Photo Courtesy of Sarah Afaneh. Afaneh captured the walls of Paris, France. English translation: We never kill for love.

The Walls Can Talk: NYUAD Students Share Street Art From Around the World

Hidden in the nooks of cities, pieces of street art go beyond their physicality and become sources of familiarity and comfort, reminders to pause and celebrate life and even an effective medium to empower and channel the voice of the collective.

Apr 18, 2021

As many of us carry on with our fast paced lives in bustling cities, to simply pause and notice pieces of art allows us to engage in moments of reflection. These blotches of paint and color that spill onto the walls in urban spaces narrate stories of love and resilience and share snippets of insight that echo throughout the streets of cities around the globe.
The Gazelle reached out to NYU Abu Dhabi students to learn more about the personal associations people ascribe to pieces of street art they have witnessed around the world.
New York City. Photo courtesy of Melika Shahin, Class of 2022.
“The day that I first walked alone in NYC, I saw this piece from Kobra who [is] one of my favorite street artists. I was coming back from the Chelsea market on a cold day, having some hot roasted potatoes while walking back all the way from the west to the east side of Manhattan. I had suddenly looked up… and immediately recognized it. I was crossing the street but had to go back just so I could stand on the other side of the road and look at it longer. It made me have a big smile on my face… It made a place that was very unfamiliar at the time become a bit less unfamiliar [because it was] the work of an artist I love and whose work I had also seen back home in the UAE.”
The streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Melika Shahin.
“I had gone for a class assignment to observe the street art around Brooklyn [and] I loved it so much. I wish all buildings everywhere would have graffiti and street art, it would give them so much more life and character, and make them so much more unique and memorable. Even if a building has a small strip of art on it, it makes it go from average to extraordinary.”
Art transfigures mundane industrial buildings and provides an alternate realm that breaks away from the monotony of everyday life, leaving one reminiscing about the neighborhood and the art it houses.
Lucy Choi, Class of 2021, spotted this wall five minutes from the NYU Berlin campus. Photo courtesy of Lucy Choi.
“I saw [it] during my J-term in Berlin... what I found really interesting about the street art [there] was that it was so commonly seen in all kinds of public spaces from [the] subway to residential buildings and even public telephone booths. I was walking with a group of friends and I remember all of us taking photographs of this... It kinda felt like I was walking through a very open, inclusive art gallery where people were doing their own things, enjoying art at their own pace, taking photos of it [and] with it.”
For Choi, seeing the art world operate within public spaces and beyond the closed doors of art galleries was new yet comforting. These spaces actively resist barriers of exclusivity and allow people from all walks of life to access art in both solitude and togetherness.
People protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in Ohio. Photo courtesy Sanam Parwani, Class of 2024.
“They’re from the summer, from protests for the Black Lives Matter movement. In my neighborhood, these [pieces of] street art [were] popping up everywhere… It was very emotional to walk down my neighborhood and see all this art and see people coming together like this for the BLM and in response to George Floyd’s killing… I’m really grateful to the artists for their work.”
Parwani saw this street art as an active form of emotional expression, resistance and communal healing that continues to characterize protests — it is a source of solidarity.
Located in Athens, Greece. Photo courtesy of Sarah Afaneh, Class of 2022.
“A lot of street art revolved around revolution. There is a very heavy anarchist undertone to the art as well. A lot of what spoke to me was those that centered around the liberation of the female body.”
*Afaneh captured the walls of Athens, Greece. Photo courtesy of Sarah Afaneh. *
“The street art that I [saw] was also gendered, speaking out against femicides in the city, which were increasing at a terrifying rate.”
Similar to Parwani, Afaneh witnessed the growing role of street art within the landscape of activism. The inscribed phrases concerning the body and female autonomy personally resonated with Afaneh as they served as a collective outcry over structural issues of gender inequality.
Pieces of advice written on the walls of Rome. English translation: It is time to be drunk! Let us not be martyrs of time, always drunk! Drunk on wine, poetry and virtue. Photo courtesy of Laura Assanmal, Class of 2021.
“Kaashif and I took a spontaneous weekend trip to Rome while studying away in London. The rainy weather was wearing us down and we had never been to Italy. Trying to escape our sketchy Airbnb, we ended up trekking this hill called Belvedere del Gianicolo, somewhere in Trastevere. We were so tired, but I remember reading these walls and trying to use my Spanish to roughly translate. These phrases reminded me of how difficult it is to lean into joy sometimes, to feel deeply, to enjoy something like poetry within the hustle of our daily lives and how universal this difficulty is. I remember thinking of joy and poetry as a form of resistance. I think study aways and trips like these are reminders of that.”
Huma Umar, Class of 2023, saw the Lennon Wall during her J-Term in Prague. Photo courtesy of Huma Umar.
“Some of my favourite photos from J-term are from this wall [that has] existed since the 1980s... It's now called the Lennon Wall since after John Lennon was shot. It was a prominent symbol of resistance in the communist-era in the Czech Republic but is now a really interesting mesh of slogans and symbols of social justice movements and resistance from pretty much all across the globe, owing perhaps to its popularity as a cultural tourist attraction.”
Located in Le Marais, Paris. Photo Courtesy of Marafi Badr, Class of 2021. English Translation: I want to be able to go out at night without being afraid
“[It was] March of 2020 and I saw [it] in Paris after getting my haircut. I remember walking by it, not thinking much of it, then taking a few steps back to reread it.”
Hidden in the small nooks of cities, street art helps us escape from the concrete cluster of buildings. Often overlooked as vandalism or trivial doodles, these pieces of art go beyond their physicality and become sources of familiarity and comfort, reminders to pause and celebrate life and even an effective medium to empower and channel the voice of the collective. These walls offer a space for individuals and communities to come together and establish a sense of belonging as they create and experience art — they witness the human condition in its most candid forms.
Aashraya Dutt is Deputy News Editor. Email her at
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