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By Andrea Pisac - 14 Comments - January 3, 2017

There’s a new street mural in Zagreb and it’s gorgeous. A 30-meter long Gulliver is resting on the wall in Opatovina Park, tied by the petty Lilliputians.

Zagreb Street Art Controversy | Zagreb Honestly
Artists Boris Bare and Dominik Vukovć with the Gulliver model Hrvoje Zalukar

Boris Bare (Pimp My Pump) and Dominik Vuković painted it in vivid colours and in minute details. It’s so hyperreal that the model, photographer Hrvoje Zalukar, gest asked in the streets:

‘Are you Gulliver from Opatovina?’

Zagreb street art scene awakens

Zagreb street art scene has never been more vibrant. Stunning murals are popping up everywhere, even in the historic part of the city. The Whale and the Turtle, monumental anamorphic murals by the French artist Etien, attract thousands to the Upper Town.

It’s a sign of how transformative public art can be. Because once quiet, almost deserted, Upper Town, has blossomed into a lively cultural hub.

A similar thing happened this summer when the Street Art Park popped up below Strossmayer Promenade. The neglected playground, which used to attract drug addicts, soon became an educational art colony for people of all ages.

Zagreb Street Art Controversy | Zagreb Honestly
Street Art Park featuring land art by Nikola Faller

I am thrilled to see street art shaking up, even breaking through, long-established boundaries. One to move from derelict suburban buildings into the city centre. And the other to move from the fringes of the art world into mainstream.

Like for example, into the Museum of Contemporary Art. Which happened when OKO painted the west-facing facade of the Museum. Or when Pimp My Pump collective exhibited Arto – the dog mural.

Zagreb Street Murals | Zagreb Honestly
OKO – Open my eyes that I may see, Museum of Contemporary Art, photo by Kristijan Smok

But it’s not only me who rejoices at these changes. Whenever a crumbling wall gets enriched with a mural, Zagreb locals flock to see it. It’s the non-elitist character of street murals that has encouraged more people to communicate with art than they otherwise would.

Discover more of Zagreb street art

Foreign travellers, who are used to admiring murals around the world, are fascinated by the Zagreb street art scene. They seek out the work of Lonac, OKO or Lunar. Because these pioneers of Zagreb street art are internationally renowned.

The best of Croatia 2016 | Zagreb Honestly
Lonac ‘Nitpicking’, listed among world’s best murals in 2016, photo courtesy of Widewalls

So what is different with the Gulliver mural?

Zagreb street art controversy

‘Gulliver’ turned up in the central Opatovina Park, on the wall that was derelict and covered by graffiti tags. The striking mural not only refurbished the wall, but it also created a buzz in the otherwise sleepy public park.

Zagreb Street Art Controversy | Zagreb Honestly
30-meter long Zagreb ‘Gulliver’ in Opatovina Park, work of Boris Bare and Dominik Vuković

As always, Zagreb locals welcomed the painted giant. And foreign travellers took to the metaphor that Gulliver stands for: the meeting and embracing of different world(views).

But then an article in the Croatian press appeared, shredding ‘Gulliver’ to pieces. And so once again, the travelling giant faced a hostile welcome in the land of Lilliput.

I will neither name nor link to the particular article (you can guess my reasons). But I do want to go through the arguments presented, only to give you more reasons for hearting ‘Gulliver’.

In defense of Zagreb street art – the case of ‘Gulliver’

1. The article says that…

‘painted ‘Gulliver’ looks like a drunken manual worker from a Mexican soap opera… slumped with a few tequilas in him, only missing a toothpick in his mouth…’

Does this sound like a serious art review? We don’t hear anything about the motifs, symbolism, or individual artistic expression of the authors. Just slagging off on the basis of someone’s looks.

It’s almost as if you’d discount Mona Lisa by saying she looks as if she’s eaten a lemon. Or bad-mouth Picasso for painting disfigured people.

2. The article says that…

‘the kitschy hyperrealism of ‘Gulliver’ is not on a par with the central location of Opatovina Park…’

The strongest objection to ‘Gulliver’ seems to be its ‘wrongful’ juxtaposition to the ‘sacred’ city centre.

The author recognizes that the wall on which the mural was painted was rotting for years. Even so, street murals are allegedly not worthy of being so close to Kaptol – the religious seat of Zagreb.

