Cardiff street art: a diverse mix of culture, storytelling and inclusivity

Take a walk through Cardiff’s street art that brings stories from around the city to life.

Red street art self portrait
Unify is a black-led creative collective who give artists in Cardiff a platform to express themselves

When Cardiff’s Mona Lisa was painted over with a pale mustard yellow, Yusuf felt devastated. All the hardwork his team had put into it was gone within moments. 

“I’m very sentimental,” says Yusuf, founder of the art project Unify, an initiative that brings art and people of colour together. “It was our first [mural], and the one that spoke the most. I think in my mind, that was the beginning of everything that we do today, it was a key moment for the city.” 

Visual artists Yusuf Ismail and Shawqi Hasson started Unify as a creative collective to bring marginalised voices to the front. They hope to make people realise the rich cultural diversity that Cardiff has to offer. 

Fortunately, Cardiff is home to many murals, each with a story to tell.  It may be known for its castles and Victorian architecture, however, one cannot pass over the culturally rich art landscape that finds its presence there. 

From campaigns that raise awareness about HIV to poetry that welcomes Afghan refugees, here are some of the most prominent artworks in the city that you shouldn’t miss. 

What you seek is seeking you

Red and yellow poetry calligraphy painting street art
Artist Sahar Saki has been funded by the Art Council of Wales to bring Persian stories to light

Creating visuals out of words is not easy, especially when the last thing you want is for them to be lost in translation from one language to another. Artist Sahar Saki is no stranger to this. By means of bold colours, calligraphy, and Persian poetry, she brings Iranian stories from around Wales to the streets of Cardiff. She hopes that her artwork creates a feeling of home for Afghan and Persian communities and makes them feel welcomed. Her greatest inspiration comes from poets like Rumi, Saadi Shirazi, and Forough Farrokhzad, whose works she then translates to English and Welsh, making them more accessible to everyone.

Location: James Street

My City, My Shirt 

Black woman football Cardiff street art
Cardiff’s street artist Rmer One hopes to highlight the ethnic minorities and connect them to their city’s football club

There’s a good chance that you’ve already seen something like this in Cardiff. One of the 23 portraits created for an art campaign My City, My Shirt during Black History Month, this project seeks to normalise people of colour wearing the Cardiff City shirt and feel represented in the world of football. “In Wales, people who are from the black and brown communities like me don’t necessarily have the greatest self-expression to celebrate their heritage, their identity”, says Yusuf, who thinks that this can bring different communities together.

Location: Quay Street

World AIDS Day 

HIV AIDS Black woman mural street art Cardiff
Mercy Shibemba was shocked to find out that not everyone had quarterly NHS appointments as she grew up with HIV

In the words of Mercy Shibemba, the face of the mural, “Stigma has a funny way of keeping people apart”. Born with HIV, Mercy had a tough life as she constantly faced criticism and prejudice from people around her. 

HIV AIDS person mural street art Cardiff
Marlon Van Der Mark went public with his diagnosis after a TV show and wants to help others living with HIV

Likewise, Marlon Van Der Mark, also in the mural, was diagnosed at 20, and had no clue about HIV before his diagnosis. Both Mercy and Marlon hope that their mural painted by street artist Bradley Rmer spreads awareness about the isolation that follows the contraction of this virus and encourages people to get tested. 

Location: James Street

Pink dragon 

Pink dragon Wales painting street art
The flag of Wales has a red dragon on it, which symbolises strength and bravery

If someone were to tell you that every city in Wales would have a colourful dragon for itself, it would seem very unlikely. However, art organisation Revealist is working with Unify to try and change that. Their first pitstop being the capital city of Cardiff, the pink dragon aims to celebrate Welsh heritage and culture with an eccentric twist to it. Soon, they hope to cover all of Wales with these dragons, each a unique colour. 

Location: James Street

Mona Lisa

Black woman pregnant mural removed advertisement
The mural signified the amalgamation of Black history and Welsh culture after the Black Lives Matters protests
Credits: Unify

Also known as Cardiff’s Mona Lisa, last month, this mural was painted over for a McDonald’s ad, sparking outrage from people from all around Cardiff, resulting in the fast-food company apologising and asking artist Rmer One to recreate the artwork. Depicting a pregnant woman, namely Maimuna Yoncana, Unify kickstarted their My City My Shirt campaign through this portrait. Yusuf says, “There was never any black mural per se before this. I think there’s nothing like it in Wales. It has something which is very unique, very prominent.”

If Cardiff’s art scene is to teach people anything, it is that art can be inclusive and conversational. Through Unify, Yusuf hopes to make the city a colourful canvas of all kinds of people. “I just hope that project inspires others to take ownership of their identity, their narrative, just to basically give us a platform …for more young black and brown creatives from Wales.”