In 1967, on the stage of Italian Festival of Sanremo, there was a group of beat boys who decided to perform without instruments. The opening words of their song “Proposta” (“Proposal”, that arrived third), said: «Put flowers in your cannons». This sentence marked the musical career of I Giganti becoming a manifesto for a “ballad of peace” hummed or even written on the walls of the various Italian cities.
And right from the walls that revolutions or reactions start. And something similar has been happening, since 2016, in Berlin, where a spontaneous collective has been running around the German capital to cover the Nazi swastikas that appear on the walls with imagination, fantasy and lots of color. The cultural association of writers who gave life to the #PaintBack project is called Die kulturellen Erben (Cultural heritage) and was founded two years ago by Ibo Omari, owner of a paint shop for writers and street artists. Ibo is 37 years old, he is German, but his parents are Turkish and Lebanese and the inspiration, the flower to be put in cannons had it for empathy, observing one of his clients: a local resident entered the shop to cover a swastika which had been designed in a play area for children. And it happened in Schöneberg, a district in West-Berlin that hosts middle class Germans, Turkish and Arab families, and where integration is fully lived in everyday life.
So first he covered that symbol of hatred by drawing a fly and then the imagination exploded so much to become contagious: rabbits, Rubik’s cube, owls, flowers, two boys who kiss and wear two sweaters with the words “Love” and “Peace”. The project PaintBack was born like this, and in a short time Omari has managed to involve many other street artists, tapestrying the city with small works, very simple yet but full of meaning. At the beginning the artists in action were seven and they worked mainly in the Schöneberg district, then it was the citizens who asked them to intervene.
In fact, with this project, Omari wants to create a social movement starting from the bottom and then push to a greater sensitivity towards the street art itself: in his shop organizes educational and creative workshops for children to bring them closer to the expressive freedom that urban art can give. And then the anti-nazi campaign is a protest against racism and inequality. It is a protest in favor of union and equity.
We must be bold, we must get involved and get our hands dirty. In Berlin the message has spread: the reaction started from a paint shop.