¡Hola Utopia! 2023

Written by Andi Schmitz, Photography by China Hopson

Hannover is not a city known for its bustling street art scene. Its walls aren’t covered in graffiti tags like in Berlin, and there aren’t prolific graffiti crews bombing the buildings. As Germany’s 13th largest city with a population of just over 500,000, Hannover is undoubtedly understated.

What might surprise many is that Hannover has been home to a mural festival called ¡Hola Utopia! for the past four years. The event hosts graffiti workshops to help locals get familiar with street art, encouraging Hannoverians to interact with their city and share ideas about improving its future.

¡Hola Utopia! is an international street art festival that aims to turn the city into a living outdoor museum, bringing art to the people. Since 2020, festival founders Artie Ilsemann and Jascha Müller have brought artists from across the world to Hannover to share their culture through their creativity, beautifying the city in the process. Everyone deserves to experience art, whether or not they can afford an often pricey museum ticket.

Everyone deserves to experience art, whether or not they can afford an often pricey museum ticket.

For the 2023 iteration of the festival, the lineup featured artists from Spain, Japan, the Netherlands, and Germany. During the week of August 23rd, each artist was designated a wall and asked to bestow it with their talent. The styles ranged from abstract to geometric, and at the end of the week, in a gallery exhibition, the artists displayed canvas paintings and interacted with the local and international visitors who flocked to see their work.

As the festival gained traction over the years, the artist pool also grew, and it became much easier to find experienced muralists to participate. Anna Taratiel, aka Ovni, is the only woman with an entire wall this year, as assistants Myra and Melina helped artist Want a Wall with his semi-realist rendition of “Zoo York.” This wall was the most challenging; it was on the corner of a building with many small balconies strutting out. The three have formed a graffiti collective and busted out a perspective piece that impressed the building inhabitants and press folk alike.

Myra also assisted in last year’s festival, working with Spanish artist Lily Brick. “She showed me her style, and then I could do a lot on the piece myself without too much direction. It felt great because Lily made me feel like we were on the same level and less like there was a teacher-pupil hierarchy. She wanted to come again this year to do a collaboration piece with me, which would be so cool.”

Artie Ilsemann, Director of ¡Hola Utopia!, shed some light on the challenge of finding FLINTA artists in Germany. “There are way fewer women who are muralists in this country, so there aren’t many people to choose from or invite. In Spain, it is different because the women who started spraying at 15 are now in the age demographic we look for in our artist spool – which is basically people with a lot of experience. For pieces this big, you just need the experience.”

Director Ilsemann and Art Director Jascha Müller emphasize that the artists are the most essential part of the process for them. The duo strives to provide the muralists and street artists they invite to Hannover with everything they need. Communications Director Mark Dix spent the week bouncing from mural site to mural site, ensuring that everyone had enough paint, water, food, you name it.

Ilsemann says, “The central element of this for us is that the artists as our guests feel comfortable and are happy. That’s what’s more important to me than press coverage or attention from the papers; we want them to feel at home.”

The ¡Hola Utopia! festival has contributed 26 murals to Hannover, which have become the city’s outdoor art gallery. On the city’s website, you can download a map of all the mural locations for walking tours. Combining cultures and colors in the streets makes art accessible to everyone, expanding people’s awareness of what street art can be and can contribute to a community.

Combining cultures and colors in the streets makes art accessible to everyone, expanding people’s awareness of what street art can be and can contribute to a community.

“We try to mix graphic, abstract, and realistic styles so that it’s different every year. The original thought during curation was that Hannover would be the place for an evolving outdoor exhibit, Ilsmenn explains.

The festival works with the cooperation and support of the UJZ Glocksee e.V., one of Germany’s oldest independent youth centers. The Glocksee Gasse alley was the only legal graffiti space in Hannover for a long time. The ¡Hola Utopia! website states that their “cooperation is based on the same mindset: people in the city need free spaces” and that the UJZ Glocksee “is a perfect example of how a utopia can become and remain a reality in urban space.”

The festival’s artists, supporters, and organizers know how important their job is, providing the city with beautiful spaces for international graffiti culture and dialogue around street art. Muralists included Ovni from Barcelona, Hiroshima-based SUIKO1, Rotterdam artist Bier en Brood, and Hannover native Kartel.

Bier en Brood contributed a massive monochromatic computer-generated optical illusion. Ovni graced Lilienstrasse with an abstract geometric rainbow-colored landscape. Suiko covered his wall with a contemporary, dynamically colored piece called “CAMO” from his speaker series. Kartel endowed his hometown with his usual wacky, paint-by-numbers style mural.

Art Director Müller came up in the graffiti scene and was an active writer for ten years. His experience helped him see the potential and possibilities artists can create for themselves. . “The festival is our proactive approach to getting more art and street art in public spaces and putting the puzzle together into how to get that done.”

“The festival is our proactive approach to getting more art and street art in public spaces and putting the puzzle together into how to get that done.”

The festival organizers plan to expand the festival to other cities in the coming years, such as Braunschweig, Flensburg, and a few towns in Denmark.

“I would really love it if the open-air gallery in public spaces becomes larger and spreads, and that eventually, people will be able to say they saw a mural in this city or that city and that it is because of ¡Hola Utopia!. But it’s not about the name but about beautifying more walls.” Müller explains. The hope is that German cities and cities worldwide that might not have an active art scene or access to art museums get to experience street art culture.

Andi Schmitz is a writer, artist and recent American expat. Born in Dublin, Ireland and raised in a smörgåsbord of places, she has recently relocated to Berlin, Germany. Lifelong writer and artist, she is recovering from former corporate fintech life by self-induced art immersion. Her hobbies include painting, a good whiskey sour, and exploring art as a form of social outcry.