Skip to content

Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Ottawa Graffiti: A Photo Exposé

Read more articles by


Tattooed onto the concrete skin of the city, graffiti plays an ambivalent role in the aesthetic of the urban spaces. While the sprayed, drawn or painted markings often rise to the status of art form, adding life and color to dull gray surfaces, they can also make a street corner into a darker, less humane space. The difference may lie in the intentions of the creator. When graffiti is an act spontaneous self-expression or communication, their effect is to transform a generic structures into unique and meaningful landmarks. When graffiti is intended to deface, they signal the degradation of the surrounding community. However, it is likely that the real significance of these words and images do not lie in the hand that holds the spray can, but rather in the eye of the beholder.

Today, Apartment613 is featuring a Photo Essay by Sarah Mercer. To my eye, the graffiti in Sarah’s essay falls firmly into the category of spontaneous expression. These photographs of the images plastered to Ottawa’s walls and other surfaces shows a form of informal public art as essential to the fabric of the city as the more permanent and celebrated landmarks. Whether or not you feel that graffiti is an art form or a crime, it is hard to deny that Ottawa wouldn’t seem quite like the same place without them.

photo courtesy of Sarah Mercer