Tahiti Graffiti

You don’t expect rampant urban culture in the sultry South Pacific, but it’s there. That’s because like it or not, Papeete is a relatively big city that’s home to about half the population of French Polynesia, or about 130,000 people. Also, the city will never run out of reinforced concrete walls and frustrated youth.

Tourists are funny about graffiti-we like it in places like Berlin or in Banksy’s latest coffee table book but tend to get uppity if it’s the backdrop to our tropical honeymoon. But judge not. Graffiti is a fairly honest art form-the subjects and sayings that get sprayed across the blank walls of any city says a lot about the place. In Papeete you’ll find a mix of adolescent tagging to bigger displays of initials and elaborate paintings with Polynesian motifs. Word on the street is that the Polynesian graffiti renaissance is on.

Some come one, come all! Pack up your stencils and spray cans, Tahiti’s open for coloring . . . except that it’s not. Anyone caught “vandalizing” anything bigger than a broken cinder block gets an automatic 4,000 Euro fine. Last year, 35 aspiring artists were charged en masse.

Better to enjoy the artwork of the risk-takers by day. A walk through the downtown backstreets of Papeete reveals the signs of many busy artists, as does the skate park and surrounding areas in the suburb of Faaa. But venture out into other islands and you’ll find good and bad art scribbled everywhere. Even the abandoned swimming pools of Moorea are fair game for les graffitistes.

To get connected with the Tahitian street art scene, visit the island’s Kreativ Concept Association, which is an innocent collective of “fresco and mural enthusiasts.” They also happen to sell spray paint, stencils, and T-shirts that read “Graffiti is not a crime.”