George Orwell and Graffiti

I have been consistently documenting graffiti that piques my interest for some time and I realise that I can subdivide the images into different groups. Some of these groups also intersect and overlap which has added to my procrastination in blogging on this theme; the complexities of graffiti! Amongst the genres of graffiti I’ve been collecting are ‘infantile’ graffiti that is silly or funny, graffiti that is rude, uses swear words or is blasphemous, graffiti targeting politicians and graffiti that directly and indirectly references the pandemic. Within the category of graffiti that references the pandemic are also graffiti and stickers that promote the idea that Covid-19 is a hoax, mask wearing is enslavement and that vaccines murder children. An extension of this is a sub-category of graffiti that has been erased and/or scratched out.

However, I am able to separate of group of images where there is a relationship to the work of George Orwell, an iconic English writer who died in 1950 at the age of only 46.

I think we studied Orwell at school for English O Level but I really can’t remember it; and definitely didn’t love it at the time. A couple of years back with my book club we read Down and Out in Paris in London and more recently, inspired by all the references to 1984 I’d been witnessing, I decided to read the novel for myself and was struck by its modernity. Funnily enough, one of my favourite themes in the book is his fascination on encountering some retro antique items and images. That really resonated with me – the connection to memory and history and tangible evidence of what life was like before.

Today as I was walking home by a slightly different route I came across some more 1984 graffiti. Although this is an ongoing project in that I don’t think the references are going to stop any time soon I’ve decided it’s time to show some of the Orwell-inspired graffiti I’ve photographed both close to home and on my travels.

Today’s image highlights one of my categorisation issues. Taken in College Lane parallel to Highgate Road, the red COVID 1984 graffiti is seen side by side with the word BITCH:

I’ve recently returned from a long weekend in Venice, Italy. In the Dorsoduro area I came across this jumble of stickers and graffiti, surrounding the words Covid 1984:

1984 has popped up on my other travels this year. Below a couple of photographs taken in Palma, Mallorca during August 2021. In the first, the words 1984 es ahora, meaning 1984 is now, have been crossed out:

In this image the Covid 1984 text is an additional layer of graffiti:

A succinct yellow 1984 daubed onto the side of a public fountain in Paris, seen in July 2021:

More Covid 1984, but back in Central London, witnessed in October 2020:

Next, examples of signage which reference Orwell’s Animal Farm. In the image below printed quotes from the novel have been glued onto a boarded up wall in Hampstead, previously adorned with floral graffiti containing a Ban the Bomb symbol at its centre;

Hand-painted sign in Darmouth Park illustrating Orwell’s idea of pigs walking on hind legs:

Below, a sticker seen recently at my local bus stop saying 1984 is a warning, not an instruction manual:

And finally a subtle form graffiti and protest seen in Kentish Town. On the social distancing street sign, the word psychological has been added, covering over original text which uses the word physical. Implying that Covid is about psychological control rather than physical disease, this graffiti expands upon Orwell’s 1984 themes of manipulation and social control:


Also published on Medium.

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