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Future Graffiti Additions to Prague’s John Lennon Wall Will Be Strictly Regulated

Local authorities are introducing security measures in response to vandalism, obscene graffiti

Moving forward, individuals will only be able to spray paint the wall on specified days (Roman Boed via Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0)
smithsonian.com

Prague’s John Lennon Wall has long been heralded as a symbol of free expression, the place where, during the communist era, Czechs went to express themselves, often posting messages inspired by the “Imagine” singer-songwriter. But in recent years, rampant tourism has left the landmark increasingly vulnerable to vandalism and obscene artwork left by drunken visitors.

Now, Robert Tait reports for the Guardian, local authorities are pushing back against this uptick in unwelcome graffiti by transforming the creative site into an open-air gallery and strictly regulating all future artistic additions. The Prague 1 municipality council, which is responsible for the Czech capital’s central tourist district, will also install CCTV cameras across from the wall and dispatch extra police to patrol the area.

As Smithsonian.com’s Natasha Geiling explains, the wall—situated in a remote square opposite the French Embassy—emerged as a nexus of protest during the tumultuous 1980s. Deriving its name from a portrait of Lennon painted on the otherwise nondescript expanse in the aftermath of his 1980 assassination, the barrier was quickly covered with Western pop culture symbols, opposition art and politically minded graffiti. Even after authorities repeatedly whitewashed the wall, activists kept coming back; today, it serves as a popular tribute to both the Beatles icon and Václav Havel, leader of the 1989 Velvet Revolution that overthrew the country’s communist regime.

The council’s decision follows a criminal complaint from the wall’s owner, the Sovereign Order of Malta. Per Tom McEnchroe of Radio Praha, the order decided to take legal action after uncovering evidence that tour group organizers were giving tourists free spray cans without fully explaining regulations governing graffiti at the site.

“What was originally a magical place is being destroyed by vandals who scribble on the wall with nonsense and often vulgarity,” the Sovereign Order of Malta’s chancellor, Johannes Lobkowicz, said in a statement quoted by Expats.cz’s Raymond Johnston.

John_Lennon_Wall_with_Lennon_Portrait_-_Prague_-_Czech_Republic.jpg
A graffiti portrait of John Lennon (Adam Jones via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0)

“What was originally a magical place is being destroyed by vandals who scribble on the wall with nonsense and often vulgarity,” the Sovereign Order of Malta’s chancellor, Johannes Lobkowicz, said in a statement quoted by Expats.cz’s Raymond Johnston.

Local residents and gallery owners have also complained of an uptick in disruptive behavior and spray paint damage to private property. “We invested a lot of money and resources to [make] this a place of peace and relaxation,” Marek Vaculcik, owner of the Artisème art gallery, tells the Guardian’s Tait. “Instead, people have come and started to behave very badly, often drunk. They are leaving a lot of trash and spraying the trees. We don’t even want to clean the trees because it damages them.”

According to Radio Praha’s McEnchroe, new graffiti has already erased almost all traces of a multi-artist mural commissioned in honor of the Velvet Revolution’s 30th anniversary this March.

In addition to upping security and identifying specific days on which spray painting is permitted, the council will work to provide added context on the Lennon Wall’s history and legacy.

“Schools from all over the country come here, but as we have learned, they sometimes tell children that they are painting on the wall, but they do not give a reason,” Deputy Mayor Petr Hejma tells local news outlet Lidovky.cz.

Planned information points along the length of the wall will give visitors a better sense of its original purpose, outlining information in multiple languages—and setting out guidelines for visitor behavior. Loud busking will no longer be allowed, but as Johnston notes in a separate Expats.cz article, “spontaneous singing and acoustic performances” are welcome.

“The order is also negotiating with other authorities and other institutions in an attempt to bring back the cultural content of the wall,” spokesperson Hedvika Čepelová tells Radio Praha, “so rather than just repressive measures, they are also positive.”

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