"Sometimes, what begins with graffiti ends in revolution."
Let me confess a prejudice to you: I do not like Graffiti. I didn’t realize I had this prejudice until I fell in love with Slovakia and began touring every street in Bratislava using Google Earth Street View. I began where anyone might begin, Old Town. Jumping in leaps of twenty feet at a time, or less, I “walk” through the streets panning and zooming as any tourist might. That’s when I began to see it. Graffiti!
Okay, I’m an American, but it’s not my American sensibilities that are offended by Graffiti, I don't like it because it is vandalism of that which is good and beautiful! And if you have read my other blogs, I am someone who loves historic and social beauty. Normally, I see this beauty everywhere in Slovakia, but my enjoyment comes to a halt when I stumble upon, yet again, more graffiti.
At first, I thought seeing so much graffiti was a fluke—maybe I landed in a bad area of town? You see, in America, we have graffiti too, but these are in places you would not go after dark, and even in the daylight, if you begin to remove the graffiti, who knows, you might be erasing a gang sign and that would be very dangerous. I just didn't expect so much of it in Bratislava, especially Old Town!
As I toured Bratislava, Old Town, the Ružinov, other places, I kept seeing it everywhere. I would ask, Why don’t the owners of these buildings do something? Why do people seem to be walking by it, ignoring it? And frankly, why is there so much graffiti in Bratislava?
Well, I got used to it. Probably, you are used to it too. Even as I continued exploring every street and corner, the graffiti haunted me on almost every turn. Ah, then it hit me. Does this not solve another mystery? Take Trnava for instance. I see much less graffiti there, but fences are everywhere, blocking off every yard no matter how small or large the yard.
Very curious. This, too, puzzled me at first. You see, in American, you usually fence your home in because you might live in a neighborhood where if you don’t, you stand the risk of a break-in. But in Trnava? Surely the crime rate is not so high that almost every home must be fenced off? Then it hit me. Is it possible that people are putting up metal fences to keep the graffiti vandals away? Why is there so much graffiti? And why are there so many fences? Are these two phenomena related? (Feel free to answer in the comments below)!
In the end, I guess I feel so strongly about graffiti because the age and character of Bratislava (and all of Slovakia) is edifying and generous all on its own. Most sociologists will tell you that graffiti is sacred space because it helps people express their disconnectedness to society. In short, they are trying to be heard, or in this case, seen. Graffiti usually emerges when there is a great deal of economic disparity between groups of people; it happens during the times when the opportunities are few and unemployment is high. Well, maybe I need to look at graffiti again.
So here's my challenge to you: write to me what you think about graffiti.
But before I close, let me take a moment and show you my American, a close-up look in my mirror.
America—with or without graffiti—in almost every city has areas that are far worse than graffiti. The ugly "Strip Mall" (See picture below of my city):
There are many major streets through my city, Kansas City, where we have “strip malls” (cheap little retail strips for tiny stores and high rent). Strip malls only last for a decade or two before they fall into disrepair and blight. When one goes up, ten more go up around it rapidly. The property is usually uncared for and so, after a while, one strip mall falls into disrepair and decay, then the others quickly follow. The owners of the strip mall properties declare bankruptcy, get their tax break, and go on to build newer and bigger ones elsewhere. These kinds of owners do not care if their buildings mar and disfigure the visual beauty of a city--it's not their problem. They are not doing graffiti, but they are disconnected from community and feel no responsibility to others, and lack a shared care and pride. This is our graffiti, and it's much more of a blight then the kind you paint on peoples' walls.
So even if I do not know why there is so much graffiti in Bratislava and so many fences in Trnava, we all share this world as one community. May we each, in our own world of influence, try to call out to those who feel deprived of the common rights and privileges all people should enjoy. Like a friend of mine said, "What begins with graffiti, ends in revolution." There is some truth to that.
Oh but how much better the revolution where I bring the buckets and scrub brushes, and you bring the soap and water, and together, in service to all who feel disenfranchised, we bring the good words of restoration, reconciliation, future, promise, and hope.
Okay, it's a tall order, but I'm in if you are in :)
My best to you from American,