For much of the year, the best—and safest—place to see art was on the street. And perhaps more than in any other year, street art offered a real-time distillation of the events shaping our lives.
Across the globe, artwork speaking to the strangeness of the current moment proliferated on empty walls and billboards, immortalizing the need for face masks and social distancing, as well as the sacrifices of essential workers.
Then, as spring gave way to summer, US stores boarded up in response to a wave of Black Lives Matter protests. Artists turned plywood barriers into canvases, creating works that spoke to cries for racial justice.
Street art of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X made in reference to the George Floyd killing at the famous Leake Street Tunnel under Waterloo station. Photo by Keith Mayhew/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.
Local artists transformed the area around Cup Foods in Minneapolis, the site where George Floyd was killed at the hands of police officers, into a mural-covered memorial. (One particular portrait of Floyd painted by Xena Goldman, Cadex Herrera, and Greta McClain became a national symbol and was displayed at his funeral—while controversy surrounding the lack of involvement of Black artists reflected larger concerns about who is centered in the art of the racial justice movement.)
Around the world, there were tributes to Kobe Bryant and Chadwick Boseman, to doctors and nurses, and to victims of police violence, as well as messages of hope, strength, and resilience in the face of the global health crisis and ensuing economic downturn.
This art was a reminder that even in times of isolation, none of us is alone. Here are some of the most memorable street artworks of the year—some inspirational and uplifting, some sorrowful, some humorous, some just plain beautiful—from countries around the world.
Luis Villanueva lights a candle in front of a Kobe Bryant mural by Jonas Never in downtown Los Angeles on January 26, 2020. Photo by Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images.
Street art memorializing George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, and Ahmaud Arbery. Photo courtesy by Parmvir Bahia.
A woman wearing a mask walks past street art of hearts that reads, “Hope” on December 10, 2020 in New York City. Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images.
Banksy’s or Itcher’s recent mural in Nottingham. Courtesy of Banksy.
A person photographs a mural created by British artist Banksy entitled “Aachoo!!” showing a woman wearing a headscarf sneezing and dropping their handbag and cane, in Bristol. Photo by Geoff Caddick/AFP via Getty Images.
Coronavirus street art by Gnasher. Photo courtesy of the artist on Facebook.
A newly married couple poses with Pøbel’s Lovers, painted on March 10, 2020, in Bryne, Norway. Photo by Jone K Øverland-JKOPhotography.
A man rides next to the painting ‘I Want You To Stay Home’ by artist TV Boy in Barcelona, Spain. Photo by Xavi Torrent/Getty Images.
Irish artist Emmalene Blake working on her latest mural, located in Dublin’s city center, in response to legislation outlawing so-called “revenge porn,” which is sexual abuse based on images, and which is still not a crime in Ireland. Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images.
A new artwork by street artist TVBoy depicting US President Donald Trump dressed up in a Superman costume and flying through COVID-19 clouds is pictured in a street in Barcelona on October 8, 2020. Photo by Pau Barrena/AFP via Getty Images.
Palestinians, wearing protective face masks,walk past street art showing a COVID-19 virus, in Gaza city on October 5, 2020. Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images.
An NYPD traffic officer walks past street art in SoHo as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on August 20, 2020 in New York City. Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images.
FAKE, Super Nurse on April 21, 2020 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Photo by Paulo Amorim/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.
A woman walks past a piece of street art depicting an NHS worker on April 21, 2020 in the Shoreditch area of London, England. Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images.
A mural painting by graffiti artist Eme Freethinker features likenesses of US President Donald Trump and Chinese premier Xi Jinping wearing face covers, in Berlin on April 28, 2020. Photo by John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images.
A man walks his dogs past a public art installation aimed at turning boarded up shopfronts into works of art in Los Angeles, California on April 28, 2020. The initiative was launched by street artist Jeremy Novy and Art Share LA, including work seen here by @_ShowzArt_. Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP, via Getty Images.
Hannah McGee takes a selfie beside a piece of art by the artist Rebel Bear after it appeared on a wall on Ashton Lane in Glasgow. Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Images via Getty Images.
Virus face mask street art and graffiti on Brick Lane in Shoreditch as lockdown continues and people observe the stay at home message in the capital on May 12, 2020, in London. Photo by Mike Kemp/In PIctures via Getty Images.
A woman walks past street art supporting the NHS, near to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, Belfast. Photo by Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images.
A coronavirus-inspired street art piece by Adrian Wilson, paired with work by Jilly Ballistic. Photo by Adrian Wilson.
A street art piece by Sara Erenthal. Photo by Sara Erenthal.
A man carrying a sack on his head walks past a graffiti of coronavirus warrior in Mumbai. Photo by Ashish Vaishnav/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.
A girl walks out of a building decorated with educational graffiti about safety measures and COVID-19 on July 6, 2020 in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo by Alissa Everett/Getty Images.
Street art by Sara Erenthal on display on a wall on June 21, 2020 in Brooklyn. Photo by Gotham/Getty Images.
Street art featuring the character Bart Simpson is on display on a boarded-up building in SoHo on June 21, 2020 in New York City. Photo by Gotham/Getty Images.
A person walks past a street mural by artist Lexi Bella on June 16, 2020 in Brooklyn. Photo by Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images.
Street art adorning a public wall depicting and honoring front line corona warriors which includes, health care workers, police personnel, journalists, and sanitary workers on July 11, 2020 on the wall of municipal compactor in New Delhi, India. Photo by Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images.
An urban artist painted a mural under a bridge to honor health workers who have given their lives to curb COVID-19 in Mexico City. Photo by Leonardo Casas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Studios/Future Publishing via Getty Images.
