Straight outta Groruddalen: The city in Norwegian hip hop and graffiti

The city is an integral part of graffiti and hip hop. Perhaps it is the links between the two that make them both inherently geographical. Best known as part of leftist and socially conscious group Gatas Parlament, the lyrics of Norwegian rapper Don Martin are particularly interesting from a human geography perspective. He raps frequently about the city and graffiti and has been an advocate for both.

Oslo is a segregated city with a strong East-West divide, demarcated roughly by the river Akerselven which flows from Maridalsvannet to Grønland. There are considerable economic and sociocultural differences between the two parts of the city. Simplistically, the West is generally more affluent and ethnically homogeneous and the East poorer, more multicultural, and home to many of Norway’s immigrants. Don Martin, hailing from the East, has been very vocal about these divides.

‘Nilsen’ by Don Martin and featuring Tommy Tee is an excellent example of the geographies of hip hop making many references to places in the East side of Oslo and touching upon everything from gentrification in Grønland and Grünerløkka to issues of identity in the city. Martin raps “Jeg er så Oslo du kan kalle meg for Nilsen, Rudolf, Lillebjørn, Joachim – velg hvilken.”  [“I am so Oslo, you can call me  Nilsen, Rudolf, Lillebjørn, Joachim – choose which.”]


Don Martin is also known for having been a graffiti writer. For an illegal form of expression, graffiti has a surprising number of rules. ‘Verdisett (enkle tips og huskeregler)’ [‘Values (simple tips and rules of thumb)’] reminds us of the fundamental values and rules of writing graffiti. Some of the most important tips to remember? According to the rap, “aldri bite, prøv å unngå å gå over andre men pieces over throws ups, throws ups går over tags, sølv ryker for farge, men marker aldri over can”. Or, never bite, try not to go over others but if you do: pieces over throw ups, throw ups over tags, silver over colour, but never markers over can.  And remember that the rules are completely different for legal walls.

Got ice?

I am currently collaborating on a paper about art and environmental problem-solving, with a particular focus on climate change. The paper is still in progress but I am interested in having a few different disciplinary perspectives outside of the natural sciences. If you would like to provide some feedback or have some ideas on the place of art, culture, and humanities in climate change discourse, please do send me a message.

Tag for likes: Instagram as a visual research method

Instagram has been an important tool for developing my project and continues to be useful for disseminating my research and verifying my data. The comments and instant feedback I receive are of particular value. Users often correct errors, suggest additional tags, and interact with my visual data in different ways. It allows me to see which images are of interest to a wider (and not necessarily academic) audience. I am also able to study images from different cities and get an approximation of how graffiti and street art scences differ in Norway and abroad. Follow @artandenvironment on Instagram for regular updates.

Oh you’ve got green eyes

The practice of “eye bombing”  involves affixing eyes in clever ways to create faces in unusual places. Some artists use commercially bought adhesive googly eyes, others use markers or paint, and others hand-drawn or printed stickers. There are two prolific artists in Oslo whose sticker eyes humourously interact with various aspects of the urban landscape. Keep an eye out.


What’s art and science got to do with it?

Though it might not be initially obvious, the basis for a lot of my research is the art/science divide. The strong Western emphasis on science and technology has created a sort of hierarchy of knowledge where the social sciences and the arts are often perceived as being of less value and importance. This bias for reasoning over feeling is not particularly new. Just ask the ancient Greeks. Yet, these divides persist between and even within disciplines. Quantitative research is often favoured, for example, over the qualitative in the social sciences.

My research in the past has examined how these divides impact our ability to understand and cope with environmental problems. In the context of my current work on graffiti and street art, this duality has relevance as well. Mix this divide with a little capitalism and graffiti and street art don’t fare particularly well (unless of course it can be monetized). This book The Master and his Emissary Iain McGilchrist is a recent addition to my growing list of books to read and explores just how the left-side of the brain has dominated Western society.

A picture is worth at least 274 words

One quickly snapped photograph on my mobile phone after doing some groceries has inspired a paper proposal for the upcoming conference Ecological Challenges. I was struck unexpectedly by the juxtaposition between the advertising that is framed and legal and the graffiti that is, well, illegal. It raises some interesting questions on how we prioritise images in urban space. Is the legitimacy of advertising dominating public space a reflection of what the city or society values?


Stockings, posters, and other forbidden things

When I explain my research studying illegal graffiti and street art, many people ask how do I know something is illegal and how do I know something is art. These are difficult questions and the answers I tend to give are not always especially satisfying. The truth is, you don’t always know. According to art critic and philosopher Arthur C. Danto in his recently published book What art is (2013), there is “a difference between being art and knowing whether something is art”. With that thought in mind, I present some photographs of the masking tape (artist) in Oslo.


I go to work (like a doctor)

Officially launching the GEOGRAFF! website, which will share the progress of my doctoral research at the Department of Sociology and Human Geography at the University of Oslo. The map above shows the 100 km I have already walked in Oslo. I leave you for now with the wise words of Kool Moe Dee.