Kaitlin Dryburgh- 5th July 2023
The Granite city situated in the Nort East of Scotland is sometimes a city of contradictions, harsh weather yet welcoming people, the “oil capital” of Europe yet, surrounded by the nature rich Aberdeenshire, being from there I can say that when the city is haunted by an overcast of clouds the strong grey of the granite can look slightly dull without the sunshine touching it. Yet, in juxtaposition to the familiar driech weather can be the beauty hiding around every corner, especially when you don’t expect it.
Walking down the backstreets of Union street you’ll come across the fairly ordinary back door of shops, you’ll see some unsuspecting flats, and a few office blocks scattered around, yet tucked just around the corner of a family Italian restaurant in an almost derelict looking car park is the dazzling bright yellow mural of a magnificent horse constructed from eye catching discarded and recycled materials. Perhaps random in another city but this is the new normal in Aberdeen, art around every corner
Technically it’s not even a horse as the title of this mural is called “Trash Unicorn”, and it truly does bring some fun and colour to a rather ordinary area. Bordalo’s Trash Unicorn is one of the many murals that make up the Nuart festival in Aberdeen. Internationally famous, this street art festival originates from Stavanger Norway, over 20 years ago in 2001. Yet in 2017 the organisers of Nuart, which is also the oldest street art festival going, brought their creativity to Aberdeen.
Hampered slightly be the pandemic, other than that the art festival has been a major hit every single year pulling in thousands of people. Perhaps Aberdeen presented itself as an unexpected choice in the expansion of the Nuart festival but as the founder and artistic director Martyn Reed recounts Aberdeen was one of the very few cities that offered full artistic control and access to the city centre, so after turning down many offers Nuart Aberdeen was established. Although several of the buildings in Aberdeen are listed, this presented a way for the artists to get even more creative to overcome the obstacles that the older buildings presented.
This year there are a total of 51 murals scattered all over the centre of Aberdeen, featuring some old favourites from previous years and new pieces from this years theme of Rewilding. In the face of the trademark granite buildings which doesn’t personify your typical thoughts of rewilding, the Nuartt murals of 2023 look to explore the theme of rewilding in terms of having art spread through-out a city which doesn’t need permission. What would a city look like when the art is free and the industries become “un-shackled” from their chains? Accompanying the art are lecturers, experts and artists from all over the world to talk and discuss how urban art could change our cities, and what right we have to our own streets.
This is a fitting theme for this years Nuart Aberdeen as Martyn Reed the founder is very much an advocate for communities having authority over their spaces. As he urges us to fight the privatisation of public spaces at all costs, we should see through the process of gentrification and question the hold that property speculators have on our spaces. This also speaks to the reason he founded the Nuart festival in the first place, when Martyn had the resources to create Nuart his aim was always to allow for art in public spaces to reach an audience that may have never experienced art before. Having grown up in poverty on an estate he didn’t get to experience art until much later in his life, street art for him bridges the gap between a stuffy gallery and a life with no art.
When the sunshine is bouncing off the silvery sheen of the granite buildings revealing the most impressive art works it really does make you stop and think, why can’t this always be the norm? The murals are dotted all over the centre of Aberdeen, sometimes in the most random of places and sometimes right bang in centre of the thoroughfare. Sometimes they’re so big you need to stand on the other side of the street to appreciate them, and sometimes they’re so small you could walk right past them (if they weren’t so bright and cheerful). A serious mural on current affairs, or even a wall partially made up of lego, anything goes.
I always marvelled at the art works that surrounded the now flattened Aberdeen Market. A forgotten building that was slotted behind Union Street, that latterly was a collection of shut-down shops and stalls, unfortunately it was an area that was under-used. But below street level lay two massive murals that helped to reinvigorate the building and make people think differently about the Market’s place in the city centre. Along the curved exterior of the market was a portrait of a whimsical girl, the artists, world renowned German street-art duo Herakut, created a stunning piece of art on such a large scale (approx. 35m in width), they did so by bringing in elements of Aberdeen with a lighthouse sitting on her hand and seagulls flocking around her. While further along the back alley was again another huge mural of two women who were trying to push each other away, yet were attached by their shirts. Although sadly the market has now been demolished to make way for something new, these two murals did bring beauty a very much forgotten building.
This year brings about new murals to find dotted around the city. From hidden street art that likens itself to Banksy’s style of tongue and cheek play on current affairs, or vibrant flowers bursting from a very ordinary looking multi-story carpark. To my personal favourite an installation on the appropriately named “Crooked Wall Lane” which features a large collection of posters, and paintings, that from a far look like forgotten advertisement, yet when closer this mural of fantastic colours and illustrations has some very poignant messages for living in today’s society. With the help of neighbouring high schools and in particular Ukrainian and Afghan refuges Aida, an Iranian born/ London based artist brings this corner of Aberdeen alive with the voices of the young people living in it.
Don’t worry though, you don’t have to aimlessly walk around Aberdeen trying to find them (although many would be hard to miss), there are maps online and this year is the first time the Nuart team have debuted weekly walking tours. Which takes the stress out of trying to see them all, and it gives you insight from those who have behind the scenes knowledge or may have even worked on the art themselves.
This perhaps isn’t a typical community arts project, yet don’t be fooled into thinking that this is an international festival that just happens to take place in Aberdeen. No, this is an art festival that the city of Aberdeen has really embraced and made their own, each mural speaks something to the environment around it. The city of Aberdeen has quietly shown how by embracing art and giving control of spaces to artists for the sake of the community, art can become part of your everyday life. Simply by popping to the shops for some milk, you and a friend can discuss how a certain mural makes you feel, or how the space looks much more inviting than before. Although there is a brilliant art gallery in Aberdeen, it means so much more to get the art out there for everyone to see, even those who wouldn’t normally go to a gallery.
If you haven’t seen the Aberdeen Nuart festival I would highly recommend you give it a go. You can find out more at https://2023.nuartaberdeen.co.uk/