Friday, September 28, 2007

Grading Graffiti, and What Do Youth Want?

Two interesting graffiti-related news items caught my eye this week, both from overseas. A writer in the UK Guardian suggests a unique graffiti response to improve unsightly tags: Giving them grades:
Walls don't look much better after their graffiti have been washed off than they did before, so we might as well stop doing it. In environmental terms, the washing-off makes a worse mess than the painting ever did. The wall-painters themselves will paint over each other's work, especially if they consider it feeble. A far less costly option is for us all to make our own stencils giving the defacers marks out of 10, to remind the artists that there are people out there who have eyes to see, and as much right to say what they think as the artists. The work then becomes a palimpsest, a dialogue between artists and public. Most tags deserve the single-word comment "prat."
While I think it's important to quickly remove uninvited graffiti, I like the grading idea a LOT (as well as the idea of a graffiti wall as a "palimpsest"). Maybe we should all start carrying around Sharpies to inform graff artists what we think of their work. Perhaps repeated low scores would even encourage graff writers to "paint responsibly." Nobody likes a bad grade.

Another interesting graff-related story in the Washington Post this week describes how graffiti artist Abdullah al-Alwani , a.k.a. "X5" in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, has emerged at the center of a debate over how to identify and satiate frustrations among Saudi youth:

[Municipal leader] Abo-Umara, 45, said young men like Alwani should not be held accountable until officials are sure they've done right by local youth.

"What have we done for young people? Have we asked them what they need or want?" said Abo-Umara, wearing a flowing white head scarf and long robe. "Until I talk to them and find out why they are scribbling all over Jiddah and do my part in offering them the services we're supposed to provide, then I can't punish or criticize them."

True to his word, Abo-Umara held a two-day workshop called "What Do Youth Want From Jiddah?" in July, shortly after his meeting with Alwani. More than 200 young men and women attended, on separate days, and their list of demands included cinemas, public libraries, and music and art centers.

The young women asked for private beaches for women and girls, for at least widows and divorced women to be permitted to drive, and for boys who harass them to be fined.

Both groups requested sports facilities, of which there are very few in Saudi Arabia.

Abo-Umara was able to implement one demand immediately: walls dedicated to graffiti.

At the palm-tree-lined Faisal bin Fahd walkway, women in black cloaks, black head scarves and running shoes walk determinedly, as men in shorts and T-shirts jog past. On a grassy embankment in the middle, more than 40 graffiti canvases have been set up.

On a recent day, young men on their knees mixed paint and drew. On one canvas, a dejected face had been drawn between the words "No Girls" and "Why?"

Another canvas depicted a group of young men behind cage bars, looking out at a mall-lined street.

"Young men are oppressed here," said Mohammad Qarni, 20, sitting on a bench painted with swear words. "We don't have anything to do in our spare time, and we're not even allowed into malls. That's why I started spray-painting. As a protest."

I wonder why youth in America start spray painting? Though at least boys can go to the malls and date girls, I'll bet boredom has a lot to do with graff writing in America, too. I wonder what graff writers want? I wonder if anyone has asked them?

MORE: The Dallas Observer has a slideshow up of local graffiti, while Dirty Third Streets has some cool pics up from the Austin Pipe and Supply Company.

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