UCL Urban Laboratory

Dr Rafael Schacter

Dr Rafael Schacter

Associate Professor

Dept of Anthropology

Faculty of S&HS

Joined UCL
15th May 2012

Research summary

I have two key areas of research, public art and global art.

My research on the former area – on public art – emerged out of my postgraduate work on graffiti and street art. Starting with my Masters in Material & Visual Culture at UCL and continuing with my doctoral research in the same department, this ongoing research project has focussed on graffiti and street art from an ethnographic perspective. Moving away from the dichotomy of "art vs vandalism", however, my work has investigated the practice from an anthropological, architectural, and art historical perspective, examining what these images do as much as what they mean, exploring their wider, active, agentic effects in the world. This has encompassed themes such as memory, ephemerality, speech acts, bodily performance, collective participation, as well as intertwining with topics such as gentrification, privatisation and digitisation among many others. At its heart, this research is one addressing the city through art and addressing art through the city. This ongoing work has resulted in three sole authored books, numerous journal articles and book chapters, as well as numerous high-profile exhibitions and public art projects around the world.

My research on the latter area – on global art – emerged out of my postdoctoral work on contemporary art in the Philippines. This ongoing research project, developing from my British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship 2014-2017, has focussed on the discourse of Global Art from an ethnographic perspective. Undertaking just under 9 months of fieldwork in Metro Manila, the focus of my fellowship was the capital’s rich, diverse, and highly developed contemporary art scene. Conducting research with artists, gallerists, curators, fabricators, writers, editors, collectors, filmmakers, musicians, producers, coders, designers, publishers, and a myriad of other individuals connected to the wider art ecosystem, my research explored the tension between the lived situation of my research partners in the Philippines and their wider cosmopolitan presence in the world (via international education, international exhibitions, international residency projects etc., let alone familial ties to Overseas Foreign Workers who make up over 10% of the country’s population). Principally, then, it is the discourse of ‘Global Art’ that is being addressed here from within the specific locality of the Philippines, and my research has focussed on the ways my interlocutors lives both intertwined with and critiqued this new form of aesthetic hegemony. As with my research on public art, this work has thus far emerged in a series of journal articles, book chapters, and an exhibition project entitled Motions of this Kind.

Key Research Themes

*Public Art

*Anthropology of Art

*Anthropology of Urban Spaces

*Graffiti and Street Art

*Global Art

Teaching summary

I convene and teach the compulsory 1st year course Introduction to Material and Visual Culture which covers topics such as the Anthropology of Art, Museums, Photography, Architecture, and Landscape. My own optional course, taught at both Undergraduate and Masters level, is entitled Art in the Public Sphere. Whilst the key themes of the course emerged out of my research on graffiti, the course covers a range of different practices from classical monuments to illicit street art, official memorials to public protests. For more details, please see the below:

Today, over half the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050, this is expected to be two-thirds. The metropolis dominates our contemporary existence. 

Yet whilst the city is often seen as a neutral space that evolves almost organically over time, it is in fact a location that is continually designed, structured, and restructured from both a state and street level. It is a site that not only reflects our wider social and political ideals but that comes to directly shape them, a living space in a state of constant flux. As such, the city must be understood as the place from which contemporary citizenship is taught and resisted, norms enforced and opposed.

Public art in particular has played a crucial role within this nexus of city and citizenship. As a form of visual and architectural order that has, since the Ancient Greeks, been habitually related to the construction of a wider social order, it has been used by both the powerful and powerless to speak, act, and demonstrate in material form. From classical statuary to contemporary street art, from monumental memorials to ephemeral performances, public art affects how we communicate and participate, remember and forget. We encounter it each time we step into the world, yet we rarely question how it functions or came to be.

Critically examining these questions through exploring the past, present, and future of art in public space, this course will encourage us to look at our surroundings in a new way, seeing public art as a mechanism to understand the ways we relate both to the city and each other. In an age of ever-increasing change – from political radicalism to climate emergency, from privatisation to surveillance – exploring public art will uncover the realities of contemporary citizenship and reveal the future possibilities and perils that we and our cities face today.


University College London
Doctorate, Doctor of Philosophy | 2011
University College London
Other higher degree, Master of Research | 2007
University College London
Other higher degree, Master of Arts | 2005
School of Oriental and African Studies
First Degree, Bachelor of Arts | 2002


Dr Rafael Schacter is a Lecturer in Anthropology and Material Culture at University College London. Schacter works on public art and global art, curating and writing widely in both these areas. Alongside his academic articles and book chapters, artist essays, and other assorted writings, Schacter has published three books; Street to Studio with Lund Humphries in 2018; the award-winning World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti with Yale University Press in 2013; and Ornament and Order: Graffiti, Street Art and the Parergon with Ashgate / Routledge in 2014. He also has a wide-ranging curatorial output. Amongst other global projects, Schacter curated the Walking Tour at the Tate Modern’s Street Art exhibition in 2008, Futurismo AncestralMapping the City and Venturing Beyond at Somerset House in 2014, 2015, and 2016 respectively, and Silver Sehnsucht in London’s Docklands in 2017. His most recent project, Motions of this Kind, took place at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, from April 11 – June 22 2019. He is also currently curating an ongoing, four-year public art project in Heerlen, the Netherlands, entitled Regrowth Degrowth.