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Anthropology. Melbourne Graffiti Culture


Graffiti consists of writings, slogans, depictions, squiggle or painted walls or private and public surfaces. The term “graffiti” is derived from the Latin word “graphium” with the meaning of to write. “Graffiti” is a term which was originally used by archeologists in describing pictures and inscriptions found on the primordial buildings and monuments which were found in Egypt, Pompeii, and the Roman catacombs. Nowadays graffiti is a symbol of social decay in the urban centers. It generates frights within the neighborhood, because it is a sign of crime and volatility. It devaluates property on which they appear. A lot of public funds are used in clearing graffiti in public places and because it shows a community that does not care about itself, it attracts other forms of criminal activities. It has the message that the people in the neighborhood are not bothered about the appearance of their community. Moreover, graffiti is against the statutes of most of the countries. It is important to realize that graffiti and art are two distinct things even though they use the same tools sometimes (Phillips p263). Graffiti is prohibited in most countries and is mainly practiced at night by people who are only known to exist, but are never seen. It is an utter defacement by criminals who use it to express their opinion.

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There are two types of graffiti: gang graffiti is mostly utilized to designate terrorism by gangs, show gang members’ affiliation and in many ways and times graffiti shows what goes on within a particular gang. Tagging graffiti is another type. It is mainly used to attract attention in order to gain fame with the rest of members who are also engaged in tagging. This type of graffiti often indicates the tag names or the names of the crew involved in tagging. The members of the tagging crew are generally nonviolent and are only concerned with gaining fame amongst their members (Macdonald 23-57).

Melbourne Graffiti Culture

Graffiti art was commenced in Melbourne with some classic movies known as b-boy. These movies included BeatStreets, StyleWars, and WildStyles. There were also books like SprayCan and SubWay Arts. These books and movies are the main creators of the Melbourne City graffiti panorama. Some of the pioneering graffiti artists groups were New2, AC-All City, AKA-Also Known As, Ransom, Hugh Dunnit and Tame.

There are lots of street paintings in Melbourne in which specially designed stencils are used to get paintings on the walls of both public and private structures. Melbourne became a center of graffiti in a way no one can easily understand. Its sloppy atmosphere and status of isolation is considered to be the most probable reason it is the hub of graffiti. Painters in Melbourne have in no way been fettered to the school of New York where there are large letters on the passageway trains that took a monopoly almost everywhere. Instead of scribbling their names on window pane, most of them favored the painting of impressions different from the scribbling of names. They may choose to paint things like an animal with a cigarette in the mouth next to a man chewing a bone (Wheeler 7-26). The artiste has taken a free control of the Melbourne city and went much beyond mere painting on the street walls. The city of Melbourne, because of its famous graffiti, has attracted many thinkers, artists, and curious tourists who visit the streets to explore and sample the graffiti. The graffiti based innovations in Melbourne have been ranked a crucial in the global establishment of arts on the streets in latest years. The city council of Melbourne rejected a proposal that required certain tolerance zones be left to be used by the graffitists; the zones were to serve as safety places to practice graffiti without the risks of police arrest. The proposal came after realization that total intolerance of the graffiti works would not be effective in stopping the illegalized activities; it had a lot of public support. The war on graffiti is not likely to be won any time soon (Wheeler 65). The emergence of the internet has contributed more to its growth rather than its eradication. All along, the cleaners have always destroyed the original graffiti works, but now it is easier to capture them on camera and post them in the internet where they can be accessed globally by millions and millions of people. The internet has also made it easier for graffitists to perfect their work. Use of websites to come up with graffiti has low risks of police arrest, and also since the graffitists are the ones who access their sites, it is almost, if not totally, impossible for any authority to destroy the graffiti. It then means that the graffitists are always able to achieve their missions without deterrence.

Even though graffiti is totally different from an art, it has some elements of arts in it. The artistic nature of graffiti includes the criteria of aesthetics in it. This aesthetic value is said to overshadow its incoherence, indiscretion, and nonstandard presentations. Graffiti like an art do not have any big difference, but most of the resistances against it are due to its locations and unusual presentation however, analyzing the situation critically and logically, its unusual presentation and the irregularity of its location is not of necessity that it be disqualified as an art. The foundation of graffiti is traced back to the origin of human beings and their societal lives. In the ancient period, graffiti was placed on monuments where they were to be found many years later. Round 1970s people started putting paints on subway trains hence the act was named subway art. Everyone who wanted recognition as the best artists displayed his or her paintings on the subways trains. Some people have argued that graffitists do art while taggers simply scribbled. The qualification of a graffitist as an artist is in his or her ability to create complex drawings. The high noticeable subway trains and the big number of possible audience was an encouragement for graffitists to come up and compete with the rest. With the growing graffiti work, more artists in all parts of the world have been influenced and attracted into the work of graffiti. The worldwide spread of graffiti has been facilitated by Hip-Hop which is greatly linked to rap music.

Graffiti culture in New York and that of Melbourne

The Melbourne graffiti culture can be traced to 1970s and 1980s. Melbourne changed from an urban center with many factories and offices to a center full of bars, cafes, and apartments during the 1990s and it is still changing in the twenty first century. The graffiti activities are branded amongst those activities known as Do It Yourself (DIY). These include music bands, internet, zines, and raves. In 1970 graffiti in Melbourne focused mainly on politics. In 1980s it formed hip-hop culture which actually included aerosol sprays. The culture is said to have originated from Australia and America (Elizabeth 16-38).

