From Oasis to the suffragettes, Happy Mondays to the Moss Side riots of the 80s, Manchester’s history is steeped in art and protest.

Growing up in an area now considered to be the city centre’s border, I saw this history amalgamated into one chaotic, beautiful, and divisive art form: political graffiti. I’m hesitant to call it an art. After, all, it can be pretty polarising. Some see the passion in neon colours covering the walls of a local town hall, while others see anti-social kids with nothing better to do. I am, of course, in the former category.

I remember walking through the streets of Manchester as a young feminist in the pre-Me Too era. Looking back, I didn’t hear many voices echoing my teenaged self’s outspoken views on women’s rights. I regularly passed street signs covered in stickers, from in-your-face football banter to adverts for local tattoo artists, but I distinctly recall my eyes darting to one in particular. It was a white sticker with the outline of a naked woman drawn in black fine liner. Written in chunky, highlighter style with neon orange and pink writing were the words ‘Stop catcalling. Not cool. Not for you.’ In that moment, I felt understood. A sense of unity washed over me and the empty void I’d had been screaming into burst wide open, all because of a piece of paper graffitied on a signpost.

In our increasingly polarising times, art has to stand for something. If it doesn’t, then what purpose is it serving in the long run? I feel the same about graffiti. Yes, there are pieces that transform a dingy alleyway into something unrecognisable, but for me it’s the meaning behind the images that’s important. Even if you just roll your eyes and keep on walking, you’ve formed your own thoughts on the message, sparked a conversation that you may not have engaged in otherwise. 

Social media has changed the way we discuss politics. We’re so busy trying to fit our opinion into Twitter’s 280 characters that the meaning of the words we type become twisted and foggy. But nothing serves as a more abrupt and overt reminder of our political climate than a graphic of Boris Johnson re-enacting Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball. Political graffiti is a protest, more subtle than a mass march through the streets, yet louder and clearer than the social media conglomerates allow us to be.

By Beth Smith