The rapidly escalating Coronavirus pandemic is fundamentally altering public life in cities and communities around the world, with the paradigm of social distancing emptying public spaces, suspending modes of sociability based on physical proximity, and fortifying border regimes.1 Amidst the sense of radical uncertainty emanating from these developments, we can begin to trace an emerging visual culture of this unfolding crisis: a digitally mediated assemblage of infographics and public service announcements to hand washing memes and viral videos of quarantined Italians serenading one another from their balconies.

Unsurprisingly, street artists and graffiti writers too are finding ways to respond to the situation, often playfully engaging with the visual narratives already in circulation: from face masks and toilet rolls to public messaging mirroring the general consensus to “stay home” and “wash your hands.” What follows below is a brief inventory of some pieces and themes from the first months of the Coronavirus crisis. A more extensive and continuously updated record is kept by Twitter user @Emily_Lykos, whose threads on Coronavirus train graffiti and street art were the point of departure for this post. The article Graffiti virus ou Corona virus published by the French graffiti blog drips.fr is also of interest, especially to those curious about responses from the global graffiti scene.

Notably, train graffiti emerged as the first medium of response. This silver piece from Milano was one of the most prominent early examples to circulate online: the first instance, reading simply Coronavirus, was documented on February 2; the second piece, reading I told you so was recorded on February 25. Images via Graffiti Milano. https://www.instagram.com/graffiti_milano/.

Another prominent example was this Paris metro train, also from February. Image via https://www.drips.fr/graffiti-virus-ou-corona-virus/.

A more elaborate case was reported from Athens, with face masks incorporated in the design. Image via https://www.drips.fr/graffiti-virus-ou-corona-virus/.

Train graffiti remains a popular medium for Coronavirus themes and responses, as this example from Germany that emerged in the middle of March documents. Artwork by CVA Crew. Image via https://www.instagram.com/spraydosenmann/.

With the progressive spread of Covid-19, the visual repertoire of responses is also continuously expanding. Coronavirus street art is now a thing, and there is no symbol more often replicated than the face mask, the quintessential icon of the crisis. Artwork by Mgr Mors in Krakow, Poland. Image via https://twitter.com/DavidBonnand/status/1237061551766544387

Titled Super Nurse, this piece in Amsterdam by FAKE is described by the artist as an “ode to all healthcare professionals around the world.” Image via https://www.highonspraypaint.com/.

The Berlin-based duo Various and Gould launched a spontaneous ad busting project, pasting face masks on an underwear ad model, though the two express some uncertainty as to their approach: “But we aren’t sure, whether this simple approach is funny or just stupid?!? – Well, the first person walking by laughed her head off, but aren‘t we just enlarging the public pile of panic pictures after all?!?” More iterations of this adbust have since appeared. Image and quote via https://www.facebook.com/various.gould.

Whether self-consciously ironic or meant as a sincere comment, face masks are everywhere in Coronavirus street art, like in this pasteup in Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg by Lacuna. Image via https://www.facebook.com/lacuna.streetart/.

Particularly prevalent are works that place face masks on iconic works of art, like this pasteup modeled after the Venus of Milo by Guy Boyer in Paris. Image via https://www.connaissancedesarts.com/photo-du-jour/le-street-art-a-lheure-du-coronavirus/.

Italian artist TV Boy took to the image of Mona Lisa in his piece Mobile World Virus in Barcelona. Image via https://www.facebook.com/tvboyofficial/.

Another pasteup by TV Boy in Barcelona shows Uncle Sam, coupled with the message I want you to stay home: Divided we stand, united we fall. Image via https://www.facebook.com/tvboyofficial/.

There has been an increasing prevalence of face mask kissing pieces, like this pasteup modeled after Hayez’s The Kiss. Found on the streets of Milan, the piece is titled Love in the time of Co… vid-19. Image via https://www.facebook.com/tvboyofficial/

The result is usually a very heteronormative visual discourse, reminiscent of images conjuring up the “romance of protest,” as in this stencil by Norwegian artist Pøbel. Image via https://www.facebook.com/Pobel.No/.

An outright racist piece, created by an unknown artist in Rome, shows a panda wearing a face mask modeled after the Chinese flag. Image via https://www.facebook.com/wantedinromesince1985.

Often images of face masks appear in combination with PSA style messaging, such as this piece in Pompeii by Nello Petrucci, urging viewers to Stay Home. Image via https://www.facebook.com/nellopetrucciartist/posts/2606635056129732

Another example from Raleigh, NC shows a masked character with the omnipresent mantra Wash your hands. Image via https://twitter.com/MegHereThere/status/1236814142750720001.

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And once more from Houston, TX: Wash UR Hands. Image via https://twitter.com/Emily_Lykos/.

In NYC, Adrian Wilson created a stencil modeled after the famous Post no bills signs found all over the walls of the city. His version reads instead Spread no virus. Image by Adrian Wilson via https://news.artnet.com/art-world/street-artists-in-empty-new-york-city-1816269.

This piece from Milan combines social messaging—Stay Safe—with the image of a bottle of hand disinfectant. The small print reads: Tranquilizer, eliminates 99.9% of panic; acts rapidly; use without water. Image via https://twitter.com/Emily_Lykos/.

Another iconic image to emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic is the toilet roll: a commodity highly sought after in real life and often parodied in meme culture. Here it is commemorated in Melbourne by artist Skübz Mope. Image via https://www.instagram.com/skubzmope/

Another homage to the roll comes from from Psyke1 in Kerava, Finland. Image via https://www.instagram.com/psykeone/.

Perhaps the most famous instance of toilet paper graffiti comes from the famous wall of fame in Berlin’s Mauerpark, by EME. In it, Gollum gazes at a single roll adoringly, exclaiming his famous Mein Schatz — My precious. Image via https://www.facebook.com/StreetArtGermany/.

Finally, as in any crisis, there is a turn to messages of hope. This piece by an unknown artist from Tehran reads Don’t be afraid. Image via https://twitter.com/Emily_Lykos/.

This work from Munich proclaims: The Coronavirus is a wake up call and a chance to build a new and loving society. Image via Guardian Daily Update/AP/Peter Kneffel https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2020/mar/14/coronavirus-live-updates-uk-us-australia-italy-europe-school-shutdown-sport-events-cancelled-latest-update-news?page=with:block-5e6d45f48f085e564ad843b0.

And from the streets of Athens: “You are tougher than you think” —COV!D19. Artwork by EX!T, Image taken by the author, https://flic.kr/p/2iEMimN.

A final message from London’s famous Leake Street Tunnel: FCK Coronavirus. Image via Flickr user duncan c, https://flic.kr/p/2iEcY1K.

From Manhattan Bridge. Image via https://twitter.com/reluctantlyjoe/status/1238274524552089600.

References   [ + ]

1. For an excellent analysis of the problematic entanglements between entanglements between quarantine, ethno-nationalism, and health care privatization see Angela Mitropoulos’ Against Quarantine, https://thenewinquiry.com/against-quarantine/.