i’ve been thinking a lot about my love of graffiti - and trying to understand why - every time i see it - i am filled with a kind of hope. is it the just the innate subversion, the “middle-finger” nature of it? or is it something more?
at least a portion of what moves me is the ownership of the urban landscape - the “i live here, this wall is mine too” participation-interaction aspect of graffiti. it says that we use and create our environments - they do not just use and create us…
is it that, at the end of the day, graffiti is the archive - the record - unedited, uncensored…i recall learning that one of the earliest examples of graffiti, referred to as “graffito blasphemo” was carved (i imagine by some punk roman youth with a haircut his mother probably hated) sometime around the 3rd century. It depicted a crucifix upon which hung the body of a man with the head of a donkey. This graffiti has done so much to explain the tense relationship between the early christian minority and their non-christian neighborhoods. i think of this “blasphemous inscription” every time i encounter a new graffito - and i think that is what i find so exciting…we can never know which graffiti will endure and what will be removed…so i always try to take a moment with every piece i see - just in case it’s painted over tomorrow.
is graffiti archaeology, germinating? the history sprout?
in any case - i have been looking through some images of graffiti from my travels thus far - and am posting them here.
They were both thinking the same thing. But that didn’t stop her from creating upon her face a look of theatrical scorn when he gave voice to their common thought and said “it’s rubbish, I don’t get it, I don’t even think she gets it.” With a quipped exhale and a curl of her lip, she raised one perfectly threaded eyebrow and said, “I’m not surprised you’d say that, you’ve never had much capacity for understanding the abstract. You are. The most. Literal man I’ve ever known.”
Lionel and Linda were having this exchange while seated upon soft cushions and embroidered carpets which had been arranged in half circles around a stage. Pomegranates and peaches encircled the courtyard. The sky had turned the color of the burqas many of the Kabul women still wore; a color like blueberry juice on fingertips – a watercolor stain. Bats darted. Back-lit by the setting sun, the silhouette of the guard and his rifle, pacing on the barbed wire lined roof, looked like perfectly stenciled graffiti ala Bansky, about whom Linda had written her graduate thesis and who Lionel considered a flash in the cultural pan. “Not art,” he’d pronounced, “pure vandalism.” Linda had left him for two weeks over this exchange. When she returned, drawn by the persistent and betraying physical desire she had for him, for his hands, and his literal approach to her body, she’d simply said: “you’re a mean old man” and led him to their bedroom to reconcile. Lionel is fifty-seven. Linda is thirty-two. They have been married for twelve years.
The woman on the stage stroked her tambourine with a wire brush while yelling out “la la la la” and shaking her head like a child refusing mashed peas. Abandoning the tambourine, she picked up a pair of maracas and began a staccato toe-heel toe-heel strut around the stage, as disjointed electronic music began to play. Linda thought the whole thing obnoxious, but after her spontaneous decision to position herself against Lionel, she tried hard to keep a look of thoughtful understanding on her face. When the woman on the stage, wearing a lipstick so red even Linda felt scandalized, began to lecture the plum-eating audience about the “lack of corporeality in music, these days” and the need to “use our bodies as instruments”, Linda nodded her head in agreement.
All of this amused Lionel more than he let on. He admired her desire to see the world in prisms and fragments, to look for the spaces between things. He felt a tenderness for her as he watched her struggle to maintain it…while at the same time showing the telltale signs of the literalizing of aging; a slow melting away of grey areas. ‘I suppose she may be onto something,’ he whispered, conciliatory, moving a strand of hair away from her ear, ‘you know, especially here…to do this here in Afghanistan, she is, what do you always say Lin? Creating a sphere? Something like that. I mean, even if it’s ghastly, which it is, its meaningful, because we are all sitting here, watching her. In this place.” His gaze and the hand that was not on her knee lifted toward the high mud walls, as if doubting the existence of what lay beyond them.
