Source: Unsplash 

Early in the morning, a man in his late forties walks to his stall. He had been selling fresh coconut water for nearly two decades now. This morning, his first serve was to a boy in his teens. As he turned to the boy with coconut in his hand, a smile erupted in his features, he noticed the boy lost in the graffiti on the opposite wall yet determined to find a purpose in between the bold colors and vibrant patterns. And the day begins, the vendor thought to himself. Over the years sitting in that old rusty stool, he had silently witnessed every expression in existence. He had seen old men frown in disbelief adjusting their newspaper as an excuse to hide the wall from their view, young couples come in search of perfect Instagram pictures, teen boys running around with spray paint bottles, and tourists standing still in aww of what this wall had to offer. If these two decades taught him anything then it was to not define the art before him because it contained stories, emotions, expressions, life lessons, and infinite interpretations.

If this small tale answers more questions or raises more questions can be a base for a different debate altogether. Although the one we will be talking about now is, if graffiti can be called an art form or not. Graffiti is different from conventional art forms in more ways than one. Unlike other art forms, graffiti is considered illegal in many jurisdictions. When it comes to graffiti, we don't talk about artists instead our first thought runs to lost teenagers and gangsters. However, graffiti wasn't always a subversive act. Graffiti originates from the Italian word “graffito” which means to scratch or to etch on surfaces. Back in ancient times, in Pompeii ordinary citizens regularly marked public walls with magic spells, pros about unrequited love, political slogans, etc. Moving forward in time graffiti was popularly used as a means of making announcements and advertisements. It was also used in political environments to promote their agenda. During World War ll both the Nazi party and the resistance groups covered walls with their own propaganda. Berlin walls of one-sided graffiti can be seen as a striking symbol of repression versus relatively unrestricted public access. However, graffiti became increasingly associated with deliberate rebellion and provocativeness that gave birth to its vandalism label. Graffiti was used by gangsters to claim their territory to vocalize their thoughts and to pay homage to the members they lost on the way.

Source: Pexels

It was only after the creation of graffiti unions in the 1990s and the admission of selected graffiti artists into art galleries that it earned its name as an art form. Although there were many against this moment who believed the promotion of graffiti could shake the foundations of a civilized society. This section of society called graffiti a national epidemic that spreads like spray-paint fungus, they defined graffiti as an unauthorized marking of public space, writing on the walls for free to seek attention. They believed that graffiti was a sign of a city out of control, it was considered filthy and spirit killing. It was referred to as anti-social behavior. There were times people feared walking in streets with graffiti in their surroundings, people made a conscious effort to avoid subways and stations where graffiti was found. This is the reason why many graffiti artists stayed underground, and some assumed their alternate identities.

There is another section of society as well that believes graffiti is one of the most empowering art forms to ever exist. They see how graffiti has the power to find beauty in imperfections, in ordinary places, in things that do not appear to be artistic enough. Graffiti artists hold the power to express their thoughts and tell stories in simple ordinary places usually the ones left out. It is a medium of unrestricted artistic expression. It teaches us that art lies in your perspective, it is how you look at it. It promotes love for self, it provides empowerment to the weak. Different styles and forms come together and blend into one big masterpiece. You learn as much as you explore, it gives you the power to find your own way. It can be highly misunderstood, but it shines bright. It holds raw emotions; it can beautify any place and speak volumes. Graffiti artists can never fall short of the canvas, they can turn anything and everything into a beautiful piece of work. In the early days, graffiti was all about tags, people used to write their street names in different styles. However, with time artists started using graffiti to tell stories inspired by reality. It became a medium to bring to light the hardships of people, their thoughts, and their struggles to fit in the society. Graffiti is not defined by a particular style or a particular way or a particular color, it encompasses anything and everything, it speaks of cultures, of beliefs, of the stories that bring life to a city. 

Source: Unsplash

Darryl McCray who goes by the name of Corn Bread is believed to be the first-ever modern graffiti artist to use spray paint, he used to paint in subways in Philadelphia. It was his movement that spread to New York City giving birth to legends like Taki 183, Dondi, Phase2, Seen, and many more. During the 1970s, graffiti became very popular among teenagers, and it was they who played a major role in creating this art form, taking it from a simple signature to an expression beyond limits. The chilled-out vibe around this art form and graffiti artists often overshadows the hard work that these artists put into their every creation. Each artist has their unique own unique style, and they work on it before presenting it to the world. Apart from the planning involved, we should not forget that at the time graffiti was illegal and so it was the dark nights that witnessed these expressions. Remembering those times graffiti artists talk about how they developed night vision working on paintings in pitch darkness, they talk about the time when they would paint with their hearts in their throat fearing for their life, how they would run at the slightest of noises, and then return to complete their piece of work.

Concluding an ongoing debate is a difficult task in itself. There are some valid points that show graffiti in a bad light, but we also have arguments to prove how impossible it is to close your eyes to the beauty, power, hope, and brightness that this art form has to offer. It is a way to express and to stop humankind from expression is no less than to starving them. There can be laws ensuring that the decorum of certain public places and private properties is not disturbed but banning graffiti completely is not a smart choice. For instance, Graffiti Alley is the only legal art space in Baltimore City where street artists can create their work freely, this innovative space helps keep young artists much safer and avoids confrontations with the law.

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