February 1998

Either you hate it or you respect it. Understandable. But, let me at least attempt to shed some light on why the "scrawlings on the wall" exist. For those of you who do not know or are not aware, graffiti of today grew out of movement that started up in New York city in the late 60's and early 70's. It was revolutionized by the spray painting of trains on the New York subway system by the likes of TRACY 186 and Zephyr. Although there are conflicting stories, Philadelphia is credited for the first "graffiti tagger" known as "Cornbread", this phenomena rapidly spread to NYC and that is why it is considered the birthplace of graffiti. Enough of the history though, for most of you don't really care.

As visually choking as graffiti may be to today's urban city streets, it fills a common void that is not found anywhere else in our culture. It's original purpose was to fill the "expression void" that urban inner city youths have often encountered throughout time. In it's simplest form, a name on a vacant building signifies that, "yes, I am here, I do interact with society, and I do matter." That's the simple meaning behind the society-dubbed urban decay that takes place with graffiti.

A graffiti artist may be dubbed by society as a vandal, but in an ethnographic sense the cultural nuances are quite amazing. There are set rules, standards, and practices which have been followed and customized since its birth. Since stemming from the minds of unchallenged youths who often times have no real escape from the "concrete self-expression killers" known as the inner cities of America, such people seek out places of serenity known as the "urban jungle."

The urban jungle, by loose definition from urban social philosopher/graffiti artist / hip-hop activist William Upski, "is a place where vacant buildings, walls and general urban neglect runs wild." Overgrown, left to decay and beyond repair, these areas are playgrounds for those who practice graffiti art. This is where self-expression truly takes place. Described as one big inner city youths "jungle gym", places of urban neglect thrive with creativity, not only in the murals and paintings that are on the vacant walls and in the neglected buildings, but in how the terrain is maneuvered and explored by the specific individual.

This theory is a far cry from the actual "tagged" up streets that so many people today associate with common graffiti. In actuality, those streets that are chocked with ugly scribbles, form the foundation for what the graffiti culture is. You may call it egotistical or purely self-interested, but those tags that you see on the streets encompass the "ground floor" of the graffiti sub-culture. There is a process of "coming up" within the culture. To truly "come up", one has to get his/her name known within the community and respected by them. Thus, they tag their name upon the city streets in hopes of being recognized, respected, and in today's terms, "to have ups". This means to have your name / alias illegally placed all about the city, in hopes of being respected. But, there is also an element of style that must be mastered before one can truly claim they're an accomplished artist.

This comes back to my common theme of wanting to be known on whatever level allowable and have at minimum, some sort of voice in society. That's what graffiti essentially is, a voice for those who don't really have one. You can hate it, condemn it, and call those who practice it vandals, but due to the very basis behind it, graffiti represents a voice that gets undeniably heard.

Much Props to the Community, Always Stay Up My Brothers:

Respectfully Yours,
TASAR 32 tilt206@hotmail.com

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