A portrait of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo painted with a face mask as a way to demonstrate the situation that is lived due to the new coronavirus pandemic on August 5, 2020 in Mexico City. Photo by Leonardo Casas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Studios/Future Publishing via Getty Images.
A couple wearing masks holds hands while walking past street art on August 7, 2020 in New York City. Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images.
A person walks past a large “Thank you” mural in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on August 17, 2020. Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images.
Street art of a medical worker with wings wearing protective mask to illustrate the Coronavirus (COVID-19 ) pandemic in Mexico City. Photo by Ricardo Castelan Cruz/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Studios/Future Publishing via Getty Images.
Street art by Rebel Bear on a wall on Bank Street in Glasgow. Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Images via Getty Images.
Nikkolas Smith, King Chad a mural memorializing Chadwick Boseman, in Downtown Disney. Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Imagineering.
Nina Chanel Abney, Black Lives Matter mural on the Bentonville Razorback greenway trail in Arkansas. Photo courtesy of Justkids.
Polish street artist NeSpoon’s lace mural on a wall of La Cite de la Dentelle et de La Mode on September 20, 2020 in Calais, France. Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images.
Pedestrians walk past a poster designed and displayed overnight by Italian street artist Mauro Pallotta, aka Maupal, on October 1, 2020 in the Borgo Pio district of Rome near the Vatican, inspired by an icon of St. Stephen, representing the Saint holding a hypodermic syringe of vaccine and reading in Latin “Sacred Vaccine”. Photo by Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images.
A person walks past street art by artist Pure Genius on October 2, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Photo by Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images.
A woman walks by the mural 50 FT HEROES by the Irish artist Shane Sutton, located in Dublin. Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images.
Kurt Boone has photographed plywood barriers covered in graffiti during the George Floyd protests in New York. Photo by Kurt Boone.
A pedestrian wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, walks past COVID-19 street art, advising to “Stay Alert” and “Save Lives” in central London, on November 22, 2020. Photo by Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images.
A man wearing a mask walks past a new mural by Elle Street Art of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) commissioned by the Lisa Project on November 17, 2020 in New York City. Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images.
Tribute mural to the Little Rock Nine by Maeve Cahill, part of FIT’s Black Student Union’s public art exhibition “#ChalkThatTalk” held in June in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Photo courtesy of FIT.
A mural of the Police, by the Irish artist Emmalene Blake, located in South Dublin. This is the latest work in her “Stay at Home” series encouraging people to stick to social distancing. Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images.
Street artist SF paints a mural on a wall in Athens, inspired by the second lockdown in Greece due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in Athens on November 25, 2020. Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images.
A Palestinian man walks past street art showing doctors mask-clad due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in the Nusseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on November 16, 2020. Photo by Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images.
Berlin artist S. G. Raum works on a mural featuring the words: “Without art and culture it gets quiet…” on a segment of the Berlin wall in Berlin’s Mauerpark on November 15, 2020. Photo by John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images.
Palestinian women walk past street art showing doctors mask-clad due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 12, 2020. Photo by Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images.
A woman wearing a mask walks past a coronavirus hearts mural by artist Timur York on the Museum of Ice Cream in SoHo on November 10, 2020 in New York City. Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images.
Street art depicting Boris Johnson which reads “The Eton Mess” is seen at the Bay Horse Tavern in Manchester’s Northern Quarter on November 09, 2020. Photo by Charlotte Tattersall/Getty Images.
Urban artist Roberto Islas’s Day of the Dead mural in memory of the victims who have lost their lives to the COVID-19 disease on October 30, 2020 in Mexico City, Mexico. Photo by Carlos Tischler/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Studios/Future Publishing via Getty Images.
Konstance Patton painted this mural for a project by the Soho Renaissance Factory at the New York Public Library’s new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library branch on 5th Avenue while it was boarded up ahead of the presidential election in November. Photo by Kurt Boone.
A coronavirus themed street art piece by Sean “Hula” Yoro in Miami. Photo courtesy of Kapu Collective.
A Simpsons inspired work by Italian artist Nello Petruccii. Courtesy of the artist.
Coronavirus street art in Los Angeles by Teachr1 with Malith Devaka, Chris Braas, Louis James Williams, Gregory Karpov, Hiske Hilgenga, Cristian Ciprian Brauen Droz, Daniel Duarte Ontiveros, Jamy Zord and Kirk A J Zimmerman. Photo courtesy of the artists.
Street art in Berlin featuring the Lord of the Rings character Gollum holding a roll of toilet paper, a shopping item hoarded by consumers during the coronavirus pandemic crisis. Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images.
A man wears a protective mask walks passes by a coronavirus (COVID-19) mural at Tomang in Jakarta, Indonesia on December 18, 2020. Photo by Anton Raharjo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.
People wearing masks walk past Donald Trump street art that reads, “playtime is over Donny” by Pure Genius on November 29, 2020 in New York City. Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images.
NYC Health street art thanking MTA cleaning crews in Harlem. Photo by Sarah Cascone.
Street art on a boarded up storefront in Harlem. Photo by Sarah Cascone.
Street art by Black Rose in Harlem. Photo by Sarah Cascone.
Street art by Dister Rondon in Washington Heights. Photo by Sarah Cascone.
A large black and white mural of George Floyd’s face stands tall on the sidewalk outside of Cup Foods near where Floyd was killed on Sunday, July 26, 2020 in Minneapolis. Photo by Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.
A pedestrian walks past MandiMixUps’ coronavirus street art “Covid Collection,” reimaginging historic artworks The Scream, American Gothic, and Girl With a Pearl Earring wearing masks, in Glasgow on September 2, 2020 after the Scottish government imposed fresh restrictions on the city after an rise in cases of the novel coronavirus. Photo by Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images.
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Street art in Manchester as England continues a four week national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images.