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France

Paris tour shows off the capital's street art

Isabelle Martinetti/RFI

When visitors to Paris are on their way to famous museums, they pass thousands of works of graffiti and street art over walls, on buildings and inside trains. Urban art is working its way into French culture. A group is documenting and giving tours of this side of the capital’s artistic life.

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“These two walls are really active, but every week the Mairie comes through, takes it down, and people put up new work…” says tour guide Demian Smith.

Paris’s Oberkampf neighbourhood is brought to life through colourful paintings, designs in ceramic tiles and even a mounted front end of a BMX bicycle.

As our guide explains, artists keep the creative spirit alive each time city officials at the Mairie de Paris order it to be covered in paint, or if the works disappear by other means :

“It’s very easy to take them down. All you have to do is get the paper wet again and you can peel it off the wall, and take it and keep it for yourself. So it’s not only the Mairie de Paris you have to fear as a street artist, but also people who really love your work. They’ll take it off the wall as well…”

Demian’s tours are part of Underground Paris, a project he started to document a world that is, by definition, always changing :

“We spend much of our time taking photos, being out on the street, and being in contact with artists who’ve done the work, sometimes they tell us where to find new work, sometimes they don’t, most often you have to find it for yourself. »

Even though illegally using buildings, signs and delivery trucks as artistic canvasses stirs tension with public authorities, local officials are showing signs of tolerance.

Artist and cultural historian Thomas Schmitt, also known as Thom Thom, oversees "Le M.U.R.", a city-funded wall given over to street artists:

“The part of Paris that is touristic is not concerned with urban art at all, but other places that are not that visited could be the nest of urban art in Paris.”

We come to a street where street art is allowed to thrive: the rue Dénoyez in the Belleville neighbourhood is full of graffiti and other artworks. It's also a gathering place for the artists who make them.

And with so much out there, some artists say Paris could become as well known for what is in its streets as what’s in its museums.

Street art tour in pictures

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