Zagreb Street Art Controversy | Zagreb Honestly
Graffiti tags on the neglected wall before ‘Gulliver’ has arrived

This is quite funny. Because the award-winning Whale by Etien looms over St. Catherine’s Church on Gradec Plateau. Which is also the place with the best view of the Zagreb Cathedral.

We haven’t heard any complaints about the ‘bad contextualization’ for this mural. Maybe because Etien is not a local artist. And Croatians often have a chip on their shoulder when it comes to their own art and culture.

The fact is that Bare and Vuković obtained a legal permission to paint ‘Gulliver’. And from the Kaptol administration itself! The Church doesn’t seem to mind…

3. The article says that…

‘the Gulliver mural is a cultural, artistic and civilizational breech… Because it ‘should have stayed in a backwater industrial stretch, inside a socialist-realist underpass, or in a deserted building on the outskirts of Zagreb’.

If this isn’t an elitist culture talk, I don’t know what is. And while other countries protect their industrial and socialist heritage, this author renounces it as uncivilized.

Also, the centre-periphery division, both in terms of geography and culture, is a passe.

Leading intellectuals remember it only as a lesson. That some of the greatest artistic achievements happen right there on the periphery. On the outskirts.

4. The article says that…

‘the Gulliver mural is a (mis)deed of wannabe street artists…’

Let’s focus on the word ‘wannabe’. And let’s talk about art authorities. What kind of approval gets a person the title of the real artist? An art degree, a museum exhibition? If so, Bare and Vuković tick both boxes.

A wide popularity? Tick.

A dedication to humanitarian causes? As most good art expresses? Tick.

You could have witness that in the Street Art Park this summer.

Zagreb Street Art Controversy | Zagreb Honestly
Neglected walls before Street Art Park arrived

When ‘wannabe’ street artists used their talent to save rescued dogs. To protect the Adriatic sea from overfishing. Or to give a new lease of life to an unused city space.

Zagreb Street Art Controversy | Zagreb Honestly
Street Art Park in full swing

The thing is, Zagreb ‘Gulliver’ is already a much beloved city sight. And local street artists don’t need my endorsement. The world sees them, and admires them.

But just in case you didn’t know that the giant traveller sleeps in Opatovina Park.

So, head over there and say hello to the gorgeous Zagreb ‘Gulliver’.
Zagreb street art scene is booming. But the gorgeous Gulliver mural has stirred a few conflicted opinions. What is your take on #streetart?

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  1. Vise vrijede ta tri “graffiti taga” sto su bili ispod nego ovo lose wannabe Lonac smece . Talk about elitism….

    1. I have approved your comment just to show that I am not elitist and that having a different opinion is OK. But you should also know that commenting anonymously without much argumentation is quite dubious!

      1. My identity is completely irrelevant here . Dont missunderstand me im on your side here. But the fact is this particular piece has no artistic value or style as we “graffiti taggers’ would say 🙂 Im all for street art dont get me wrong but when it breaks on the back of lesser known subcultures im gonna attack it. All in all completely irrelevant internet argument…

        1. OK, I understand now. So, the point of this post was not to say that one piece of street art was better than the other. I mentioned graffiti tags to explain that no one raised an issue about the wall in Opatovina until ‘Gulliver’ was painted.

  2. I will take art over some shitty tagging any day of the week. I can go to any city in the world and find tagging.

  3. From an ‘outsider’ perspective, this looks like a decent piece. We’ll take a look when we’re in Zagreb next week. The [local?] newspaper comments just echo the parochial and reactionary stuff that used to get written here[Bristol] about “vandalism”, “eyesores “and “disfiguring buildings”. The elitist tone of cultural guardianship is wearingly familiar too. Gate-keepers, gatekeepers. Of course, this all changed when Banksy became famous and the tourist trade in Bristol increased because people wanted to see his work. Suddenly the scent of money meant “vandalism” wasn’t a problem any more.

    Thanks for the guides to Zagreb street art too. Very useful in enabling us to ‘hit the ground running’ as it were. Cheers!

  4. We visited Zagreb back in December and came across Gulliver quite by accident but so glad we got the chance to actually see it and then shortly after, the whale and the turtle. A great excuse to return to that beautiful city and seek out the many others that we didn’t get time to see.

    1. Thank you for you comment, Fran. Yes, the murals in Zagreb are getting better each year. Whenever you visit, there is more to see. I hope you enjoy your next visit. 🙂

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