Every day I walk to work through an art gallery on my way to work.
I work in one of Sydney’s oldest suburbs, Newtown, and in just the few hundred metres between the bus stop and my office, there’s more art than you’d find in one trendy gallery’s opening night.
Even the buildings are artworks. Many are heritage listed (considered historically significant) and the facades cannot be changed.
Some of the artworks are the result of community art projects: decorated tiles and carvings in the paving that document and sometimes protest Newtown’s long and varied history.
Others are unauthorised, spontaneous, guerilla art, often painted or printed on paper that’s pasted to the walls, or spray-painted, more traditionally, as graffiti. I walked past one piece for a couple of weeks, wondering if anyone else had noticed that the open-legged woman reclining among flowers was actually r-rated. Someone did — and tore away strips of paper from the offending part.
The most recent of these offerings seems inspired by the winner of Eurovision 2014, which is certainly appropriate in this genderqueer-friendly suburb.
These visual art happenings, like the Newtown ArtSeat, which showcases the work of local and emerging artists in a vertical perspex tube with the full authority of the local council, are ephemeral.
Other artworks are decades old and famous, like the map of Africa on the outside wall of what used to be an African restaurant, and the ‘I have a dream’ mural of Martin Luther King above an Aboriginal flag. Painted illegally in 1991, there’s a request at the base of it to show respect for Aboriginal people and not graffitti over it. This is mostly respected.
Unfortunately I suspect the African map’s days are numbered, as the restaurant has closed down. Will the new proprietors value it enough to keep it?
I don’t know the meaning of the symbol to the left of the map. It reminds me of the adinkra symbol sankofa, which is intended to remind people of the ‘importance of learning from the past’. It’s probably just an antelope, but if it is sankofa, then it’s an appropriate tribute to the many stories told by the walls and streets of Newtown.