Nicholas Ganz is the author of some of worlds definitive books on graffiti and street art culture. The German writer and photographer began spraying graffiti himself in the 90s, capturing his own work and that of other artists on camera. A self-taught photographer, he created the pseudonym Keinom in 1997, eventually going on to publish his seminal book ‘Graffiti World’ in 2004. In this essay, he explores the impact of graffiti globally and tracks the development and subsequent globalisation of the artform.
Global Graffiti – The globalisation of the graffiti culture – Nicholas Ganz
Graffiti is a global culture that has spread into almost every corner of this planet. The culture may be considered as one of the most original art forms and ways of communication for us human beings. Graffiti can be called a true global culture, because it has spread all over the world. Even before the term globalisation was common, graffiti already was a global phenomenon, as we can see in the following.
Before we dig deeper into the long history of graffiti travelling around the globe, we shall discover in short, what graffiti actually means and which definition of graffiti this text is based on. We shall find out about the definition of graffiti or street art and if there actually is a difference between these two terms, like many articles and developments suggest.
The word graffiti is derived from the Greek word γράφειν – graphein which means “to write” and the Italian word graffiare or sgraffiare, which can be translated as “to scratch”. According to this definition, everything that has been scratched, written, painted or spray-painted on walls can be called graffiti.
Art in public space is also known under the terms “urban art” or “street art”. The word “street art” is a rather modern invention and has been used for commercial reasons and to put the artistic expressions in public space into a category and make it some kind of a marketable artistic genre. In general, “street art” describes all forms of activities in public space such as street theatre, puppet theatre, pantomime, juggling, street music, dancing, skateboarding, BMX and of course it also includes graffiti (Pangalos, n.d.). Street art is most commonly associated with works that use posters, stickers, brush, stencils or sculptures. Graffiti is mainly viewed as spray-painted lettering depicting the name of the writer, how the artists call themselves.
The invention of the term street art somehow divided these two forms of the identical type of urban art, even though both have emerged at the same time and examples of street art and graffiti could already be found in the sixties and before.
In the following we want to discover how graffiti became a global phenomenon from it’s early beginnings until the present day.
The definition of globalisation
Globalisation is a modern term that first appeared in Towards New Education, a publication that was released in 1930 (Oxford English Dictionary Online). The word has been increasingly used since the mid-1980’s and especially since the mid-1990’s with growing neo-liberal capitalism.
Globalisation defines the process of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas and other aspects such as culture. (l-Rodhan & Stoudmann, 2006)
There are many critics of globalisation, especially in our modern capitalistic world and the main critic aims against the globalisation that is based on corporate capitalism. The basic criticism is against the modern form of globalisation in the shapes of neo-liberal globalisation or colonialism. Noam Chomsky said about it: “One measure of globalisation is movement towards an equalisation of working compensation. Well, that certainly hasn’t happened. In fact neo-liberal globalisation has moved in the other direction toward greater inequality, and further, it’s going to increase.” (Chomsky, 2003)
The effects of neo-liberal globalisation is sometimes rather drastic and has a deep impact on the living standards, health and environment.
“In Chomsky’s eyes, the need to keep political decisions in the hands of the ‘elite’ prompted propaganda. That’s the goal of propaganda. It’s mostly private propaganda, advertising…making it very clear that you don’t succumb to the democratic principles of public interest. You can’t do it by force any more, so you have to do it by controlling attitudes.“ (Mieko Vargus, 2003) Chomsky noted that “the impetus to ‘fashionable consumption’: the use of advertising to encourage the public to buy, rather than to act – or even think – politically. This is called ‘the engineering of consent‘, and is used to make sure the intelligent minority – that’s us – makes decisions… It was getting harder to control people by force, and so you have to control them by attitude.” (Chomsky, 2003)
Graffiti is the radical opposite of advertising, because it is an act, that cannot be prevented by force and it has no financial interests. Graffiti can very often be seen as an art-for-the-art’s-sake, as the artist remains anonymous and is in many cases open for repression for committing a crime and can be convicted to a prison term or fines, if caught.
