“Public Artistic Expressions” | An inside look into the world of graffiti

Roxanna Hamidpour

“To some it’s art. To most, it is a plague that never ends, a symbol that we’ve lost control.”

However, the emotional connections running through bottles of spray paint clacking in bags or paint dripping down walls are much deeper than any “plague” could possibly create.

Downbeat Coffee+Tea is located at 1200 W. 39th St.

Over the weekend, Downbeat Coffee+ Tea hosted a screening of “Style Wars, the Original Hip-Hop Documentary.” According to the film, the act of spray-painting a public place, specifically with one’s name, is called “bombing.” The documentary follows different artists and their motivation to bomb, while also exploring the opposing views of those who consider graffiti a social menace.

Skeme, an artist in 1970s New York City famous for elaborately tagging trains across the city, explains his personal motivation for bombing.

“It’s for me, it’s not for nobody else to see,” Skeme says.

His name races across the city on different train cars, showing off his skills and proving that he can accomplish whatever he sets his mind to, no matter what anyone says.

Another inspirational story comes from graffiti artist Case, who only has one arm.

He reminisces about visiting one of his tags, and running into some kids who were also admiring his work. When he claimed he was the one who painted the design, the kids vehemently denied the possibility. This was precisely Case’s point: it seemed impossible that a one-armed man could create such elaborate works, yet he did. The possibilities were endless. If a one-armed man could bomb, what couldn’t he do?

The film showcases a number of artists, each with their own unique style. There is no doubt that graffiti artists created every single font on Microsoft Word.

Despite their beauty, the bombings eventually led to serious retaliation from the city, especially from mayor Edward Koch. In a direct parallel to modern times, Koch did what anyone would do: build a wall. Fifteen feet tall, covered in barbed wire, and surrounding the New York City trains, Koch cut off graffiti at the throat.

The mayor got exactly what he wanted. The graffiti “plague” declined significantly, as full train cars covered in tags gave way to small mosquito bites of art popping up in odd places.

The documentary leaves its audience feeling of nostalgic for the days when graffiti art was at its peak. As the film shows, graffiti will forever be a part of NYC’s history, covering the sewers and underground train lines with their infinite detail and love from those who painstakingly painted.

The film’s greatest strength is showing what graffiti actually meant to the artists themselves.

What did you think of graffiti before reading this? Instead of meaningless markings or doodles on the wall, tags symbolize impressive artistic abilities and confidence to do what no one thinks is possible.

Consider this the next time you see vibrant colors painted onto the side of a building.

rhamidpour@mail.umkc.edu

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