Graffiti: A Lesson in Perception

“Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing. And even if you don’t come up with a picture to cure world poverty you can make someone smile while they’re having a piss.” – Banksy, Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall.

I am fascinated by graffiti and seek it out throughout my travels. Graffiti is a rebellion against the status quo and gives a voice to the voiceless. And while more and more voices are out propagating across the internet, the act of an individual to chose to break the law and make a mark in a public space is inspiring.

Skopje is a city crisscrossed with acts of rebellion. Every block and corner contains messages for the passerby to see. Some messages are bold declaration of fidelity by the Skopje City Park Boys paying tribute to their beloved football club, others are messages meant to bring joy to the viewer, especially those of #DREADPEN, and many more are nameless and there meaning is unknown…unknown to me that is.

As a foreigner that does not yet speak the language, and who sadly does not often speak the language of where I am, most of the scripted messages are meaningless to me. I am the illiterate. But in my mind’s eye, I often give meaning to these messages. Perhaps not a specific meaning to any single unintelligible mark; but instead, all of those characters and scrawls across the concrete face of the city I view as marks of rebellion and discourse. I see the voiceless gaining voice and I see the seeds of societal shifts and vibrant democracy at there core.

I am a naïve idealistic idiot. Not too long ago, I sat on one of the public buses going home after work. I happened to be riding the bus with one of my colleagues, an ethnic minority in this nation. On the seat back in front of us were words, unintelligible to me, hastily written with permanent marker. To me, this was another voiceless individual confronting the oppressive world they lived in. To my colleague, it was a message of hate declaring that all individuals of that particular ethnic group should be killed. When the city, and the all too plentiful graffiti that mars Skopje, is viewed by these eyes…a much sadder and oppressive world is seen.

I have privilege. I have the privilege of illiteracy in the nations that I visit. I have the privilege to choose how I interpret the messages scattered around me; and in so doing, I have chosen to believe that graffiti is a useful tool for youthful rebellion and liberal proclamations decrying the injustice of society. I have chosen not to see the hate, fear, and oppression that others force upon each other to view as they ride home from work after a long day.

So…how should I view graffiti now?

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