Light this city: Allen Ginsberg, street art and urban intervention

James Alexander Mackenzie*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article argues that Beat poet Allen Ginsberg and unauthorized street artists perform a common function in regard to urban intervention. In the first place, they respond to a shared historical context, namely the ruthless shaping of the American urban landscape to obey the logic of capitalism. They also use similar artistic methods to critique this violent process, as I show through a comparative analysis of Ginsberg’s Moloch and the Obey figure designed by street artist Shepard Fairey. In both cases, a monstrous figure is placed within the city to show the urban landscape for what it really is. At the same time, the work of poets such as Ginsberg and various street artists suggests that the city can be redeemed from its fallen state, by representing it as a space where a vast number of potentially liberating behaviours are possible. Furthermore, I will argue that the common function performed by Ginsberg and unauthorized street artists can help explain the mutual reverence that exists between them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-174
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Urban Cultural Studies
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Fairey
  • Gentrification
  • Ginsberg
  • Graffiti
  • Howl
  • Obey
  • Street art
  • Urban intervention


Dive into the research topics of 'Light this city: Allen Ginsberg, street art and urban intervention'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this