tagging

Over at Cultural Sabotage, Ranjit states the following objective:

We seek to decriminalize artistic expression. No graff writer should ever end up in County. Instead, we seek greater opportunities for artistic expression, specifically in the form of funded art programs and MORE LEGAL WALLS, particularly in neighborhoods under threat of gentrification.


I’ve only met one or two graff writers in my life, but I wonder if having more legal walls would necessarily reduce the “illegal” graff writing. There are two points one might make here. First, I assume that part of the fun of tagging things is the taboo associated with it. Isn’t it sort of like an amnesty situation, wherein you start writing on the legal walls, but in so doing you out yourself as a graff artist? Secondly, does the creation of more legal outlets for artistic impression require a demarcation between illegal and legal expression? Do we allow writing on this wall but make explicit that the community rejects writing on the newspaper box?

It seems to be a reincarnation of the “sellout problem.” How do you expand opportunities for artistic expression, especially in a community/state sponsored way, without creating the impression that you are buying out the artists. To put it another way, how can the state or an institution sponsor or patronize the arts without creating the impression that the art so-funded is an extension of the expression of the state?

When I applied for a Marshall to study immigrant theater in England, the interviewers managed to trip me up on just this issue: they asked me if there were people I would not take money from to fund a production. I told them that one necessary condition was that the money would be strings free, but that I would also have to ensure that said funding would not jeapordize the relationship between the theater company and the community it was trying to serve. They asked me what I meant, and I then foolishly gave an off-the-cuff example without thinking and that sunk my interview, I’m sure.

It’s a tricky situation, to be sure. But one worth thinking about.

4 thoughts on “tagging

  1. I think that the demand itself needs to be revised, but the spirit of it is on point. I think the issue at hand is, broadly, the criminalization of youth of color. Vandalism – writing on walls – should probably (in this system) remain some sort of offense. However, I believe its insanely excessive consequences – like a trip to County Jail – have a lot to do with the people committing the act or perceived to be committing the act (i.e. low-income youth of color), and not the act itself.

    If the state provides resources for artistic expression in schools and public spaces, I believe that will be an improvement in the general quality of life in these communities. And thus, take the edge off a little bit. Does it mean that this art will become co-opted by the state? It depends on who’s making the demands and setting the terms of the discussion. Communities can, and have, demanded legal walls (all over the South Side of Chicago, for example). These permission walls haven’t diminished the quality or legitimacy of the art. All the artists I know (the number grows daily) will attest to that.

    Graffiti will always exist. People have been writing on walls for millennia. As long as we live in an oppressive world, people will act out and express their feelings through graffiti – both the “artistic” kind and the “vandal” kind (like scratch-bombing windows).

    My main beef is that kids caught with a marker get beat up and tossed in jail for a week.

  2. one more thing – the purpose of this demand is not to reduce illegal writing 🙂 vandalism, in my analysis, is the most superficial symptom of a much deeper problem. the demand has to do with providing spaces for youth to express themselves and their humanity, as well as (in its future revised form) ending the unfairly criminal treatment of innocent people.

  3. Now THAT’S what I’d deem an interesting thought on this subject. What I would suggest perhaps is speaking to other people actively involved in the scene and bring to day any conflicting points of view and then update your site or create a new post for us to read. Hopefully you’ll take my advice, I’m looking forward to it! Try to cover off on some graffiti characters as well if possible, they’re very popular at the moment.

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