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Vitry sur Seine. Open-Air Graffiti Gallery in Paris

Author: Agita Salmiņa0 COMMENTS

Vitry sur Seine. Open-Air Graffiti Gallery in Paris

One of the most exciting 'art galleries' I have ever visited is Vitry sur Seine in Paris. The exposition there changes not by days but by minutes. No two visitors ever experience the same show - not only because of the subjectivity of the viewer's emotional perception but also because a different scene unfolds in front of the visitor literally every moment.
A south-eastern suburb of Paris, Vitry sur Seine is not likely to be included into any traditional tourist itinerary. If at all mentioned in your average Paris guide, it is probably described as an area to be avoided due to the crime levels. However, it is a well-known fact that art is not born in sterile galleries or boulevards of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. One of the most artistic areas in Paris, Vitry sur Seine features street art by the likes of C215, Alicè Pasquini, the popular Meushay, Avataar, Pixel Pancho, Orticanoodles and other figures famous in the graffiti circles.
Historically, this is the place where the urban art of Paris was originally born and developed, starting with the emergence of the hip-hop culture in France. The reason behind the fact that street art is still concentrated here is the cultural policy practised for a number of years under the motto of Art for Everyone. This is why some 100 works of graffiti art by 23 artists can be found in this area of some 10 square kilometres.

Foto: Vitry sur Seine. Open-Air Graffiti Gallery in Paris

The most significant and prolific among the artists represented here is C215. Featuring portraits of tramps, beggars, street urchins and other marginal people, his works aim to highlight the part of the society that most people tend to ignore or even treat with disdain. Most of his images, created in an incredibly precise stencil technique, have found their home in Vitry: on the door of the junction box; on the wall; on mail boxes and telephone booths. C215 possesses a virtuoso stencil technique; paper and knife seems to obey his every wish.

Foto: Vitry sur Seine. Open-Air Graffiti Gallery in Paris

Similar themes are also typical of Alicè Pasquini's art: she has mostly depicted women of different social status, age and race. The most significant of her works is the one in Avenue Paul Vaillant-Couturier, next to a hairdressing salon: a modest-looking woman proudly turning her back on the shop window to look in a different direction.
The appeal by the artist Epsylon Point, 'Ecoute la rue' - 'Listen to the Street!' - will probably serve as the best motto for a trip through this extraordinary art gallery. This part of the city is quiet and calm, at least during the first half of the day. There are practically no people in the street. I embark on this adventure with a group of fellow enthusiasts: it's just that purely intuitively it seems safer this way. As we emerge from the underground, the only thing we are capable of is gape and communicate with inane phrases like 'Look at that!' and 'Did you see this?'. The first reaction to the art is the childish 'Oh!'. It is hard to put your finger on what is the most surprising about the whole experience: is it the location, the skill of the artists, or the amount of art per square metre - or perhaps all of it.

Foto: Vitry sur Seine. Open-Air Graffiti Gallery in Paris

The first 'resident' of Vitry sur Seine we encounter is a dreamy and somewhat melancholic young woman on the roadside, a bit reminiscent of a girl from one of the numerous medieval legends of a maiden immured in the church wall. This image - the girl that seems to emerge from the overpass wall - was created by the graffiti artist Sly 2.
Admittedly, you have to keep your eyes peeled to notice some of the works. They fit the site organically, often blending into the background so well that they can easily be missed. For instance, as you wander through Place Jean Martin, you have to look sharp to spot yet another stencil masterpiece by C215 discreetly placed on a mailbox.
Or let's take the giant three-storey-tall bird on the corner of Avenue Jean-Jaurès and Avenue Paul Vaillant: it looks so natural in the tiny park among the fir-trees - an integral part of the landscape. The artist Roa has managed to trick us: initially we pay no attention to the bird. It seems to have merged with the environment, living a life of its own amidst trees and shrubs.
The featured techniques range from the classic graffiti - stencil - to stickers.
Gradually we are overcome by a genuine graffiti-hunting frenzy: we are determined to see them all. We choose the route following our gut instinct; nevertheless, every now and then we stumble upon a graffito that takes us by surprise. Those who love order and following strict patterns would do wise to take the main road of Vitry sur Seine, Avenue Paul Vaillant-Couturier, then follow Avenue Jean-Jaurès - and do not hesitate to stick your head around the corners of tiny bystreets.
Both in a physiogeographical context and on their own, the works make you think and reflect. A stroll around this suburb will never be just an ordinary walk; rather, it is a trip to somewhere deep inside you. It is a place that addresses every single passer-by; judging by the permanence of the works, the friendship is mutual.

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