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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Kristopher Murray, Socio-cultural Analysis

Making it Big: Street Art Muralism in a Post Political World

Tuesday, November 30, 2021 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Dolly Grewal



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


Making it Big is an ethnographic exploration of the critical role that graffiti and street artists can play in resisting neoliberal attempts to pacify radical modes of artistic practice in North American cities today. Over the last decade, street art muralism has increasingly been identified as a key component in reshaping urban infrastructures and economies, namely though the development of arts districts and the organization of urban or mural arts festivals. It has also been mobilized to confront social injustices and raise public awareness to environmental and global issues. Influenced graffiti and street art, street art muralism is argued as being a distinct form of public art, heroic to monumental in scale, and produced in public settings with consent. The shift towards professional and institutionally managed street art mural projects and programs demands a closer and critical evaluation of the concepts of quality, content, place, space, and the democratization of arts in the city. As commercial and government interests grow urban arts infrastructures using street art mural-based tourism strategies, they are met with either support or resistance from purists and muralists in the graffiti and street art communities. On the one hand, purists argue that the street art muralism threatens to supplant graffiti culture and informal systems of aesthetic regulation. On the other hand, muralists see opportunities to develop their public and professional arts careers and use their art to raise awareness to environmental, cultural, political, and social justice issues. Social relations which have emerged from new configurations of work and art have also produced new subjectivities, perspectives, and worldviews which can help to expand rather than detract from counter-hegemonic struggles. This research will show how graffiti and street artists and the multiplicity of social spaces where they find themselves working have contributed to an expansion of the field of artistic intervention. As such, this research probes the struggles and tensions produced by these new and changing social relations and spatial forms surrounding their professionalization and the popularization through street art muralism to draw out the contradictions between these commercial and emancipatory projects.

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