Title: “Urban murals as protest tourism attractions: mediated public art in post-Euromaidan Kyiv”
In the wake of the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine, the urban public art scene exploded with new and repurposed signs, symbols and slogans. Many cultural objects, including posters, graffiti, stickers, digital art, were created, circulated and consumed by protest participants and observers (Lishchyns’ka 2015). As in any modern urban environment, such production and consumption of art was heavily mediated – in fact, mediation was often an intrinsic part of the artistic objects themselves, imbuing them with additional meaning and significance.
This paper focuses on the urban murals that started blossoming on the walls of multiple buildings in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, in the post-Euromaidan period. As an urban art form, murals are generally considered less “illicit” than graffiti, as they tend to get the public’s and sometimes even the authorities’ blessing, and yet they also manage to capture the “hopes and fears, struggles and aspirations” of the communities which create and house them (Rolston 1992, Cockcroft and Barnet-Sánchez 1993, Golden et al. 2002). In Kyiv, the murals began as a spontaneous practice, but post-protest, morphed into a concerted effort to populate blank walls of decaying apartment blocks around the city with meaningful art, reflecting on the turbulent political, social and cultural changes in the country. The mural movement grew to encompass a slew of international artists and drew worldwide fascination, becoming one of Kyiv’s main attractions from the “new history” period.
The paper considers how this mediated public art form transforms the visual imaginary of Kyiv for the city’s visitors and inhabitants from a “treasury of old European history” or a “post-Soviet shabby chic” into a “modern European post-protest space”. It focuses on how the murals attempt to redefine the values and ideas embedded in Kyiv’s urban fabric and how they may contest the mainstream media narratives of post-Euromaidan Ukraine with their own themes of rebirth and regeneration (Sharp et al. 2005). Artefacts such as the murals themselves, the stories behind them, their media coverage, interactive online maps aggregating their locations, and the documentation of visits to the murals in visual social media such as Instagram, combine into a compelling narrative of how mediated urban art plays a key role in renegotiating symbolic representations of power, history and citizenship.
The paper also critically examines the emerging concept of “protest tourism” as a cultural phenomenon and reflects on the role urban murals and other mediated public art in the city play in public space consumption (Visconti et al. 2010) as performed by tourists and the city’s inhabitants.