Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Jealousy in Street Art

Amara Por Dios, the evil eye, art, jealousy, envy, and don’t be possessive

Kate Hidalgo/Annals of the Emotions
Image Source: Kate Hidalgo/Annals of the Emotions

The Annals of the Emotions has gone to the smaller streets of London, England. It’s reporting back concerning a recent piece of art sprayed onto a wall in Sclater Street, Shoreditch, one of the prime spots for high quality street art in London.

Amara Por Dios is the pseudonym of a Swedish artist responsible for the work reproduced above (shot by our staff photographer, Kate Hidalgo). Amara Por Dios is now becoming well known. A self-taught artist Amara has been painting off and on in London since 2012 (there is less opportunity for street art in Sweden she says). Amara returned to London in 2013 on Kickstarter funds to put on her first international show. Amara Por Dios, as you can see here, is very keen on painting eyes as well as the color green.

What’s happening on this Sclater Street wall? And what does it have to do with the Annals of the Emotions? Perhaps the easiest way to explain it is to focus on the two big eyes at the center of the painting. You could understand them as another instance of the theme of the “evil eye”. The evil eye is something that attacks you unawares, and brings on harm (headaches, stomach aches, cramps, baldness, or who knows what else that is worse). The evil eye is the product of the emotions of envy or jealousy. Your good fortune, it’s claimed, encourages in others less fortunate a spiteful reaction. This takes the form of an inadvertent or deliberate stare. Thence the harm. The evil eye is an emotional phenomenon as old as the Old Testament and that can be found anywhere from Asia to the Mediterranean. In Amara Por Dios’ version there are the two big evil eyes staring malevolently out from the painting. Watch out! There is also the value added presence of a veritable bevvy of baby evil eyes. I presume that if the big ones don’t get you, then the little ones certainly will.

Is the evil eye all there is that is to be said of this Sclater Street spray-painting? Green is the main color in this representation. The surrounds of the eyes are green and the top part of the eyes is green. Amara Por Dios seems to love this color. Green unavoidably picks up the long, but arbitrary, association that the color has had with jealousy since Shakespeare’s “green-eyed monster” in Othello. (In the Middle Ages, yellow was just as frequently associated with the emotion of jealousy.) So it’s jealousy as much as the evil eye or even Amara Por Dios’ taste for the hue that’s at stake here. Perhaps what really drives the malicious gaze of these London orbs is green jealousy.

If that’s the case, then how does jealousy work on this wall? Here’s one way that you can understand it. There are always three players in jealous situation—three people, or two people and a thing. And there is always the threat of loss to one or another of the individuals. In Sclater Street the first of the three players is the painting itself, the thing if you like. Then there’s us, the viewer. And the third player is those living lumina, those huge eyes that seem to take on a life beyond the background painting itself. What’s threatened? You may find this surprising, but it is the painting itself, the first of the players.

Who’s threatening? The answer is you, the viewer. That’s what the evil eyes think. They’re worried about the loss of the painting itself. I realize that this may seem crazy. But think a little about the nature of street art. It really is an art form that belongs to the people. It has a very short public life. No matter how good an artwork is, it will sooner or later, sooner usually, be erased by another painting. You can’t own art like this. Not unless you can take the whole wall away to your gallery. Yet street art, smaller scale, does disappear. Down the road, still on Sclater Street an exceptionally good piece of street art, a political pink ear, I am not kidding, by the Milan cooperative, Urban Solid, was recently filched. No doubt it’s now adorning a plutocratic collector’s den elsewhere in Shoreditch. Amara Por Dios’ threatening green eyes would put an end to this.

The jealousy eyes are making a warning. What they say is this: you can’t have me. Simple as that. You can’t take away street art, because you don’t own it. No one does. Don’t go getting possessive about what’s here. It’s not made to be owned. You can’t get this picture—or any of the others like it—because they belong to the public. Amara Por Dios’ wall is probably being painted out by a member of the public right as I am writing this. That’s democracy in action and it sure beats the fate of Urban Solid’s pink ear.

More from Peter Toohey Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today