when the 20th UN member country ratified it.
Also, I realize this is probably, more technically, graffiti. No pictures, just words. But I like what it has to say, so it’s going up.
Some bits of street art don’t make a lot of sense.
Or kind of nightmare-fuel-y.
Or is full of badassery.
Sometimes, street artists do a selfie.
Offer up practical bits of advice.
And most importantly, it can remind us where our dreams can take us.
Thank you, Reyjkavik street artists, for some spectacular visual feasting. Keep making art happen! It was a thrill to see your incredible work.