Photography by:
  • GCRO

Graffiti in the city

Graffiti is present in nearly every city globally. Although it is often considered a form of vandalism, it can also be regarded as a form of urban art with a variety of benefits. For example, urban art in the alleyways of Melbourne promotes tourism, improves the quality of the environment, contributes to feelings of safety and creates neighbourhood pride and identity.

Graffiti can be seen as a platform of expression and communication in the city. Graffiti, as youthful rebellion, is a form of activism and urban commentary and is often a response to hostile urban environments or expression that has no other channels. Graffiti is frequently in use at times of conflict and can generate conversations around political and economic protest and decolonisation. For this reason it has deep and pertinent roots in the anti-apartheid history of the Gauteng City-Region (GCR).

Graffiti is temporary, whether through its active removal or erasure, the nature of the medium or the act of repainting. An archive of graffiti can therefore be invaluable in providing a record of these urban conversations and the investment of time and money.

This research project maps photos and locations of graffiti and urban art in the GCR using a web-base mobile application developed for this purpose. Initially this application will be populated with existing archive material of urban art in certain areas with the aim of creating create a record and tool for use by residents of and visitors to the city-region. The app will be a model for participatory GIS applications and will also form an archive of graffiti as it changes over time. To develop the technology, GCRO is collaborating with Open Data Durban who will run a parallel project in Durban.

Preliminary research for the graffiti application is to be published as a GCRO occasional paper that will explore the various facets of graffiti and urban art including the historical dimension of protest art in the GCR; the way that urban art is being used to create neighbourhood identities in very different contexts; how ‘legitimate’ urban art spaces are being managed; and ultimately an understanding of the conversations being conducted through urban art in the GCR. The occasional paper explores these facets through the case study of Maboneng, a redeveloped precinct in Johannesburg’s inner city, with extensive graffiti and urban art.


GCRO Occasional paper

Parker, A., Khanyile, S., and Joseph, K. (2019) Where do we draw the line?: Graffiti in Maboneng. GCRO Occasional Paper no.13, Johannesburg, March 2019.


Khanyile, S. and Parker, A. (August 2018) ‘Where do we draw the line?: Graffiti in Maboneng, Johannesburg’. International Royal Geographical Society Conference, Cardiff, Wales, 31 August 2018.

Parker, A. and Khanyile, S. (August 2018) where do we draw the line?: Graffiti in Maboneng, Johannesburg'. Faces of the City Seminar Series. Wits University, 14 August 2018.


Open Data Durban (ODD) hosted a workshop on Friday 3 August 2018. The workshop was attended by Samkelisiwe Khanyile and local graffiti artists in Durban. The event presented an opportunity for ODD to get feedback from the project members and members of the graffiti subculture on the wireframes of the proposed mobile application.

Last updated: 9 July 2019


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