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Graffiti: an Art Or a Vandalism

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Graffiti is a highly controversial form of art that is considered illegal in several places, punishable by law whereas, on the other hand, some people term it as an innovative way of expressing creativity, freedom of speech, and political awakening. This art indeed is criminal if it is done without the consent of the property’s owner, agreement with the society’s norms, and permission by the law of land.

One paradigm is The Newcastle City council of New South Wales, Australia, which particularly announced that graffiti is vandalism and those committing this crime will be hit hard by law of the land. Their official website says, “Graffiti is an ongoing challenge that impacts our community. It is a complex and expensive problem for government and law enforcement agencies. The city of Newcastle is committed to providing a clean, safe and welcoming environment for residents, workers and visitors. . .”1. But, for some people, this activity has a different value and voice different opinions trying to convince that graffiti is a form of art hence not to be penalized for. Graffiti is a form of expression of thoughts and ideas through writings and drawings which is found on the highly visible areas of street walls, under the bridges, in the subways, etc. typically without permission of the owner of the property where it is inscribed and is considered new phenomenon for our generation. But in fact, Evidence of the existence of graffiti dates to thousands of years ago when people used to draw shapes, signs, and text in the caves, foothills of mountains. In ancient times of the Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks, people used to inscribe poems on the buildings to demonstrate their protest and to spread the word. Modern graffiti which we witness these days spawned from Philadelphia, USA in the early 1960s along with heavy metal music, and from there it found its way towards New York and flourished in the 1970s.

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Graffiti as an expression form is used by people for a rhetoric political uprising for a revolution to mere love declarations or just for simple thoughts or cheap way of advertising products and services. According to Suniti Bandaranaike (2001) “Graffiti exists in many forms and its reception differs widely from the writings on the Berlin wall or the aboriginal etchings in primitive caves to the more recent writings on our contemporary walls.”2

Today, apart from aerosol spray paints, people use stencils, preprinted posters, and stickers to put their work in their targeted location. According to an article in Graffitocanberra, there is also a type which is known as Piece. “A piece (short for masterpiece) is a picture that has been painted freehand. They contain at least three colors and take longer to paint. A piece in an obvious place will gain the artist respect from other artists because standing in an obvious place painting on walls where graffiti is illegal is a great risk.”3 The piece is followed by a style known as ‘Heaven’ which the unknown author describes as “A heaven is a tag or artwork in a place that is extremely difficult to get to. An artist who manages to put one up gains a lot of respect from other artists.”4 So, this suggests that graffiti is not just a communication channel but a tool to assert someone’s views, authority and can claim intangible earnings. For a long, it has been a debatable aspect whether graffiti is a crime or an art. There is no doubt that it is an art which like all other arts such as paintings, music, literature, attracts unpretentious appreciations, as well as well documented critique as a large number of publications, can be found on the book shops promoting this art. Graffiti is a very challenging, time-consuming, and energy-draining form of art and the artist gets respect for his or her work at least in his or her community if not in society in general. Some of the artists claim that it’s a gift to society. According to BBC News, Felix a member of reclaimyourcity.net promoting graffitists and their work argues that “Graffiti, big and colorful letters and pictures, and street art, also known as post-graffiti which includes stencils, stickers, posters and other media – are the vibrant expressions of modern cities. . . Graffiti and street art are the only ways that people can interact with public spaces actively. These art forms can, for example, express emotions, give critique on current politics or society, or offer venues for public art.”5 Whereas, the law sees it from a different angle, and rightly so, as this form of art mostly appears on the property on which graffitists have no right. This act can be punishable by thousands of dollars in fines as well as a prison sentence of up to 5 years. During the inception of a new law targeting graffitists of New York City, the situation took a stark turn as seven young artists backed by fashion designer Mark Ecko; filed a lawsuit against the City for this anti-graffiti law. As reported in the same article in BBC, a New York City councilor Peter Vallone who sponsored the law said to the public, “I have a message for the graffiti vandals out there – your freedom of expression ends where my property begins!”6 If we look at Pakistan, graffiti has been used mainly for political slogans or advertising by cheap and undocumented businesses. For the length of breadth of Pakistan, one cannot see in any direction without graffiti in his or her view sight. In general, the people of Pakistan seem to be against this kind of vandalism and consider it offensive and obscene. Absar Ahmed Khan, in his blog, writes that “Wall-chalking and graffiti are unacceptable for the obvious reason that walls are not put up to serve as canvases for political slogans and other promotional gimmicks ad nauseam. Graffiti, at the same time, disturbs the overall infrastructure of the city by damaging public property and aesthetic appeal.”7To bring this culture to Pakistan and to fight illegal, offensive, and obscene wall chalking in Pakistan, Street Art Pakistan came up the scene in the year 2010 with participants from all over the country comprising of aspiring artists and young students. The contest has since been held on the walls of Pakistan with positive thought-provoking literature and drawings. According to Mudassir Zia, CEO and Founder of Street Art Pakistan, “their mission is an initiative to eradicate the illegal practice of wall chalking and ‘Reform the Walls of Pakistan’ by painting them with positive themes depicting colorful stories of our country.”

To conclude, we can infer that graffiti is indeed a wonderful type of art that can flourish and is destined to reach the heights of popularity with direct proportion to the rising standard of literacy in our society if it is being done within the parameters of the law and moral values of the society. Or else, it is and will always be termed as vandalism, a crime which is punishable rightly so.  

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