Graffiti is an anarchistic act, where everyone can join in with or without skills. The actor must not necessary follow the theories and activities of anarchy, but the act itself is an unruly and not a controllable act, where the artist creates the urban environment according to his own wishes.
Somehow, corporate capitalism has tried to influence graffiti in a certain way as we have seen at the invention of the term „street art“ to make this art-form sellable on the global market. But graffiti in it’s basic identity is opposing a commercial interest in graffiti: “The reasoning behind the resistance to the gallery world goes back to the very essence of why they [the graffiti artists] turned to the streets to show their art in the first place. As described earlier, most of the artists came from low-income neighbourhoods. The elite of the art world paid them no attention because of their class. This brewed resentment, and when the elite finally paid them some attention they felt as if they would be ‘selling out’ if they agreed to put their work in a gallery. They felt that they were degrading their art by turning their work into a product that art dealers could buy and sell.“ (Werwarth, 2006) “Graffiti writing breaks the hegemonic hold of corporate/governmental style over the urban environment and the situations of daily life. As a form of aesthetic sabotage, it interrupts the pleasant, efficient uniformity of ‘planned’ urban space and predictable urban living. For the writers, graffiti disrupts the lived experience of mass culture, the passivity of mediated consumption.” (Werwarth, 2006)
Globalisation can support the ideas of both right and left wing groups with either traditional nationalistic motivations or a strict anti-capitalist direction. Reality has proofed, that globalisation inside it’s modern form of capitalism means, that the social system of countries has been cut to support the country being a player in international markets. In many ways, globalisation has been increasing with the growing capitalism with all it’s form of standardisation of work, products and information. It also means, that the national identity of countries is disappearing in the internationalised system of a world society. Therefore culture with the local identification can somehow disappear within the globalised cultural exchange.
Joachim Hirsch says, that globalisation can not only be in the liberalisation of mainly financial and capital markets, but also with the growing agglomeration and new integration of communication systems, a standardisation of cultural models is happening. (Fuchs & Hofkirchner, 2001) We can see a clear standardisation within the graffiti and street art cultural since the rising of the internet, when local styles are disappearing in favour of trends or examples, that can been seen online.
Graffiti has been an art-form and form of communication by us human beings since the early men painted the caves with colourful petroglyphs and images. Almost on all five continents cave paintings or rock art can be found. One of the oldest examples were discovered by Hermilio Alcalde del Rio in the Cueva de El Castillo (El-Castillo cave) in Puente Viesgo in the province of Cantabria, Spain in 1903. The paintings that were found in this cave date back to approximately 40,800 years and more than 150 painted figures were discovered in the cave (Amos, 2012). The images are somehow a forerunner of modern-day spray-paint, because the artists blew the pigment colour with their mouth on their hands, so that the silhouettes of their hands were stencilled on the wall.
The oldest figurative paintings were found in the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave (Chauvet Cave) in the Ardèche department in southern France. Discovered December 18, 1994, it is considered as one of the most important prehistoric cave art sites. The cave offers hundreds of paintings of animals such as horses, cattle, mammoths, cave lions, panthers, bears and cave hyenas. The oldest paintings in the Chauvet cave are about 32,000 years old from the Upper Palaeolithic age (Clottes, 2001/2003b).
In South France and North Spain a vast amount of cave paintings were detected during the years and one of the most famous Palaeolithic paintings are exhibited in the cave of Lascaux, that are estimated to be 17,800 years old (Capelo, 2010). Furthermore cave paintings were discovered in the Altamira cave near the city of Santander in northern Spain that date back some 18,000 years ago, the Coliboaia cave in Romania or Magura cave in Bulgaria.
