By Debbie Griffiths – Travel Presenter on TV3’s The Café
Published: Stuff.co.nz April 2017
Victoria Gilliand has serious street cred. The writing is on the wall.
She points it out to us during our street art walking tour in central Dunedin. We’re admiring a graffiti mural by Invercargill artist, Deow, with the words “Street Kiwi” in the bottom right hand corner.
It’s Victoria’s Instagram handle.
“He gave me a shout out which is lovely,” she smiles. “I was quite chuffed about that.”
Not only has she hung out with artists with names like Phlegm and Snotrag, Victoria documented their work and now has stories and background details about them all. It makes for a lively and insightful two-hour tour.
We begin by wrapping our arms around a tree covered in wool.
“This isn’t part of the tour,” Victoria admits. “But yarn bombing is a genre of street art. It’s exploded around the world. It’s fibre art. Knitting graffiti. You have to touch it! You’ve gotta hug it!”
Her enthusiasm and sense of fun set the tone as we set off on her “official” tour of the revitalised warehouse district. She guides us through car parks and down alleys to painted brick walls we would never have noticed otherwise. She’s also interested in our interpretation of the art.
“Every wall or every image has a narrative. The artist knows what it is but they don’t always tell you. Art is in the eye of the beholder. There is a story and you can find it.”
It’s like peeping behind a curtain to get a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of Dunedin. Some of the art even incorporates drain pipes running up the wall or real ivy into the image.
“This is the good thing about walking up alleyways and behind buildings. The back end of buildings always look different to the front end, don’t they?” Victoria points upwards. “Look at all the iron work and the fire escape. The different textures.”
Victoria estimates there are around 30 walls decorated with more being created. The largest is seven storeys high. The initiative was kicked off by Belgian artist, Roa, in 2014.
“He’s a rock star in the street art world and it snowballed from there. Once the rest of the street art world realised he’d painted in Dunedin it’s like ‘Where’s Dunedin?’” Victoria laughs. “We’re at the bottom of the world!”
Now, once decaying and derelict buildings are graced with works of art not only by top New Zealand painters but also artists from as far away as Poland, Argentina and Italy.
“There’s a good mix of international and local,” explains Victoria. “and it’s great for the local artists because they get to learn from the internationals.”
Our guide’s enthusiasm is contagious.
“Isn’t it fantastic? Look at the glasses,” We’re craning our necks up at Polish artist, Natalia Rak’s “Love is in the Air”. “The reflection in the glasses, the detail in the dress, even the patent leather shoes that she’s wearing.”
The social commentary is sometimes obvious – one painting of an empty dress adorns a once-vacant building. Another features yellow-eyed penguins and a blue cod as a nod to Otago Peninsula’s wildlife. There’s also plenty of humour. Victoria directs my attention to a window half covered with stickers.
“Once one goes up, it attracts others,” she laughs and points out a giant plaster pasted on the wall. “This is over a crack!”
Along the way, Victoria waves hello and chats with locals about the art. One businessman tells me that he watched a mural being created across the road from his office and quizzes Victoria on the artist.
“That’s an example of how involved the locals are. They love their art. They become mini tour guides,” she smiles.
I doubt they do as good a job, though. After all, they just don’t have Victoria’s street cred.
Follow @debonthecafe and @streetkiwi on Instagram