America views graffiti as trash, as an obstacle to having a "clean" or "normal" society." The majority of the graffiti that appears in urban neighborhoods across the U.S. is often affiliated with gangs and organized street crime. This graffiti is seen as ugly but serves a purpose to those who throw it up as well as those who live in areas near those who put up the graffiti. Typical gang graffiti is called "tagging" it is certain logos that are put up to establish territorial boundaries for gangs. They are often also used as warning signs once in the neighborhoods of how things work with a certain gang's territory. This trashy graffiti is not very different then the political graffiti seen in cities across the U.S. such as Berkeley or Austin. Both types of graffiti serve to communicate a message. While gang graffiti does have an underlying violent trope it never the less acts a medium of communication to convey an important message.
The political graffiti of the U.S. is easy to understand as a strategy of communication--it conveys a political opinion. Instead of analyzing the political graffiti of the U.S. I would like to examine the political graffiti that has appeared in history. As rebellions occur so does graffiti. Many separatist groups and rebels have used graffiti to convey political messages, pass secret messages and to confuse the enemy.
The French partisans (during World War II) used graffiti in highly German populated areas to communicate secret meetings. Instead of writing in french or German which was easily interpreted by the Germans they used names of historical french figures as code. These simple messages scrawled deep in enemy territory were used plan secret meetings that helped bring down the Nazi regime. An older French example of political graffiti was during the french revolution, the poor peasants used tomatoes to paint cries for revolution on walls throughout the city.
A more recent example of insurgent graffiti is the protests throughout the middle east. In Libya most notably hundreds of messages yelling for democracy have sprung up not only in Misrata but in all the major cities showing diffusion of rebellion. The Libyan graffiti has taken on a different trope then the graffiti of the rebellions in Bahrain or the graffiti that had showed up in Egypt. Libya's graffiti appears to be synchronized. The messages and words are unified and the same messages appear everywhere unlike Egypt in which countless different phrases and messages popped up, it is almost as if the rebels are using graffiti as a tactic to confuse and attack the enemy on a different front.
This Post was a brief intro to some communicative uses of graffiti. Below are several pictures of political/insurgent graffiti for your viewing pleasure.
|This caricature of Gadhaffi reads "The Monkey of Monkeys of Africa" a play on his self given title of the "The King of Kings of Africa"|