Most cave paintings show animals, such as bison, deer or horses, along with tracings of human hands as well as abstract forms and lines. The drawings were either blown with the mouth on the walls or scratched into the stones. There are several theories behind the usage and meaning of cave paintings. Based on ethnographic studies of contemporary hunter-gatherer societies, David Lewis-Williams suggests that the paintings were carried out by shamans, who retreated into the caves to enter a state of trance and paint their visions on the walls (Whitley, 2009). Similarly, Jean Clottes, a cave-painting scientist, believes that cave-paintings have a shamanistic background: “The people have painted and engraved the caves according to their belief. Most likely they believed, that the subterranean world is a supernatural world. They believed to meet ghosts, gods, their ancestors and deceased in the grottoes. The paintings were an intermediary between the local and other world.“ (Terra X, 2008) Other theories suggest that the paintings were examples for hunting studies and Henri Breuil thinks about hunting magic, where the images were used to increase the number of animals and therefore achieve a larger hunting result and more food could be gathered for the clan or family. Furthermore, there are suggestions, that the paintings were simply an artistic act. Today’s native tribes use cave paintings without having a word for “art“ in their language (Mithen, 1996).
In Africa, the oldest paintings were found in the Apollo 11 cave in Namibia, that approximately date back to 23,000 to 25,000 years. (Department of Arts of Africa, n.d.) Further paintings were discovered in Somalia and South Africa, as well as Egypt or the Tassili n’Ajjer mountains in Algeria, where 15,000 engravings and drawings from around 6,000 BC were found. (UNESCO World Heritage Centre (2012)
One of the earliest traces of human life in India can be found in the Bhimbetka rock shelters near Bhopal. Scientists suggest that these caves were used by human beings for more than 100,000 years. The oldest paintings on the cave walls are believed to be 30,000 years old. More recent paintings from the medieval period depict geometric figures and scenes of the life of this early men. (Javid & Javeed, 2008)
In North America cave paintings are connected with the Chumash tribe, a Native American peoples that historically lived at the southern and central coastal regions of California. Australia, South-East Asia and South America is also a home for cave paintings.
If there is a connection between all these rock- or cave paintings or if they have been passed through generations is uncertain, even though the images are very similar all over the world. We find animals and hand-prints and rarely images of human beings. If a global art has developed at this early stage of mankind in the form of cave- or rock art is a matter of speculation. What is significant about these paintings, is that they can be found all over the planet and that they are very early examples of human beings, who painted the public spaces where they live and they left a mark of their existence. The fact to paint in public spaces with no financial intentions and to decorate the walls of their home is very similar to the intentions and activities of modern-day graffiti artists.
Later in our human history, when empires and countries were growing bigger and expanding their territory of rule, graffiti was spreading likewise. An early example are the writings in different languages in the Old Kingdom of Egypt (2707–2216 BC). Written texts in Demotic, Aramaic and even Latin and Greek are evident on historic temples, graves and buildings. The Latin and Greek writings are a clear sign, that travellers or soldiers from the Roman and the Greek Empires came to the historic temples, statues or rocks and left their name or a simple list of trade goods, bills or prayers. The last writing can be dated back to the 12. December 452 BC. (Hoffmann, 2000) At the entrance of the Luxor temple in Luxor’s city centre you can see many examples of graffiti writings in Greek language.
The Vikings, were traders and seafarers from Scandinavia, who expanded their activities up to North Africa, Middle East, Central Asia and even North America during the late 8th to 11th centuries. They were one of the first explorers with their famous longboats and erected settlements in the areas where they travelled. Vikings were feared warriors who raided and pillaged, but were also involved in trading and acted as mercenaries. With their journeys came their writings, which were mainly written in runic scripture, a script that was in use from the 1st century until 1100 AD by the Germanic people.
The Byzantine Empire employed Vikings in their Varangian Guards (Tagma ton Varangion) as personal bodyguards to the emperors from the 10th to the 14th centuries. One evidence of the Varangian Guards can be found in the Hagia Sophia in today’s Istanbul (which was named Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire until 1930). The Hagia Sophia was originally the largest Christian church in the Byzantine Empire around the time of the guards and the first church was possibly built around 346 by Constantius II according to Socrates of Constantinople (Janin, 1953).
