Jul 8, 2012

Urban underground art : perception and mainstream absorption!

A case of graffiti culture in a city environment.  

Some say its vandalism, some find it an art, some say its irrational some say it’s cool, some see it outdated, at places it’s in vogue, reasons can be many, from fun to revolution but result is one - Graffiti. In this varying landscape of purpose and perception, there is always an apparent struggle to conclude what is right and what is wrong in an urban environment. What with graffiti? Why this perpetual struggle between city administrations and those who create such art-pieces, some anonymous, some leaving their stamp.

Graffiti is an art form standing at the edge of law. Some do it for thrill; some to put across their message, for some it’s an outlet, some do it for recognition and some to revolt against established values and norms. Even after decades of existence there has not been any consensus on the subject. City administrations are either strictly against it or will shy away from the subject saying that they have larger issues of city infrastructure, education, poverty and all at hand to deal with. Go ask a planner, what with Graffiti, what to do with it, you will find them clueless, though some of them might tell you few ways to curb this phenomenon.

Why graffiti culture exists in first place? Unless we try to understand the psychology of underground art, we can’t find a reasonable answer and solution to it. May be it’s the very imposition of rule to curb this behavior, triggers and sustain this behavior. Thrill of breaking the law, mixed with artistic skill, daring move and motivation by some cause, results in graffiti.

Isn’t it good to have wonderful artists in your city? But an artist needs to express and if you won’t give them enough opportunities and enough canvas they will express themselves in any manner, anywhere,  even if it’s a wall, and in this case public properties become soft target. Art itself has no boundaries, but we divide it in good and bad, civilized and vandalism. Piece of art by those few artists who have enough opportunity and money to display their work of art in an upscale gallery becomes a civilized and socially accepted art while the similar piece of art or poor or better if expressed on the walls of city streets and subways and any abandoned structures in form of graffiti gets a tag of vandalism. Can we do something about it?


There are few cities which provide long public walls at sea shores and other specified places specially for making graffiti, for those underground graffiti artists, who do not have to remain underground any more. They are making wonderful graffiti, day and night on these public canvases provided by city administrations, they don’t have to paint the subways and public structures anymore. Temporary, though they have a place for their creative outlet. We can always have some control strategies in place to check the nature and subject of graffiti to respect the feelings and sentiments of citizens.   

They say Taki or someone invented it, I think it exists before the dawn of civilization, remember those wonderful paintings from prehistoric caves? Its basic instinct of human being to express, expression in tangible forms, expressing it for good, to document, to leave it for generations to come, tools doesn’t matter, modes of expression is irrelevant and changing constantly. From prehistoric caves to modern urban wall they have expressed it and they will find out ways and means to express in future. So, it might be a good idea to start thinking of some city level policy intervention measures to provide an appropriate and recognized platform for easy and legalized creative expression, rather than negating its existence and simply trying to get rid of it.   

Planners and city administrations need to come forward and suggest strategies to integrate underground art in their city development plans and urban landscape. Making this form of art publicly acceptable and giving it mainstream recognition by taking illegality, obscenity any kind of provocation out of it. They need to propose strategies to recognize urban talent which has remained underground till now, and propose plans to nourish them by channelizing their talent in right direction and at right place. Simply creating and imposing the anti-graffiti law and trying to maintain the same is not the answer to this ever growing phenomenon, we need to channelize that creative energy in the right direction and at right places by creating favorable environment and instruments in city landscape.
                                                         
By: Anoop Jha
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