Street Art and Artivism : Sea Walls Bali

Artivism is alive and well in Bali. That’s the activity of artists who use their talents (spoken word, dance, murals, music or, really, any art form at all) to build awareness and support for a wide range of concerns, such as politics and justice, social needs and the environment.

The word was probably coined in the USA 20 years ago for describing the high-profile activities of several tightly knit Chicano art collectives in East LA. Unnamed, the phenomena of artivism has been around for as long as there have been politics, pigment, and public squares. Today it describes a global phenomenon embraced by artists with a sense of grand scale, fully entrenched in a media savvy world.

From Papua to Jakarta, Indonesian artists are exposing their thoughts of protest, hope, and change, in powerful imagery on urban and rural walls. Using social media, these expressions can go directly and instantaneously from artist to the world. Small wonder street art is the hottest medium to subvert the heavily monetized, patron and dealer-led art world.

In the years following democratization and especially the Bali bomb, street art spread all over Bali, thanks to several artist communities (Djamur Community, Pojoks, to name a few). Although Gianyar’s Kulidan Kitchen and any number of banjars’ anti-reklamasi street banners have given passers-by a dose of excellent street art, the most visible concentration is in hipster-magnet Canggu.   The most attention-grabbing and technically impressive walls have been immortalized via Instagram, blogs, and televised travel shows. Today, travelers come to Canggu just to see the street art. Banksy hasn’t made the scene, but restaurant Aya, with its bold street art collection, boasts a framed print by that elusive megastar.


Lifelong art fan and former Paris finance drone, European Julien Thorax can take significant credit for the transformation of Canggu. Ending a round-the-world journey, Thorax returned to Bali in 2015, and knew right away it was a place he could support street art the way Paris does. He took over the foundering spray paint retailer ALLCAPS (Jl Raya Canggu), and wasted no time in organizing multinational spray jams, transforming the bataku walls of Canggu’s rampant development into canvases for artists. While only some of the artists created works expressing strong opinions, you could argue that transforming the village into an outdoor art gallery is true artivism against urban blight.

In 2016, Julien launched the Tropica Festival, Bali’s first street art and graffiti festival. More than 40 artists took part in a one-week blitz of parties, walls gorgeously painted, and fellowship between artists of Indonesia and the rest of the world. Established artists Sofles, ROA, Felipe Pantone, Seth Globepainter, and Fintan Magee are big names who helped put Bali on the global street art map that year.

Next, Julien set up ALLCAPS Gallery, though not merely as a place to view and buy artwork on a variety of moveable media. ALLCAPS became an epicenter for artists connected to the Canggu scene. A recent weekend art market there, with at least a dozen individual Balinese and international artists selling original small-scale creations, was a one-stop networking opportunity for designers, artists, and their admirers.

The Indonesian team at ALLCAPS is infused with a gung-ho, can-do spirit of inclusivity and an overt enjoyment of linking artist to the public at large, an image far removed from a hooded vandal plastering their name on private property in the wee hours (although Julien admits that some of the world’s street artists do both). As Julien told me, “graffiti is originally an illegal form of expression. Artists (or vandals) write, tag or paint their names illegally on walls, train, doors, et cetera, to get their name visible. Street Art is more like bringing some form of art into the street for the general public to enjoy.”

ALLCAPS also organizes three-hour street art tours, sharing stories and insights about individual artists’ contributions. Guides reveal a few hidden gems not easily accessed on one’s own. The gallery also offers artist-led, hands-on, painting lessons, a great activity for a teens’ party.

With Tropica Festival now approaching its third staging, Julien’s taken a dedicated turn to artivism by teaming up with non-profit ocean environmental movement PangeaSeed to raise local awareness in ocean ecology and our impact upon it through their project Sea Walls Bali.

Since 2009, PangeaSeed has brought 250 artists to diverse global corners to create 300 outstanding ocean-themed murals, with a mission of “fostering a new breed of conservation through community engagement and empowerment.”

Sea Walls Bali runs from September 10 to 17 (with Bali graffiti jam Sept 1-2). Sponsored artists are assigned blank walls on Nusa Penida and Lembongan to make lasting, high-impact images about positive stewardship of the ocean and its creatures. Simultaneously, PangeaSeed will hold community outreach events: film shows, kids’ activities at schools, beach cleanups, multilingual talks to raise awareness and offer practical solutions, and tours of the art throughout the 3 islands. These are accessible by boat from Padang Bai, Sanur, and Benoa.

PangeaSeed leaders say that it’s all about addressing marine environmental issues and opportunities relevant to the local community and environment. “We hope to ignite a sense of pride and ownership for the sustainability of their natural resources.”

Topics addressed will include overfishing, plastic pollution, disappearance of ocean-based cultural practices like seaweed farming, conservation of key ocean species (sharks, manta rays, mola mola, sea turtles), and climate change.

Businesses and individuals who want to show their support through sponsorship may still apply at press time; contact has more information; @tropicafestival is on social media. Julien’s magazine KONEKTION, serving Canggu alternative arts and lifestyles, will also give information.

In other news, save these dates: the Balinale, Bali’s own international film festival, is scheduled for 24 – 30 September.

Screening national and international films in two theatres, Cinemaxx Lippo Mall Kuta and Cinemaxx Plaza Renon, this is a not-to-be-missed event where audience members vote right along with the jury for best films.

Look forward to premiere showings, rising stars, industry-insider workshops, free weekend screenings of kids’ movies, and a wide array of participating countries. Many times, this is our only chance to see on a big screen, the best independent films from Indonesia and the world.

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