On the top floor of the southern gallery, a Viking of the Varangian Guards has left his mark on a white marble parapet during a visit. Today, only -alfdan can be deciphered, which is most likely the Norse name Halfdan. The other runes are illegible, but according to James E. Kirk, they most likely followed a common writing “NN carved these runes”. (Kirk, 1999)
The inscriptions were first discovered in 1964 and a second inscription was located later in a niche in the same gallery as the writing by Halfdan. It was documented by the Department of Runes in Stockholm in 1984 and it is hardly legible and read ari:k, which could be interpreted as “Arí m(ade)” or “Arí m(ade these runes)”. The true meaning of the scribble is uncertain.
In 2700 BC a Neolithic cairn, known as Maeshowe, was built on the Orkney Islands on the North tip of Scotland. During their early settlement in the 12th century, Vikings lived in this area and left signs of their presence in form of graffiti in the tomb, which they called “Orkahaugr”. The archaeologist James Farrer found 30 runic inscriptions in the cairn, which makes it the largest amount of runes in Europe. They read something like: “Crusaders broke into Maeshowe. Lif the earl’s cook carved these runes. To the north-west is a great treasure hidden. It was long ago that a great treasure was hidden here. Happy is he that might find that great treasure. Hakon alone bore treasure from this mound. (signed by Simon Sirith)”, “Ingebjork the fair widow – many a woman has walked stooping in here a very showy person (signed by Erlingr)“ or “Arnfithr Matr carved these runes with this axe owned by Gauk Trandilsson in the South land“. (Towrie, n.d.)
In 1215 died Ali ibn Abi Bakr al-Harawi or also know as Ali of Herat or Abu al Hasan in Aleppo, Syria. He was originally from Herat, Afghanistan and born in Mosul. He travelled extensively and left his name wherever he went.
“There was neither sea nor land, plain nor mountain, to which access could be obtained, which he had not seen; and in every place to which he went, he wrote his name upon the walls, as I myself have observed in all the cities which I visited, and their number is certainly very great. To this he was indebted for his reputation and his name as a traveller became proverbial.”, noted Ibn Khallikan in his book „Wafayet al-A’yan“ (Khallikan, 1996) Ali of Herat became the first documented graffiti artist in the Muslim world.
A forerunner of the modern globalisation was colonisation. Colonisation means, when one species populates an area. The word originates from the Latin word colere – to inhabit, cultivate, frequent practice, tend, guard or respect. (Rockman & Steele 2003) With the territorial expansion, Western European empires were trying to enlarge their territories all over this world. With the expansion they brought their culture and absorbed and assimilated foreign people’s into their own culture. While travelling into foreign territories, they left their marks in the form of graffiti.
One example of colonial graffiti can be found at the so-called “Inscriptions Rock”. It is the central highlight of the El Morro National Monument in New Mexico, USA. Near this giant rock formation settled the tribe of the Anasazi almost 2,000 years ago. They started to paint rock-paintings in this area long before the white colonisers arrived.
The oldest inscription by a European was done by Don Juan de Oñate, a conquistador and founder of the colony of New Mexico. He passed by the rocks in 1605 during an expedition and scratched the following message into the stones: “Pasó por a[qu]í, el adelantado Don J[ua]n de Oñate del descubrimiento de la mar del sur a 16 de Abril de 1605 (analogously: Don Juan de Oñate passed by on an expedition to the South Seas on April 16 1605.). During the following hundred years, maybe 2,000 travellers left their names and messages on the rock, as it was lying on a settlers trail to California.
In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed the Inscriptions Rock a National Monument and from that moment on, every writing on the rocks was forbidden by law.
Similar engravings were discovered in fortifications by the Spanish colonialists in the San Cristobal Fort and the San Felipe del Morro Fort in Puerto Rico or the Castillo de San Marcos near St. Augustine in Florida, USA. They were approximately done during the 1700s by Spanish soldiers during their shift.
A further and rather famous graffiti artist who scratched his name on surfaces in different places during his travels was the British poet Lord Byron, whose writings were documented in the Poseidon Temple in Kap Sounion in Greece which dates around 1810 and the moated castle of Chillon near Montreaux in Switzerland from the year 1816. (Info Britain, n.d.)
