Welcome to SAFEWALLS, an art project curated by Cirque du Soleil that brings the time-honoured circus poster into the 21st century!
SAFEWALLS is pairing up with cutting-edge artists to create original art posters inspired by Cirque du Soleil shows. With these artworks, SAFEWALLS tours the world following the trail of Cirque du Soleil shows to hold a monthly exhibition that grows in size as works from previous cities are added to the collection. By bringing Cirque du Soleil and visual artists together, SAFEWALLS celebrates street art and culture—the very roots of Cirque—and breathes new life into the time-honoured art form that is the vintage circus poster.
Circus posters are all about mindboggling acrobatics, raw entertainment and the suspension of disbelief. And like street art, they elicit the reactions of onlookers, drawing them into alternative worlds and stretching their imagination.
Limited-edition prints of the posters are available at safewalls.org or at public exhibits where SAFEWALLS is touring. Although Cirque du Soleil is providing the impetus for the SAFEWALLS project, all artists are given carte blanche—i.e. they have complete creative freedom over their work.
The term “safe walls” refers to legal spots in the urban landscape for local graffiti artists to do their work without the fear of sanctions.
The Poster As A Vital Art Form
From the public notices of Antiquity and the first leaflets and placards handed out by traveling performers—which hark back to the end of the 15th century—to the advertisements of contemporary circuses, the poster has had a long and colorful history. With the advent of printing, circuses all over the world were able to produce posters in large quantities for display in public places to attract the attention of passers-by. Generally created by local artists, these visually striking works were the ambassadors of traveling big-top circuses and spread the word of their imminent passage in a city. Like the circus itself, the circus poster of lore exerts a fascination all its own; it strikes the spectator head-on.
Poster artists and illustrators have had the uncanny ability to distill enormous amounts of information into iconographic images that penetrate and endure. Posters are designed to mystify, arouse curiosity and the urge to see, but more than mere advertising tools, they have long been recognized as a vital art form—one that shares common roots with street arts.
Cirque du Soleil and Street Art
Street arts are woven into the very DNA of Cirque du Soleil and they remain embedded into the organization’s culture to this day. Back in the early eighties, a motley crew of artists and performers roamed the streets in a small town near Quebec City, Canada, striding on stilts, juggling, dancing, breathing fire and playing music. In 1984, Guy Laliberté, Gilles Ste-Croix and their cronies began to nurture a crazy dream: to travel the world with the troupe, stimulate the imagination of audiences and touch people through creativity. Cirque du Soleil was born. That dream lives on to this day. Creation remains the focal point of the company’s activities, offering creators around the world stimulating creative platforms where they are free to explore and innovate. In turn, these creators’ vision and influence help expand Cirque’s own ability to constantly reinvent itself and break new ground. Because of Cirque du Soleil‘s deep roots in the street, it is only natural that the company would support street arts. Through the SAFEWALLS project, Cirque du Soleil is reaffirming these roots and its very essence.
If the spray-paint can is the iconic emblem of graffiti, one could argue that it is the poster and the bucket of paste that best epitomizes street art. Celebrating street art by seeking out its most exciting creative talents and commissioning works by these artists to share with a wide audience, SAFEWALLS is bringing Cirque du Soleil and street art together in the true spirit of this discipline.