Urban Geography: a flâneur’s encounter with Graffiti in Toulouse

by Fiona Ferbrache

Graffiti by Miss Van

Strolling through Toulouse at the weekend, I was seeking to observe and understand the city through the eyes of a flâneur.  Baudelaire describes a flâneur as “a person who walks the city in order to experience it”; a concept not dissimilar from the methodological practice of participant observation.  Flâneur comes from the French verb flâner meaning “to stroll”, so it seemed an appropriate means of engaging with Toulouse on a Sunday afternoon.

During my exploration, I stopped to observe displays of graffiti across the city’s fabric, some of which are testimony to Toulouse’s thriving contemporary art scene.  The walls, ceilings and transport thoroughfares of the city have provided the canvas for famous graffiti artists, such as Miss Van who also exhibits her work internationally in galleries (see, Miss Van).  Her career has influenced many other Toulousians and the city hosts a range of galleries to showcase the latest work (Fatcap, 2011).

Urban graffiti is the subject of McAuliffe and Iveson’s (2011) article in Geography Compass.  They acknowledge diverse perspectives on graffiti, between expressions of art and forms of crime, and argue that this complex terrain provides a lens through which to understand contested urban geographies.  Their paper argues that the presence (and absence) of graffiti might be understood through multiple analytical frameworks, partly seeking to capture multiple subjectivities inherent in these displays.

Subsequently, in attempting to conceptualise myself as a flâneur, McAuliffe and Iveson persuade me that I may learn a lot about Toulouse and some of its inhabitants just through looking more closely at its rich geography of graffiti.

Fatcap (2011) Worldwide Graffiti: Toulouse. 

McAuliffe, C. and Iveson, K. (2011) Art and Crime (and Other Things Besides … ): Conceptualising Graffiti in the City. Geography Compass. 5,3. pp.128-143

Miss Van’s website

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