Still today, names of explorers such as Giovanni Battista Belzoni can be found at some places in Egypt, when he visited the country between 1815-1819. He wrote „Scoperta da G. Belzoni 2 mar 1818“ (Discovered by G. Belzoni at the March 2 1818) on the Chephren pyramid in 1818 and his name in the Ramesseum temple near Luxor. (Semsek, 2001)
Today’s graffiti and it’s way around the globe
Modern graffiti, that we know today and that most people get in their minds, when we talk about graffiti, took it’s roots during the 1960’s in Philadelphia and New York City. The media, newspapers, TV stations and books always plaid an important role to spread the idea of graffiti and inspired others to pick up cans and paint on the walls, when they published articles about this phenomenon or about individual artists. One particular article in the New York Times in 1971 about Taki 183 sparked several young people to follow his example to see their name up in their neighbourhood or other parts of the city. (Cooper & Chalfant, 1983)
In 1978, Lee Quinones from New York started to paint some unforgettable murals in his neighbourhood at night-time. The Hip Hop musician Fab 5 Freddy gave a round to the Village Voice magazine to see these walls and they published an article with photographs about Lee’s murals. Somehow, this magazine came into the hands of Claudio Bruni, an art dealer from Rome and he invited Lee and Fab 5 Freddy to exhibit their art at his Galleria Medusa in Rome. This was one of the first encounters of Europeans with the graffiti that had emerged in New York since the 1960’s. (Prigoff & Chalfant, 1987)
A few years later in 1983, Yaki Kornblit wanted to introduce some graffiti artists from New York into the European art market and one by one he realised solo exhibitions of famous graffiti veterans from New York like Keith Haring (RIP), Futura 2000, Dondi (RIP), Blade, Pink, Seen, Zephyr or Quik in galleries and in a major exhibition at the Museum Boymans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, Holland.
Holland itself was a fertile ground for graffiti, because a vivid movement has grown out of the punk, squatter and Provo scenes painting slogans and stencils on walls. The New York artists were met by local Dutch artists and these encounters brought the New York model of lettering graffiti to Europe. (Prigoff & Chalfant, 1987)
During these exhibitions, Zephyr painted a wild style at a playground and Quik left a huge throw-up at the Vondel Park area in Amsterdam illegally. It gave the taggers and writers from Amsterdam an idea how to paint in a much larger scale. Already in 1983 the United Street Artists Crew with its members Shoe, Joker, Delta and Jaz could be seen with their large-scale walls throughout the city. By the nature of graffiti to put up your name on many places and most unreachable spots, graffiti spread to other cities in Holland, such as Eindhoven or Rotterdam. Painting trains was another medium to bring graffiti into different cities, where it was seen by other young people, who themselves started to do the same thing. (Balt, 2004)
The growing movement and it’s development is described by Maurice Balt in his book about graffiti in The Netherlands: “As a graffiti writer starting out in the early 80’s it was hard to figure out how to make these colourful pieces that were seen in books and on television. What kinds of techniques were used? What kind of paint? That’s what the pictures did not say. It was a case of perseverance and being innovative. It was even harder to stay informed of what was going on elsewhere in the country. Who was doing what and which styles were being used in the next city? Photos played an important role to document the pieces, as in many cases the pieces were cleaned by the next day or damaged in some way. Slowly, writers started to meet each other and learned to recognise an individual’s work by trading photos, photocopies of photos and photocopies of sketches with each other. This trading was the main way to see the development of other writers. Only when you were informed as a writer what others were doing, could you develop yourself further and try to become better than the others.” (Balt, 2004, p.14)
The way how Maurice Balt described the evolution of graffiti and how the artists met each other is significant for the global movement. Artists from Europe surely travelled to New York City to get inspirations from the original subways and murals, meet their idols or take photographs. The artists learned from each other, traded their photos and brought this inspiration and excitement home to their fellow artists and friends. It was a time without the Internet and artists arrived at places such as Australia or throughout Europe.
