Friday, February 4, 2011

Markin' Up and Claiming Territory: Making a Statement

     The extensive presence of graffiti is visual within a myriad of both urban and rural environments. Often however, the understanding of graffiti as art versus graffiti as vandalism is often disputed. Many people in favor of graffiti argue that it is a form of self-expression, creativity and personal opinion and thus often has varied, multi faceted meanings that may be overlooked as mere vandalism. Thus, graffiti is viewed with opposing perspectives, as it may be seen as a beautiful form of self-expression and art by one person or merely as pesky, deviant vandalism. Further, graffiti is often primarily assumed to be associated with the spray painted messages and murals resting in areas of the urban landscape, however modern graffiti comes in a myriad of different forms including the messages written in a public bathroom stall or school desk, to the large spray painted murals on buses and building walls.  Often, graffiti is intended to send a sort of expressive message to the reader whether it is political, social or personal. There are many themes that directly relate to the act, intent as well as reception of graffiti such as the effects of anonymity versus identity and authorship, creativity and artistry, social class, erasure, youth and liminility as well as resistance.  Each of the following themes are pertinent, relevant areas of exploration in relation to the visible presence and multifaceted meanings of graffiti, however, I will predominantly address the themes of anonymity versus identity and authorship, the political breadth as well as the notion of resistance associated with graffiti.  
     Often, “wall graffiti can be an indicator of attitudes behavioral dispositions and social processes” (Ley and Cybriwsky, 1974:491) and for many is the best way to advertise an idea or opinion that is perhaps controversial in nature. Often, graffiti will lure the passive spector into a reaction by leading the passive urban eye into a state of cultural shock (Rafferty, 1991:78).  In relation to anonymity, often the message of a work of graffiti is very politically directed, thus one of the effects of anonymity is that there is no authorship to the piece and no way of knowing who produced the statement (Rafferty, 1991:80). With anonymity, it is like the walls are expressing themselves, selling only an anonymous worldview (Rafferty, 1991:80).  Therefore, anonymity allows a piece to be read  without bias that may be a result of knowing the source of authorship, thus “anonymity is important because it keeps you from getting caught and it keeps the messages universal, sourceless [and] draws its power from its aggressiveness and its accessibility” (Rafferty, 1991:80). The notion of identity and authorship is predominant to much graffiti also, as the intent of much graffiti—rather than being a anonymous worldview—is to assert power, dominance and ownership over a specific territorial jurisdiction; thus often ‘tag’ graffiti or taking authorship in other ways over a piece of work asserts the notion of identity as exemplified in graffiti example 1 (at bottom). Often the evidence of graffiti on street walls gives an approximation as to territorial boundaries, as “[b]oundaries compiled from the relative incidence of gang graffiti found a ready acceptance by neighborhood youth as an accurate portrayal of each gangs area of control (Ley and Cybriwsky, 1974:496). Graffiti reflects a relationship between social processes as well as spatial order and identity and authorship of graffiti reflects, enforces and reifies this relationship. Thus, ‘tag’ graffiti as well as other signs of visible authorship over graffiti also asserts identity by often reflecting a visible manifestation of a group’s social space. Graffiti may serve as “visible and unequivocal cues to identify ownership and notify outsiders that they are entering a protected place and must respect the integrity of claimed property” (Ley and Cybriwsky, 1974:505).  “[He] who is king of the walls claims also to be king of the streets and master of their use [thus] the walls are more than a attitudinal tabloid [they are] a behavioral manifesto” (Ley and Cybriwsky, 1974 505).   
       Furthermore, resistance is also a pivotal notion related to graffiti as due to the controversial and highly opinionated nature of graffiti, it is therefore considered to be a direct form of resistance, spreading a public message of resistance through art, thus rebelling against common beliefs or governmental laws such as portrayed in example 2 (at bottom) (South, 2008). Therefore, it is interesting to keep an open mind and view graffiti as an art form, a visual, creative, personal, opinioned expression, and to perhaps accept graffiti as an artistic result of our freedom of expression;  thus, accepting graffiti as a socially representative addition to the urban environment rather than solely as a form of vandalism that needs to be ceased and erased.

Example 1
An example of gang graffiti marking territory in New York. 

 An example of  'tag' grafitti. This is an M-13 gang tag in New York. 

Example 2

An example  of the anti Olympic, thus politically related graffiti piece outside of the Vancouver art gallery. There was much anti Olympic graffiti all over the city of Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics that took place in Vancouver.  The Vancouver City council promptly removed all anti Olympic graffiti.

An example of socio- political graffiti on Commercial Drive, Vancouer, B.C. 

1.   Ley, David and Cybriwsky, Roman
               1974 Urban Graffiti as Territorial Markers. Annals of the Association of American Geographers,        
                        64(4): 491-505., accessed January 31, 2011. .
 2. Raferty, Pat
              1991 Discourse on Difference: Street Art Graffiti Youth Source.  Visual anthropology                
                       Review7(2): 77-84.          
                       accessed January 31, 2011.
3. South, Catherine
            2008 Graffiti: Art or Vandalism?,               
                      accessed January 31, 2011.

1 comment:

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