Leaving our Mark
Last night as I relaxed after an enjoyable Thanksgiving meal, I turned to a recommended 80s documentary called "Style Wars".
The setting is New York and the topic is graffiti’s impact on the city. As I watched this thirty plus year-old film, I learned quite a bit about graffiti, something I have seen countless times but am not conversant in. And for all I heard that was new, much of what drove the community’s growth in the 70s and 80s are more universal characteristics.
Some of my bigger takeaways about “bombers”, the label such artists give themselves, came from an interview with a seventeen year-old when asked why he was a part of this community, which was reviled by many, in the area. He said he looked up to what others were attempting to do and in them saw a "tribe” (h/t Seth Godin) he wanted to be a part of. He saw an art form and a challenge. And when pressed on the hopes and impact he had for his artwork he said, “I do it to prove myself to other bombers. I don’t really care what anybody else thinks. Its for this community... I do it because I want them to see my name appear across the city.”
The first part of his answer makes me think of an interview with hip hop artist Nas on his seminal album “Illmatic". When Nas was asked who he made the album for he said, "My surroundings. The hip-hop community and to be Number 1 MC, the Number 1 rapper. Most of us are out to be the best. So that meant I made it for other artists, singers, people in the arts. But it comes from the street, so my surroundings wrote that album. I made it for them. It's the theme songs for my surroundings when I made that album. These albums was all written and produced by the streets, in a large sense. I didn't care about — I didn't know there was anyone else that was supposed to hear it.” Despite the success the album ultimately achieved, credit in the community he came from is what he aspired for.
The second part of the seventeen year-old’s comment about wanting his name to appear all over the city is a bit more subtle but makes me think about something all humans do. His name appearing all over the city is his way of saying, “I was here”. This is something we as a species have been doing for millennia. Whether its writing on cave walls, carving in a bathroom stall, putting our name in fresh concrete or tagging (also a graffiti term) ourselves on social media, all of these have the same objective. These "tags" are all ways for us to preserve our precious moments and to say to our community and the world, “I exist(ed)”.
Some of us use a spray can, while others use Instagram. At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to tell and share a story of who we were and what we stood for.
Go Forth Boldly