Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Greek graffiti (Γκράφιτι)

Some people think of graffiti as a social curse, a form of vandalism. Others regard it as a form of expression, especially among people who do not have at their disposal many other ways to say/do something and be heard/seen. Graffiti is also an art form, and it has always had a place in urban societies. It adds a certain vibrancy to the often dull concrete, glass and steel environment of the city.

VOLOS 2011: "Life doesn't have a GPS, baby" - something to keep in mind when plans fall through.

I've heard many people, both from Greece and abroad, complain about the amount of graffiti they see in Greece, as it is a very common sight everywhere. It can look kind of ugly when splashed over public buildings, because it is defacing. While in Athens, my son was fascinated by the metro trains, very few of which had been left untouched by graffiti artists. I quite liked them too: they made the trains look 'happy'. In an austerity driven economic climate, they seemed to give off a better image than the regimental-looking orange-grey design which seems to have no place in a city like Athens, with her bright sunshine and in a city whose international reputation has been smothered by the few gangsters that get all the attention, while the majority keeps calm and carries on.

PELION 2011: "Our grandfathers were refugees, our fathers were immigrants, and we are racists" - racism has grown exponentially  during the economic crisis: immigrants are regarded by some as the problem.

Because of the ease with which Greek graffiti can come up all of a sudden (lack of policing, increase in  crisis-related vandalism, inefficient preventive action), this form of expression has also become an important form of communication. A phrase or two, as short as a cellphone txtmsg, often provides a succinct proclamation that communicates a mood and reveals a widespread feeling.

PELION 2011: "So it's back to the shit" - a sign of resignation and defeat.

Graffiti often carries potent messages. Sometimes those messages can sound extremist, but that should not be surprising. Graffiti is a representation of extremism. Graffiti writers do not perform their trade in full view of the public, even though their hangouts are public spaces. Graffiti writers go about their business surreptitiously, when they know they will not be seen. They spray under the cloak of darkness to make sure that their work will be seen in the light of the day.

ATHENS 2013: "Goal and a beating" - a recurrent theme in team soccer, akin to saying that you play to win, and if you don't win, you turn to violence. This graffiti appeared near the entrance to the OAKA installations, where I had previously seen some staff working on the grounds, keeping them clean. The next morning, at the entrance to the grounds , I noticed an upturned trashcan on what appeared to be spotless grounds right in front of the metro station. Someone had just kicked it over, presumably on purpose, with complete disregard for the efforts of others to keep the area clean, and the desires of others to be able to enjoy a public space with respect. 

When this form of communication is used as a weapon, as in the case where the graffiti writer put it in his mind (and they are usually male) to enforce an opinion or a state, we always have to remember that graffiti writers are in the minority and they don't really express the society in general. They live in hope, in similar ways that we do.

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