With this need to see graffiti by other artists from different cities and countries, magazines emerged. First they were poorly photocopied papers and later high-quality colour prints. It resulted in a world-wide market of magazines specialising in graffiti and very often the authors travelled abroad to present features from other countries, which gave a different inspiration of styles and techniques to the local scene, that adopted, copied and took these examples a step further. Books like Subway Art (1984) by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant or Spraycan Art (1987) by Henry Chalfant and James Prigoff brought the flame of graffiti all over the world and these books were the most important publications to let young people pick up a spraycan and paint on walls like the models they have seen in these books.
Similarly, movies like Style Wars (1983), Beat Street (1984) and Wild Style (1983) or music videos had the same effect on young people like the books.
Another vehicle to spread graffiti all over the planet was Hip Hop, that started in the beginning of the 1980’s. The culture consisted of four main elements: rap music and rapping, DJ-ing, break-dance and painting graffiti. The books, movies, music-videos and also record covers featured graffiti and therefore inspired others. “Kase 2’s [from New York] formidable presence in the film Style Wars and the book Subway Art prompted writers in Pittsburgh and San Francisco to adopt his style and the camouflage technique he invented called ‘computer rock’.” (Prigoff & Chalfant, 1987, p.8)
Even though it shall be noted that graffiti may be considered as an integral part of Hip Hop, because Hip Hop included graffiti into it’s own culture, but graffiti exists somehow independently from Hip Hop. When the core of graffiti evolved at the end of the 1960’s Hip Hop music and Hip Hop culture did not even exist and the artists listened to the rock bands of that time such as Led Zeppelin.
Again, several artists from Europe or other continents made the journeys to their graffiti Mecca to see the walls and trains with their own eyes, take photos of them and meet the writers personally to learn from them or just share knowledge and styles. “King Pin sent pictures of pieces he had done in Brühl [Germany] and occasionally he would ask to be sent things in return, like ‘fat caps’ that were hard to find in Europe.” (Prigoff & Chalfant, 1987, p.10) “After a basis for the scene in Germany had been built, and the people crystallised in the different cities, who dominated the graffiti movement in their city, the writers began to think in broader borders. Individuals began travelling into other countries and cities such as Copenhagen, Stockholm and New York. They brought new photos, new experiences and new influences back to Germany.” (Schwarzkopf, Schluttenhafner & Klaußenborg, 1994, pp.10-11)
Meeting writers from abroad was and still is a great opportunity to get in touch with them, see them painting, learn their techniques and see other styles from different cities and countries. People organised so-called graffiti jams, where they invited artists from abroad or other cities to paint large walls together and organised concerts and often break-dance battles. These jams became very popular during the years and they are happening frequently today. One of the most well-known graffiti jam is the “Meeting of Styles”, that started in 1997 in Wiesbaden, Germany as a form of protest, when the city of Wiesbaden wanted to tear down legal graffiti walls. These meetings of international graffiti artists evolved into an international happening and today “The International Meeting of Styles” jams are held in many countries all over the world. Uncountable graffiti jams are taking place all over the world, where graffiti artists meet, paint walls and have a good time together. It is not only to meet others and talk to them, it is also a pool for youngsters to see established or technically skilled artists paint and use this inspiration for their own works.
Graffiti workshops and lectures about graffiti started to take place at the same time. Artists themselves began to educate young people and shared their skills through workshops and enabled young children or teenagers to start painting in the streets too. Photographers and authors travel frequently to hold lectures and talk about the theories and styles of graffiti or it’s long history.
The highest amount of books about graffiti have been published since 2005, as well as a huge market evolved around graffiti with mail-orders, magazines or professional spray-cans.
This all happened in a time until the Internet emerged and the graffiti movement already spread globally before the invention of the world-wide-web. The Internet is a fast and easy medium to spread graffiti, styles and ideas quickly all over the planet and into almost every corner of the world, where people have access to computers and the Internet.
