Graffiti in Valencia

by Craig Evans

Graffiti as a genre crosses language boundaries, a fact that I was readily able to acknowledge on a recent trip to Valencia, Spain where I encountered some striking examples. The characteristics of the genre include being spontaneous and unauthorised in a public area, typically political or obscene, and often humorous in nature.

This first example is typical of the genre. Scrawled on a stone seat in a very public place, the writing seems incongruous and even without knowing what the words mean, their intention as part of an act of defiance is easily inferred.

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A quick check on Google Translate (such is the age in which we live), and this is revealed to be Spanish for ‘long live the struggle of the working class’.

Less typical of the genre is the next example below. It is the most striking of the graffiti I came across, but how much it fits with the definition of the genre (i.e. spontaneous and unauthorised), given its size and detail, is open to question.

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The humour and politics is clearly evident in the images alone, particularly with the symbolism of the grotesque-looking creature dressed like a ring master and holding up a wad of cash. A check on Google Translate (oh the shame of monolingualism!) and the language seems to be Catalan, but it is either too figurative or idiomatic for me to reproduce here a completely coherent translation. From what I can gather, the overall message is a criticism of the effects of big business on local fishermen.

It feels very reassuring to see this kind of graffiti, which presents a vivid message of the apparent concerns of the local community in a way that is non-violent and aesthetically intriguing. Certainly seems good for democracy.

However, graffiti doesn’t always have to be politically engaged…

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‘Pirate life is the best life’

Yes it probably is – that is, if you’re talking about the jolly family-friendly literary character version represented here, as opposed to the modern-day murderous machine gun-carrying variety.

I’m not entirely sure what I feel about this character, other than that he does at least brighten a drab-looking wall.

As for this next example, I know exactly what I feel…

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Even in the world of graffiti, the global influence of English can be felt, although I’m not convinced that the English-using author of this piece is making much of a case for the art of graffiti.

Graffiti can be a very divisive issue for people, with many viewing it as unjustifiable vandalism. This is an especially common view when it comes to ‘tags’, where the focus is on the messenger not the message.

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So, what do you see? Vandalism or a meaningful expression of the identities of many individuals?

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2 comments

  1. Interesting post. And yes some graffiti is very clever and beautiful. But it is still vandalism. If it’s not your wall and/or you don’t have permission then it’s vandalism – end of.

  2. Still, there are arguably instances where it can play an important role, such as within totalitarian states where unauthorised markings in public places can communicate solidarity between oppressed people. Of course, that is not the case (as far as I am aware) with Valencia. However, in some areas, a facade of affluence did seem to be covering up social problems that only became apparent to the casual visitor if you looked hard enough. Stuffed within the gaps of archways under bridges were dirty mattresses – the bedrooms of homeless people, most likely. I am not saying that the graffiti I observed helped to highlight this particular social problem, but it did help to reveal something about the attitude of local people, one that was otherwise not conveyed in the heavily policed, neat tourist areas. It does seem to me that there is a strong case for graffiti as an important form of non-violent civil disobedience that can only be healthy thing for democracy.

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