I would rather a violent felon be incarcerated than a person with a spray can. Graffiti, unlike many other crimes, is reversible, which makes me consider their vandalism acceptable. After traveling abroad, I found the anti-graffiti sentiment to be perhaps uniquely American.
For some people, graffiti is either a glorious spectacle or just another part of the urban pastiche. For others, graffiti is an attack on personal and government property. In the US, many are quick to associate all graffiti with gang, drug, or rap culture, and thus shun the culture as a whole. As the various graffiti artists in Infamy 2005 reveal, much graffiti is done by non-gang street art crews. Instead, graffiti artists exist between the gangs and the rest of the citizens, painting a place between the world and the law. Their societal disconnect is almost uniquely because of the American misinterpretation of the meaning behind graffiti.
Granada, Spain and Asilah, Morocco are mural meccas. Granada is known for its brilliant street art culture that attracts tourists to the neighborhood of Realejo. On the walls of the stacked hillside buildings is dozens of dazzling murals, many of which are done by the resident graffiti celebrity known as El Niño. His art is mesmerizing and intricate, employing a mixture of realistic images with more graffiti-inspired inscriptions. Bloggers and tourists alike are enchanted by the juxtaposition between the urban art and the historical beauty of the neighborhood. One such blogger, Sonja of "Migrating Miss," reminds that the government has painted over many murals, especially in the oldest parts of the city. Many, however, as Sonja explains, are drawn to the urban art as much as they are the Alhambra palace.
Asilah, a beach town on the northern coast of Morocco, holds a mural competition every year. Muralists and street artists from across the world apply for the chance to travel to Asilah and paint a piece, knowing that in just one year their effort will be replaced by another artist's work. Coating the walls of the medina are anything from simple doodles to massive, colorful works.
These artistic representations of street art also translate into word art, an emerging form of street art I had never witnessed before traveling to Spain. In Granada, this form of street word art seemed to emulate poetic Facebook statuses.
Although the cultures of Asilah and Granada largely accept and encourage street art, artists still have to worry about the fact that their work could be erased in a moment. In the case of Asilah, artists enter with the explicit knowledge that this will be the outcome of their mural. In Asilah's encouragement of street art through the competition and subsequent erasure of the mural afterward, they extract the legal problem we face in the US. That is to say, instead of condemning street art and erasing it anyway, as in the US, they allow the chance for muralists to express themselves freely without consequence other than the temporality of their designs. In doing so, the possessiveness and territory complex of the art is diminished and instead the practice becomes exclusively about quality of the art rather than the number of tags.
Liz is a senior English major with minors in Spanish and Computer Science. Her research interests, like her areas of academic speciality, lie in the intersections between humanities and science. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, and playing with dogs.