On Thursday March 11th, the STRAAT Session: Kroonjuwelen Revisited was live streamed from our museum. To celebrate the 15th anniversary of Kroonjuwelen, this very first session reunited Dutch graffiti pioneers Diana Ozon and ZAP with documentary producer Erwin Bok. This panel talk was moderated by Giovanna Di Giacomo, Head of Collection Management & Research at STRAAT.
By revisiting this documentary, the talk covered the birth of punk graffiti in the Netherlands and the influence of American graffiti up to the story of Kroonjuwelen itself and how the scene evolved ever since. In this article, we provide a brief recap of what was discussed on this memorable evening. You can still rewatch the whole talk and the full documentary. The talk will permanently remain visible via our YouTube Channel, but the documentary will only be available until March 18th, so hurry up in case you still want to watch it! Also, make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay updated on our future sessions and more.
The idea of producing Kroonjuwelen was born at 'Mokum Masters’, a reunion of 'Old School Amsterdam Graffiti Kings' that took place on April 24th, 2004. During our panel talk, Bok explained that his initial plan was to document this event in a three minute video. Eventually, after many positive responses from several artists, it turned into the legendary 76 minute long documentary known as Kroonjuwelen. Named crown jewels in Dutch, the documentary focuses on the work of the Dutch graffiti ‘royalty’, as the most renowned artists are seen as ‘kings’ and ‘queens’.
Mokum Masters in 2004 - the place where Kroonjuwelen originated
Although during Mokum Masters, there was mostly graffiti inspired by the ‘American writing style’, graffiti in the Netherlands emerged from the punk movement. Ozon explained about the fizzy context which incited this emergence. During the late 1970s, there was not much youth culture left in Amsterdam. So, inspired by the Provo and Hippie movement, Ozon and other punks started squatting abandoned buildings to turn them into their own ‘cultural paradises’, where they could make music and art freely and self-sufficiently.
As part of this countercultural mindset, these youngsters started expressing their ideas on walls. Founded in 1979 by Diana Ozon and Hugo Kaagman, the Gallery Anus and the many fanzines it published played a key role in this process. Known as the godfather of Dutch graffiti, the artist Dr. Rat also contributed greatly to this scene. Some rare shots of him making his art and talking about it can be found in the Kroonjuwelen documentary. Ozon also shared many great stories of this blooming period during our panel talk.
Diana Ozon at ANUS Gallery in the 1980s
ZAP came up with his iconic tag in 1983, the same year collector Yaki Kornblit introduced works by New York graffiti legends in Amsterdam. ZAP was lucky enough to be among the selective group that could attend Kornblit’s first gallery shows. The Dutch old school writer explained that this arrival greatly influenced the evolution of his tag, which evolved from punk hard lines into the fluid American style graffiti. The iconic book Subway Art by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant definitely was another milestone that spread the American influence.
Suddenly, Amsterdam’s graffiti became more colorful and playful. Known as the ‘tram king’, ZAP made sure to write his name in this style on almost every single tram in Amsterdam. He also had a great time painting subway trains and their tunnels. In Kroonjuwelen, ZAP guides us into these tunnels, during some iconic scenes that reveal a strong part of graffiti culture. By revisiting Kroonjuwelen at STRAAT, Bok and ZAP recalled some untold adventures they had while recording those scenes.
Yaki Kornblit and graffiti photographer Henry Chalfant
Graffiti x street art
Although some street art features such as the use of characters and stencils could be found on Dutch walls since the 1970s, these expressions back then were majorly regarded as graffiti. There wasn’t a very clear distinction between graffiti and street art, and one of the first and biggest Dutch graffiti crews was actually called United Street Artists.
When asked about their perceptions of the differences between graffiti and street art, the panelists explained that graffiti is mostly about stylized letters. ZAP mentioned that although there might be a comic figure next to a graffiti piece, this imagery wasn’t as diverse as the street art scene is right now. Ozon also pointed out that street art for her is about works painted with permission, such as some of the wooden panels Kaagman painted back in the 1980s. Bok concluded by saying that street art is more a professional specialty, while graffiti is ‘simply’ about spraying your name on walls everywhere.
A piece by United Street Artists crew, surrounded by tags of many other writers
During the panel talk, the artists and producer also shared their thoughts on the current graffiti scene. They clearly see a lot of evolution, which was in part facilitated by the greater availability of painting resources, such as high-quality spray cans and caps. The surfaces and platforms used by artists also evolved greatly. For instance, Ozon mentioned that she loves that tags tend to be concentrated on one single spot, forming a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ (total artwork). In this contemporary scene, Bok pointed out to the role of social media, a platform which is becoming more and more inseparable from the artwork itself.
To round up the talk, Bok, Ozon and ZAP talked about their current projects and how graffiti and art in general are still part of their lives. STRAAT Museum would like to thank them one more time for their amazing contributions to this session and wish them the best of luck for the future!
Article by Giovanna Di Giacomo
Banner and Thumbnail pictures by Tim Stet