Hip Hop is not just a musical genre, but a cultural movement which originated in the Bronx district of the city of New York in the 1970s and came with the Americans to Berlin. Ibo Omari, a citizen of Berlin, is a firm advocator of the Hip Hop culture, which he embraces in all social initiatives he pursues. In fact, he uses graffiti, one of the pillars of Hip Hop, to fight hate in Berlin.
Ibo Omari is the owner of a Berlin shop which sells graffiti paint and related items. One day he was in his shop in the neighbourhood of ‘Schöneberg’ when a father came in to buy two spray cans. At that time the refugee crisis was on vogue in Germany with Pegida (a Islamophobic and anti-immigrant movement) and the far right-wing party AfD on the rise. “I was wondering who this man was and why he needed the spray cans. He didn’t look like the typical customer to purchase graffiti equipment “, explains Ibo. “I asked him what he was up to. Then he went on explaining to me his frustration about a swastika painted at the playground where his son was playing. He wanted to cover it up with paint. I just thought this shouldn’t be the answer”.
Removing is like forgetting. Why not use creativity and a little bit of love to fight back? ‘Well, let’s paint back: action, reaction’, said Ibo to his customer. Together they went out to the playground and Ibo converted the swastika into a mosquito. ‘Where does the inspiration for a mosquito come from? Nazis and their swastiskas in Berlin are like mosquitoes. They are everywhere, you can’t get rid of them”, smiles Ibo.
This small but powerful action got the attention of neighbours and went viral immediately reaching the national and international media, who published many articles about the initiative. Ibo Omari organized a group of artists to convert some 20 swastikas into graffitis in Berlin. They called it #PaintBack.
Since then every time Ibo Omari sees a swastika in Berlin, he converts it into something beautiful. ‘It is important that people can tell the difference the before and after paintings. He would also ask the owner of the wall where the swastika is located if he wants him to transform it into something nice. Usually he gets a positive response.
Ibo also runs the association ‘Die kulturellen Erben’ (in english ‘the cultural heritage’) which puts up art workshops and other kind of events in his neighbourhood. The administration of the public park Gleisdreieck conceded his organization the permission to manage some sections of a wall located in the park where people are allowed to paint. You only need to fill out a form on the website or in his shop to get permission to paint.
‘It is not only about graffiti. The main objective of the association is to preserve and promote the multi-cultural soul of our Schöneberg neighbourhood with the engagement of its neighbours, most of them with migration background”, explains Ibo.
He and the other team members grew up in this neighbourhood of Schöneberg and they are very aware of its rough edges. ‘In order to really reach the youngsters, we use the multifaceted sides of Hip Hop. We want these youngsters to feel part of the city and feel that it is their home, while preserving the multicultural roots of their neighbourhood. The Hip Hop culture has shaped us as immigrant children ourselves and it was a medium to combat frustration, boredom, identity crisis and violence”, explains Ibo.
In the 1990s Hip Hop culture was anchored in Berlin and young people in general and kids with a migration background were able to identify with the hip-hop culture of the Americans. It was about their origin, identity and sense of justice.
Nowadays it continues to be an important component of Berlin’s culture. It makes some neighbourhoods unique, where citizens like Ibo embrace the Hip Hop culture to fight hate back with love.