An uncountable amount of websites were created during the years, where enthusiasts publish their own photographs on an almost daily basis or where local scenes or artists themselves publish their works.
One of the first websites with graffiti content was Art Crimes (www.graffiti.org), that was launched by Susan Farrell and Brett Webb around 1994. Farrell photographed graffiti in Atlanta, Georgia and in Prague, Czech Republic and wanted to publish them on a website. Today, Art Crimes is one of the most influential and most viewed website about graffiti, where people can find not only links to internet pages of artists and crews from all over the world, but also a timeline with events along with a vast of background information about this culture. (Neelon, 2004)
There are four types of graffiti websites: the pages by individual artists that are a portfolio by one single artist, secondly are crew website that invites you to join, when the match is right, thirdly sites about a local scene and fourth message board sites, where artists can post photos and comments. The Internet with it’s massive amount of websites has very positive effects, that predecessors like magazines or books could have never reached. It is for free and you can easily find a great amount of information for one topic once you search online. The Internet can be highly educating and functions as some kind of mentor.
Most notably, many of these websites are – like the artists themselves – non-commercial and work like a public service. The Internet has the positive effect, that an artist can put up a photo and it can be viewed all over the world within the next moment. Similarly, watching styles from all over the planet, would certainly destroy the evolution of local styles and intermix everything with each other. This critic is mainly shared by artists from cities with a long graffiti history, such as Appear states: “Graffiti is very closely linked with the city you live in, and I see all these kids trying to pull off Los Angeles styles in Washington D.C. or whatever – it doesn’t look good, it doesn’t make sense in that context, and it’s disrespectful to your own city’s history as well.” (Neelon, 2004)
Artists from cities with a younger scene such as New York, Boston and Chicago see the Internet in a more positive way. The Internet connects people from different places more easily. Surely, the Internet made it more easy to track down illegal writers by the police.
But there is a basic critic on the Internet occurring as well: “… ,the much-vaunted universalism of the Internet actually constituted a new kind of linguistic imperialism, and outside the First World the Internet’s expansion merely heralded a new era of colonisation, as the hierarchical structures of the English alphabet and the remorseless logic of Western capitalism imposed themselves yet more comprehensively across the world through the global control of information.” (Morley, 2003, p.202)
A similar critic on the neo-colonisation by Western styled graffiti is coming from the Arabic world. In most countries the artists adopted the styles coming from America and Europe instead of incorporating local styles or the local culture into their own graffiti. The French-Tunisian artist eL Seed wrote in the book Arabic Graffiti: “…, Arabic graffiti takes on an important role in re-affirming the presence of a strong, albeit struggling, identity independent of domineering outside influences. My particular approach to Arabic graffiti is a response to the globalisation of ‘Western’ culture, which has insidiously invaded most parts of the globe. Serving to homogenise an otherwise diverse world, it has effectively shut down expressions of difference. Because of this, it has been my conscious choice to paint solely in classical Arabic, although I drop an occasional phrase in English or French. This is a statement against the particularly homogenic role of language and the part it inevitably plays in spreading the globalise monoculture. Furthermore, Arabic graffiti serves to carry the traditions of Arabic and Islamic art whilst stepping outside the box of traditionalism.” (Karl & Zoghbi, 2013, pp.111-112)
Graffiti has been a world-wide and global phenomenon since it’s early beginning around 30,000 to 40,000 years ago. Today, graffiti has spread into almost every corner of this planet and graffiti exhibitions or jams happen on an almost daily basis. Books, magazines and online articles are published frequently. In the beginning of modern-day graffiti, local styles have developed and you could even consider where a piece was created while seeing the unique style. Today with the Internet, these local differences and uniqueness has intermixed with a world-wide pool for inspirations. Many people criticise, that most graffiti artists tend to follow the mainstream style, which was dominated by Western countries for many years and start to develop – again – a more local form of expression, which includes their own unique local codes and cultures. The globalisation of graffiti and street art did not end here yet and the culture of graffiti is still in a stage of transformation and evolution.
© Nicholas Ganz, December 2015
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