This article by the Associated Press is very interesting. In the previous post I linked to a video of young protestors in Egypt who are using graffiti as a powerful tool of public communication. The government is “buffing” the work of these young artist. Many see this as a continuation of a dictatorship which is a threat to freedom.
The graffiti of these young egyptian protestors tells the story of the battles of the recent violence which has taken place in Cairo. This video seems to demonstrate some community interests in what this artwork expresses and the history that is tells. Many people of Cairo see it as a violation of human expression to have the city remove the graffiti. It’s interesting to compare our local graffiti to this work. Although the graffiti of Seattle is not as explicitly embedded with messages of violence, it seems to evoke a similar feeling of disparity, it seems to embody similar battles of class and power.
No Touching Ground has produced some amazing and provocative work throughout Seattle. Check out his website! He is greatly influenced by his experiences in Alaska. Much of his work in Seattle plays with the juxtaposition of natural with urban landscapes. He was kind enough to conduct this interview with me via email:
(NF) What relationship (if any) do you see you work having to the ubiquitous
graffiti/tagging found throughout the city of Seattle? What differences?
(NTG) My work is lumped in with graffiti, because in the eyes of the law-
it’s all the same. I don’t consider myself a graffiti artist.
Graffiti is pure destruction. I’m not interested in that. I’m
interested in creating an ephemeral narrative- my work isn’t about
destruction. At this point in my life I’m looking to make the least
amount of impact on this world as possible. I’m not attempting to
carve a portrait into a mountain.
(NF) Have you been influenced by the concepts and grammar of graffiti, or do
you see graffiti as totally separate type of expression that just happens
to take place where it is visible to the public? If yes, What similar
purpose does it serve for human expression?
(NTG) My work and the work of graffiti artists are similar only in the fact
that they are unwanted forms of human expression according to the law.
Granted the work exists in the public realm, however, my work focuses
on site specific, disused spaces, and abandoned structures. Graffiti
artists aren’t nearly as specific; abundance is the name of the game.
(NF) Do you believe that what you and other graffiti artists do should be
considered illegal? How does the legality of street art contribute to its
(NTG) Whether it is legal or not doesn’t really concern me. I think that
cities should create public space for people to express themselves; it
would at least create an example of democracy in a public space. It
would offset some of the advertisements were subjected to on a daily
basis. I, however, don’t see my work going into those places. Much
like skateboard parks, I’m not interested in participating in these
institutional structures. I feel like these resemble the reservation
model, set up by the government to contain what they deem as a
problem. However, I feel like this is my own rhetoric and my
justifications don’t necessarily pertain to the general public.
I do think that the illegality of creating work in the street carries
some weight. When things are permissible then the urgency is lost –
the risk no longer exists. I think graffiti and most works put up in
the street need that edge. Or that edge itself provokes the most raw
or pure human expression.
We are socialized to experience graffiti in certain ways. I believe this is really why I prefer some graffiti over others. In the social constructions in how we experience space, we learn particular cues which influence how we view our surroundings. When we encounter a stop sign, the stop sign in itself dosen’t imply us to hit the brakes in our car. Through very complex systems of meaning creation, we learn how to interact with the signage. But what happens when this process of learning is interrupted? The picture below demonstrates an interesting example. The addition of , “watching tv” interrupts established systems of understanding. The sign that was originally intended to be a part of a complex system of social control becomes an politicized. I find it common in many examples of graffiti that the work becomes an opportunity to challenge old paradigms. I honestly have a mixed reactions to such work. I experience some discomfort because this act is an statutory violation of social and legal code, but I can also laugh because I am familiar with the narrative of how many people watch far too much television. Some may say what was done to this sign is wrong in all circumstances while others might argue that I offers a chance to reflect on a problem.
Racist graffiti marks the UW campus for second time this year
Racist slurs and swastikas were found scrawled throughout the Communications Building last week. In all, the culprit hit six different areas of the building.
The racist and inflammatory graffiti was quickly removed, but it marks the second known time this year someone has used a marker to write racist symbols. The first time, the target was a Jewish student in Haggett Hall; this time, the targets are believed to be Jewish and African-American staff and faculty members whose offices are in the Communications Building.
There is no evidence that the two incidents are tied together, but according to UWPD Cmdr. Steve Rittereiser the slurs and swastikas the vandals used in both incidents were consistent with the type of language white supremacists use.
Communications Department Chair David Domke said the graffiti was originally noticed last Tuesday evening. The following morning, a staff member reported it to UWPD after finding a large swastika drawn on an office door.
When police officers investigated, they found more swastikas drawn in an elevator and on a wall, racist slurs on a stairwell window and door, and the words “whites only” written on a stairwell door and bench.
Ansel Herz, a program operations specialist whose office door was targeted, said he was shocked to see the swastika on his door when he arrived to work that morning.
“I was taken aback and kind of dumbfounded,” Herz said. “I didn’t have any inkling that something like that was going to happen during my time here at UW.”
Later that day, after Herz said he was able to think about what had happened, he posted a message on Twitter: “To whoever drew the swastika I found on my office door this morning: You don’t scare me.”
Herz said that although he has no idea if he was specifically targeted, the UWPD is investigating the incident as a hate crime since his surname is common among Germans of Jewish heritage.
“Maybe they saw my name and that’s why they drew this kind of large swastika on my door,” Herz said. “I think it’s kind of sad and pathetic.”
Domke said that, although he doesn’t want to give more attention to the incident than it deserves, he also wants to make it clear where his department stands.
“This is unacceptable,” Domke said. “It’s gutless that somebody would do this and run. We are a place where people of all backgrounds are embraced. This type of act only affirms our commitment. … This is a place where all are welcome and always will be.”
Luis Fraga, associate vice provost for faculty advancement and the director of the UW Diversity Research Institute, said that even isolated incidents of this type should be examined.
“It can be an indication of an individual or small group of individuals that have a particular point of view,” Fraga said. “Or, one can interpret it as reflective of a larger set of concerns that still exist in our society.”
Fraga said one of the major challenges facing colleges today is providing a supportive climate to faculty members who do diversity work. Even though he believes the UW has committed itself in many different ways to supporting diversity, Fraga said that “instances like this where faculty feel attacked” do not help.
“The institution’s response to these incidences is extremely important in contributing to the way in which the faculty member understands the value that he or she has at the institution,” Fraga said. “So it’s important for institutions to respond to indicate that this sort of behavior is not acceptable and not within the values of the institution. … So the institution has to make some judgments as to how it will respond.”
So far, the only visible response has been to clean up the graffiti.
Jess Gonzalez, a senior majoring in history and Latin American and Caribbean studies, said the slurs offend her, and that cleaning up the graffiti isn’t enough.
“They can’t just take it down immediately and pretend it didn’t happen,” Gonzalez said. “That doesn’t address the bigger issue, and that’s that racism and prejudice are still a major problem. Not just here, but everywhere. … Sweeping this under the rug is really missing out on a critical opportunity to educate, and that’s what we’re here for.”
No suspects have been identified, and the UWPD is conducting an investigation. Anyone with information can reach UWPD at 206-685-8973.
Reach reporter Jimmy Lovaas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JimLovaas