Taiwan graffiti artist colors in legal gray area

Thu Sep 25, 2008 1:05am EDT
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By Ralph Jennings

TAIPEI (Reuters Life!) - Graffiti artist "B-brother" Chang's signature work at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum covers a thin wall over a small door that leads straight outside.

The museum planned it that way as a metaphor for what Chang does around town -- take advantage of spotty law enforcement to tread a thin line between spray-painting public art and brazenly vandalizing walls, sometimes outraging owners or neighbors.

"Taiwan's laws are not absolute," said Chang, a 26-year-old unemployed graduate with an advertising degree and a business card identifying him only by his moniker B-brother. "If the police want something to be legal, then it's legal."

Like graffiti artists anywhere, Chang slaps his black chalk and spray-paint on walls to make points about war, crime and other social issues. He even scrawled a piece of traditional Chinese art, onto which a passer-by scribbled in a bird.

But Chang, one of just a handful of Taiwan graffiti artists inspired by Hollywood, paints in public to see how far he can go within a legal gray area acknowledged by the authorities.

"Unless someone complains about vandalism, we won't get involved," a veteran police officer said anonymously. "We don't go after it proactively."

According to traditional Chinese law enforcement theory, police balance the letter of any law with a broader sense of what's good for society, said Jeffrey Martin, assistant professor of Taiwan studies at Chang Jung Christian University in Taiwan, meaning police don't mind graffiti if they see no victim.

"They'd wait for neighbors to complain," Martin said. "But they're moving toward the rule of law. Every year the law becomes more consequential."   Continued...