U-M brings Greek, Iranian graffiti artists to paint murals downtown


Three internationally known street artists will visit the University of Michigan this fall to paint new murals in downtown Ann Arbor.

Olga Alexopoulou, Cacao Rocks and Mehdi Ghadyanloo will participate in the Global Graffiti Project, a partnership of the Institute for the Humanities, and the departments of Modern Greek Studies and the History of Art.

join the artists
  • Oct. 12, 4 p.m. — “Street Art in Athens” discussion with Greek artist Cacao Rocks, Angell Hall, Room 2175
  • Feb. 8, 4:30 p.m. — Panel discussion with artists and screening of video by filmmaker Donald Harrison documenting the Global Graffiti Project, Institute for the Humanities, 202 S. Thayer St.

The project seeks to engage the campus and greater community with international artists who offer a global perspective on the use of street art as powerful forms of expression and communication.

“We’re incredibly excited to be hosting these artists in Ann Arbor,” said Amanda Krugliak, curator for the Institute for the Humanities. “Bringing art out of the gallery and into the streets makes it approachable and accessible, opening the door for important conversations with a more diverse audience.”

The public is invited to see, photograph, share and meet the artists, to express their opinions, and to have a scholarly conversation about this world cultural phenomenon.

 Watch the artists at work:

• Through Thursday: Mural painting by Greek artist Olga Alexopoulou, Panera Building, 777 N. University Ave.

Olga Alexopoulou

Alexopoulou’s art, exhibited in museums and on streets all over the world, expresses an important dimension of Greek life today: movement and flight. Born in Athens, Greece, she trained at Oxford University’s John Ruskin School of Art before moving to Istanbul in 2005.

Her city murals are usually black and white, pushing against urban environments flooded in color, and she works on a massive scale. Her work in Athens is highly visible — her mural titled “She’s a Leader,” on Iera Odos, is at least five stories high and represents a remarkable scene of public vs. private spaces rising vertically in city space.

In Athens’ Rizari Park not far from Syntagma Square, Alexopoulou painted a horizontally expansive image, with a turbulent urban scene to the right and a dramatic landscape of tall mountain peaks and a pine forest to the left. Between the two unrelated scenes, each tempestuous in its own way, a woman is seated with a gas mask covering half her face, as if she has stopped in the middle of a demonstration to take stock of her ambitions.

• Oct. 4-15: Mural Painting by Greek-French artist Cacao Rocks, Panera Building, 777 N. University Ave.

Cacao Rocks

The streets of Athens became a gallery of art after 2010, when the European economic and migration crises hit the city. Street art boomed when austerity became the official economic policy of Greece and businesses closed down. The color-filled work of Rocks follows the city’s transitions of the past decade.

Today, as one of the most visible street artists in Athens, Rocks is known for both his interventions and his collaborations. He is part of Λάθως (misteak), the graffiti group with a purposefully misspelled name whose signature can be found high up on multistoried buildings — a reminder of the errors made by the world’s powerful leaders.

Rocks has spearheaded large creative projects to fill abandoned factories and dull, downgraded neighborhoods with color, inviting artists from around the world to join him.

His painted work depicts words and is filled with symbolism: scissors represent austerity cuts; broken glasses or an extra pair stands for the loss of a clear political vision; and the word ΛΕΥΤΕΡΙΑ, meaning freedom, is written alongside these images exactly as it appeared on Athens’ walls 75 years ago to protest the German occupation of Greece.

• Oct. 9-15: Mural painting by Iranian artist Mehdi Ghadyanloo, Thayer Building Atrium, 202 S. Thayer St.

Mehdi Ghadyanloo

Born in Karaj, Iran, in 1981, Ghadyanloo worked as a farmer before moving to Tehran in 1999 to study painting at the University of Tehran and earning a master’s degree in animation at Tarbiat Modares University. Combining these two disciplines with his own unique style, Ghadyanloo is one of the most famous mural painters in Iran, painting more than 100 wall murals in Tehran.

Growing up during the Iran-Iraq war, he remembers the conflict as a ubiquitous feature of his childhood — hard years in which he recalls following war news on television and waiting in long lines for fuel and bread. As Ghadyanloo says, he felt the war was an important part of his generation, leaving a lasting impact on people’s lives and minds.

For the past eight years, he has served on a beautification committee to help promote mural art in Tehran. The city is an architectural mishmash in which semi-modern and classical buildings sit side by side, often faced with widely varying materials, from concrete to aluminum. Many buildings have only one facade, with the other three left blank and gray.

Using bright colors on a hyper-real scale, Ghadyanloo creates escapist, surreal dreamscapes that form part of his own fictional endless story. His imagery portrays impossible scenes and gravity-defying figures from radically altered perspectives. Through the use of optical illusion, Ghadyanloo bends reality, creating works that make people stop in their tracks.



  1. Mary Smith
    on September 14, 2016 at 7:18 am

    Do you think we might have some talented U fo M Art Students that could complete their art. What a great way to support the U of M art school.

  2. Jennifer Sporer
    on September 14, 2016 at 9:08 am

    I was a bit puzzled when I read this story. I was trying to see if I misunderstood what graffiti is, but wherever else I looked online graffiti is defined by its illicit nature.

    • Jeffrey Steichmann
      on September 14, 2016 at 4:00 pm

      Think of them as muralists who have integrated elements of graffito into their styles. Since they are authorized to create their art in these spaces, they are not the sort of graffitist whose intent is to both disrupt and vandalize.

  3. KT Cook
    on October 28, 2016 at 3:31 am

    I am looking forward to finding it around town!

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