From the stage, she unbuttoned her mind from her body, separating the two like fighting siblings. Her body, Rana’s body, was engaged in a piece of performance art that, frankly, she herself couldn’t explain. All she knew was that she found her only silence when her bones were racked with drums and her hands beat the sticks against the metal. If she had to create jargon filled art-school justifications to continue her practice, well fine, she would. Although she sometimes thought of beginning her performances with the simple statement: This Helps Me. The audience could stay or go.
Her mind had seized upon a couple in the back row. The woman, much younger than the man, was not like the other foreigners she saw in Kabul. She was staring intently at Rana, while the man next to her seemed to be kissing her ear. His hand resting on her knee, a gesture Rana always found sublimely intimate. Rana had the distinct impression the woman was trying to tell her something; the way her eyes were wide and unblinking, her mouth slightly open.
Rana had given up her curiosity about the foreigners that had come to live in this city. She herself had only just returned, if you could call coming to a place you hadn’t seen since you were six, returning. The youngest of four children, the youngest by fifteen years as the child of what her mother had called a ‘second spring’ was the obvious choice to accompany her aging parents back to their beloved Kabul after the Taliban were routed by the Americans. As her two sisters and brother were all married with careers and children and charities and mortgages, they had unanimously decided that it was Rana who would travel with her parents to Kabul.
They were a family of means. So it was in first class cabins that her parents were wheel chaired carefully to their seats, her father’s respirator in the seat next to him, which they had had to pay extra for. Her mother, a disappearing wisp of a woman, always cold, was accommodated with as many extra blankets as she wished. ‘Your grandparents are so sweet,’ the stewardess had commented. ‘Thanks,’ Rana had replied. Her parents died within hours of each other exactly four days after they arrived. Rana, not knowing what to do with herself, remained.
And now, she had successfully passed herself off as an emerging Afghan artist, and was paid by the British to yell out ‘My Body, My Drum! My Body, My Drum!’ in Dari.
And now, she was made to suffer the insufferable German aid workers who approached her during the receptions and say “I think I understand what you are saying. Your Body. Your Drum. It is about War, no?”
And now, she wondered why the woman in the back row, who had a spartan bun of black hair on the top of her head, had now abruptly flung the hand of her man off her knee like a wasp, and had stood up. The man leaned farther back into the cushion and smiled, as if to say she was free to go. Rana wondered at this scene, even as she secured the big African drum between her thighs and began to beat a funeral lament. Or maybe it was something she had learned in her California high school marching band. No matter.
Rana watched as the woman, obviously angry, tried to move as quickly away from the man as she could without stepping on the people around her. Rana could feel attention turning away from her and towards the disruption in the back row. Suddenly, the woman froze. She turned back around to face the still seated man. She opened her mouth to speak, closed it. She tried again, this time finding the words she wanted. Her voice was loud, quivering with anger, “How can you say that?” she yelled, she had extended a long arm with a pointed finger at the end of it towards Rana, who continued to beat her drum (her body), “She’s awful, she’s…she’s, why do you do that?” The man had not moved. The woman began to run away from him, stepping on feet and purses, trampling the little programs with the picture of Rana on the front, she was crying, and Rana thought she looked blind.
“I cannot believe I just did that, what did I just do?” were the words on a frantic loop in Linda’s mind as she looked for an escape from the courtyard. She couldn’t stop crying, her eyes filling up with the hot tears of true rage, burning her eyelids and causing her to squint. She heard people whispering around her, probably about her, which made her cry more. She was trying to run, but there were people and cushions and rugs and paper cups of tea and plates of fruit all around her. She was lost in a forest of people. Just keep moving forward, she told herself, just keep moving forward. And Linda kept moving forward until her shin hit something hard, causing her to cry out and fall forward at once, it wasn’t until she stood up that she realized she had landed on the stage. She froze. She stared at the people and they stared back. Lionel rose, but did not know what to do. Her lip began to quiver in panic. She felt a hand on her arm, gentle and firm, she looked down at the hand and saw that it was the hand of the woman who had been performing, whose stage she had just fell upon. “It’s ok,” the woman told Linda, “Come with me.”
— impressions from the plane on the way to kabul