urban scrawl, eh? try communication.

apparently NYC is getting pissy again--for the third (wave) time--with graffiti. as if there is nothing better to do with taxpayer money.

ironically, i studied graffiti in college. the movement, its relation to hip-hop, its socialization, and its spread. i don't profess to be an expert (i only took a semester, though it was a 400 level, to be fair) but these were some of the take-home messages i remember.

1: back in the day, it was partially a product of people unable to communicate about their surroundings. people were being subjected to, not involved with, their urban environment. with "benign neglect," these people were seen as unimportant, and so when their houses were levelled or burned for insurance profit, there began to be reactions. some of these reactions found their way to where it hurt: the heart of the city. messages on subways that went straight into Penn, were cushy suits had to face facts in bright, bold letters.

2: identity. people tagged because they had been robbed of sense of self. gaining fame by tagging the most outrageous places gave notoriety among people who had been cut off from the "main frame" and, often, from one another. tagging fostered community before there were online social medias in which to do it. artists formed groups. especially when they were caught and forced to do community service to "clean up" what they'd done--sure, they'd clean it, along with 20 other kids who'd also done it. they'd meet others like themselves, form a group, and retag.

3: and, of course, artistic expression. some graff was simple, able to be done by anyone, and in that way it was inclusive to all. others were better artists and painted great, beautiful scenes doing it like any other art form. after the second wave of the battle on graffiti, graff artists were embraced, and some even were asked to perform for NYC museums and have pieces accepted as well. it was this that started the mainstream acceptance of graffiti as a new style of art.

things like "It's not art - it's just scribble," he said.
have been echoed for 30 years now. no joke. and yet, it's still here.

i guarantee you that yes, while some might be doing it out of nostalgia and obvious street 'cool factor,' there is also evident in this a sense of digging into one's own roots and embracing one's own cultural past (be that of an area, like Brooklyn, or a heritage, like African American or Latino/a). moreover, if this is NOT an example of that, then perhaps it is time to look into why it is happening. take the suited-up complaints as a hint: who's being ignored now? why? can this be fixed? is there an avenue to support both needs (clean cars and art expression)?

this are the same issues that are dealt with once every decade since it's began.
in one way it's nice to know the conversation is still there.
on the other hand, it's sad to know that no one up "where it counts" is really having the conversation.

[if any of you care a lot about this, and where i'm getting this from, just comment. all of my references are in storage with my school notes, but i know i can name these off the top of my head: style wars (documentary), can't stop won't stop (book that functioned as our textbook). more? just ask. and here's to sean eversley-bradwell, who is a wicked awesome professor.]

1 comment:

MHB said...

one cool thing I know about graffiti crews the 70s/80s NYC is that they were always very diverse - almost UN style - so that as a unit they could travel with ease through all NYC neighborhoods. In a crew with a Italian, PR, Black, White, Polish etc... each ethnic member would become an ambassador as they moved through that person's particular turf. And in turn, transit cops then got wise to this and were always on the lookout for any group of kids that just looked toooo diverse.