Epic Art in Tallinn: Estonia’s Colourful Street Culture Festival, the JJ-Street Baltic Session

GSA writer Merilin Ülem recently met with organisers of the JJ-Street Baltic Session, an epic street art and urban culture festival in Tallinn, Estonia. Merilin finds out how the festival started, discovers the Street Art Jam project and picks out her favourite murals from the events.

Since 2011, the JJ-Street Baltic Session street culture festival has celebrated the partnership of hip-hop and graffiti through a week of events and competitions in Tallinn, Estonia. Ita Puusepp, one of the festival’s main organisers, joined the team in 2012. Ita took on the reins  after the festival’s opening year, when its original organisers went on to pursue other projects. Taking on the role was an unexpected opportunity for Ita, and organising a festival that runs from August to October has not been without its challenges. Nevertheless, six strong years after its inception the JJ-Street Baltic Session is going from strength to strength, bringing foreign and local artists together and making our streets more colourful than ever.

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Artist: Boraldo // Photo: Bordalo Segundo

The festival is supported by local municipalities and Kultuurkapital (a fund of Estonian literature , art and science promotion) and this year, the Estonian Kickstarter-esque support program, Hooandja. A street art festival requires funds for lift rental, paint, preparing walls… But most importantly it needs to host all those amazing artists! This year the festival had artists from Portugal, Canada, Italy and Mexico; quite the international bunch.

This year one such international artist was Awer. Whilst also painting a mural at the main festival in Tallinn, Awer was involved in this year’s side project in the Estonian town (and my hometown) of Tartu. Salme Liivrand is another of the festival’s main organisers who invited Awer to paint in Tartu’s cultural centre, Aparaaditehas. The cultural centre based in an old factory complex is a small hub of creative offices and nightlife venues. Of course now it is also home to Awer’s sea-themed mural.

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Artist: Awer // Photo: Street Art Jam

Hailing from Italy, Awer lives by the sea which has had a great influence on him and is often a theme in his work. The mural adds to an inspiring environment for young creatives; there is a flow to the piece that fits with Tartu’s laid back nature and its great to see an artist working with their environment to create a unique piece. Aparaaditehas, a place known for its originality and creativity, is a fitting location for the mural because it’s so different from everything else we have in Tartu. I found Awer’s piece truly mesmerising.

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Artist: Awer // Photo: Armin Sikk

Another of my favourite works of the festival has to be Bonar’s piece. The artist was inspired by the Estonian epic poem of Kalevipoeg, an vengeful giant who battles enemies of the nation and who is historically our national hero. The artist draws a parallel between Estonia’s history and the challenges which Kalevipoeg had to encounter in the epic poem. For Bonar, Kalevipoeg is the protector of Estonia and the symbol of strength.

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Artist: Bonar // Photo: Armin Sikk

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, has it’s own very special cultural centre called Telliskivi. Telliskivi (a sort of big sister to the Aparaaditehas project in Tartu) is a hub of studios, offices and ateliers; it has a theatre, a print shop and plenty of cafes and bars. Being such a vibrant hub of creative people and spaces, the folks behind the cultural project were keen to get involved in the festival by giving Street Art Jam the chance to use their walls as canvases.

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Artist: Izak One // Photo: Izak One

Street Art Jam is one branch of the urban culture festival that has grown year on year. The main goal of Street Art Jam is to ‘rescue’ walls that are scrawled with tags and random scribbles and to liven up blank and bleak spaces with beautiful, colourful and witty murals. Although it is not strictly a mural festival, over the years Street Art Jam has attracted incredible artists who paint epic large-scale walls.

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Artist: Himed and Reyben // Photo: Margaret Targo

Besides making great art in public spaces, Street Art Jam has other goals too. Primarily, it wants to involve the public in discussions about street art, creativity and forms of expression, especially in showing people how beautiful and original street art can be as a form of self-expression. The festival wants to demonstrate to the public and artists that there are more original ways to express yourself than mindless tagging and aims to highlight the strong difference between this tagging professional street art. Part of this effort involves cleaning walls that are scored with tags. Street Art Jam cleans walls in nine different cities. It is not an easy task but hopefully it can make a person think twice before writing something questionable or bawdry. 

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Artist: Jam // Photo: Andreas Luigas

Though over the years, practice has shown that a clean wall is a canvas for new tags, it never hurts to try. So, cleaning is great, but getting a work of art up there – even better. And that is precisely what Street Art Jam is all about. Making cities beautiful, colourful and filled with paintings that make heads turn. All the works during the festival have been incredibly unique, each one of them captivating in its own way.

The festival will return next year with tonnes of new ideas and exciting artists. More rural areas are likely to be more involved and the collaboration between different artists, local and foreign, continues.

This year’s artists:

Bordalo (POR) http://www.bordaloii.com/
Bonar (CAN) https://www.facebook.com/lebonar/
Awer (ITA) https://www.facebook.com/awerart/
Himed & Reyben (MEX) https://www.facebook.com/himedreyben/
Jam (EST) http://jam.spekter.eu/
Izak One (CHI) https://www.facebook.com/izak.one/
Sänk (EST) http://sank.ee/
Paff (EST) http://piiritus.ee/paavo-kuldkepp/

Written by Merilin Ülem for Global Street Art
Mural in featured image by Awer // Photo by Armin Sikk

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