Graffiti, rooted in the Italian word Graffito meaning “scratched”, refers to the writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place. Graffiti can range from simple words to elaborate paintings and has existed since the ancient times with traces in Greece and the Roman Empire. Over time, Graffiti has evolved into a whole genre of artistic expression as a core element of the hip-hop culture popularly seen all over New York city walls and subways. Although the debate as to where to draw the line between an art form vs polluting public property continues, the boundaries of expression through Graffiti have always be pursued throughout time.
More recently President Barack Obama even invited graffiti artist Shepard Fairey to drive a guerrilla marketing campaign for “Hope” and “Progress” during the nominations, aiming to influence the popular vote of the youth as a larger part of cultural transformation. Corporations around the world are also using Graffiti as a part of their marketing campaigns to generate awareness and influence the youth.
Across the globe, the ancient Indian form of folk street art, Rangoli, is used to invite positive energy, peace and prosperity into our lives. Typically painted on the floor using bright powdered color, various forms of Rangoli can be seen across India more recently as forms of street art promoting social and political messages. Pakistan’s rich artistic heritage has also taken this form of art to their trucks, adorning them with symbols and messages to attract passengers. The city of Lahore even hosts an annual street art competition where 200 teams of youth gathered to set a new Guinness World Record for the ‘largest painting’ in one day ever achieved of approximately 40,000 square feet representing the culture and youth of Pakistan. Graffiti, an evolution of art and expression, a rising cultural youth movement that transcends the boundaries of race, religion & region is beginning to crop up – welcomed or not.
With the rapid adoption of the Hip-Hop culture seen in South Asia in the recent years, Graffiti is also popping up around popular metro cities like Mumbai and Delhi, however in it’s current form, it is being viewed as defacement of public property. With local artists tagging trains in Delhi with their ‘pieces’ seen here as “CRYM” “GRAFFO” and “AKKI”. The city has estimated the costs to clean up these tags on the local trains at approximately Rs 1 lakh and actions being taken to further investigate the matter.
The natural questions that arise are, although we all respect the freedom of self expression, how far should the public be allowed to take it? Where will South Asia draw the line between Graffiti Tags as ‘turf marks’ or ‘gang signs’ vs Graffiti Art as a social or political message?
We will continue to follow this trend and look forward to discovering new influences of traditional Hip-Hop Graffiti on the ancient art of Rangoli and how it represents an overall cultural transformation among the youth culture of South Asia.