Graffiti in New York started as early as 1970s. By this time somebody who called himself “Julio 204” had began writing his tags all over the City of New York. After “Julio 204” a youth who came from Manhattan calling himself “Taki 183” also arrived in New York and started; both of these taggers also focused on placing their tags on subways where many people could read their works. Taki 183 was soon to be dabbed “New York Style”. New York City has been described to be where people can make names for themselves just like a boxer makes his name in the boxing ring (Austine 40). It is important to note that New York is only rivaled by Hollywood in the film industry. Graffiti in New York was mostly a preserve of the poor African-Americans who came from ghettos, but now it has developed to attract people from all races, classes, and economic backgrounds. Around 1989 subway graffiti became extinguished. This followed after the government came up with strict legislations and building of train yards fenced with barbed wires which made it impossible for graffitists to access the subway stations. It is said that graffiti in New York started to take its true roots when the city’s physical structure started to decline. The subway train windows were filled with graffiti such that the passengers could not clearly see outside the windows.

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Graffiti in New York too remains a serious crime that is constantly fought by the federal government. The number of arrested graffitists has been rising since 2003. However, despite the rising number of arrests, the works of graffitists is equally increasing in the New York City. The various levels of government agencies in New York have been legislatively strict on the criminal display of graffiti on public and private property. In the year 2005, the city council passed a statute which illegalized the custody of aerosol and spray cans. In New York the graffiti are also in many cases found in mailboxes. Unlike Melbourne city, there are areas in New York where certain individuals are permitted to practice graffiti; but not on unmerited property. For instance, one of the places is to be found in the 11 Springs Street. The fight against graffiti in New York City is stronger than that in Melbourne; the New York police department has incorporated transit police unit which operates twenty four hours. In 1995, the city mayor established a task force that was to deal with the graffiti menace. This has made the extent of graffiti work in the city to be less than that of the Melbourne. Comparing both New York and Melbourne, graffitists compose mainly of young children, teenagers, and youths even though it is right to argue that when they grow old they are likely to continue with the work. However, it is not likely that people above thirty or so years can get into graffiti work. In both cultures, graffiti attracts people from all social and economic classes.

Arts and tagging

There is slight difference between tagging and artistic works. Tagging involves sprays of names and words that are illegible, they are ugly and considered as vandalism. Most, if not all, of those who do tagging are members of gangs who are also interested in marking their territories. Artistic graffiti is colorful and meaning can be interpreted. Real work of artistic graffiti depicts mural. Graffiti involve the creation of complex images and paintings. It is a premeditated marking on a private or public property. It can take the forms of drawings, words and pictures and those who engage in making graffiti are known as graffitists (Young 16-22). Graffiti is known to combine the knowledge of architecture and structural design. Tags are autographs and symbols made using sprays of aerosols. The use of tags started around 1970s; just like graffiti, tags were sprayed on walls, buses, and on the passageway trains. Tags are in many cases used by taggers to show some of their qualities while some contain restrained and sometimes puzzling messages. While graffiti may be viewed as the expression of creativity and may be loaded with political values, reaction against some form of oppression and rebellion a tag is said to be gang driven and has got some elements of vandalism, always lack value in the public face and may contain vulgar language.


Early graffiti can be backdated to early years of 1920s during the use of box cars. However, the contemporary work of graffiti emerged strongly through political think extremists and members of gangs in 1960s and 1970s. TAKI 183 was one of the graffiti artists who gained media attention in the city of New York. Alongside New York, Melbourne city has also been known to be a capital artistic graffiti even though the city council do not approve the activities. Graffiti is criminalized in many parts of the world; nonetheless, there are certain regions within New York and Melbourne where graffiti may be allowed. Graffiti is considered to be an act of vandalism due to the fact that it is sprayed illegally on public and private walls and property. Graffitists are people who belong to certain groups who seek recognition amongst their peers. The government and the private property owners have always been forced to use a lot of money to clear the graffiti off their property. Advertising companies have also lost a lot of funds since the graffitists spray their images right on the adverts hence defacing them.

Graffiti has had great influence, especially due to the emergence of hip-hop culture. Many artists all over the world have managed to visit the city of Melbourne to witness the artistic graffiti that line the streets. The advent of internet has seen the growth and shift of graffiti to online displays. There are many websites meant for graffiti and this makes its illegality almost impossible to deal with. The online graffiti can be viewed by millions of people all over the world within a very limited time. Graffiti is one amongst the four elements of hip-hop culture; the rest of the elements include doing work of disc jockey, emceeing, b-boying. In the beginning of times of hi-hop all these elements were greatly intertwined. Graffitists were always the b-boys, disc jockeys and emcees. There have been attempts at differentiating tagging and graffiti. Tagging has been seen by others as illegible writings meant to vandalize property while graffiti have been viewed as public displays of artistic talents. Graffiti can also be said to have artistic elements in it. There is no big difference in the way art is done and how graffiti is produced. In fact, graffitists make use of architectural and structural knowledge to come up with their impressions. Anybody who wants to either come up with a high quality graffiti and tag must have some knowledge of art. The mere fact that graffiti is prohibited state authorities does not disqualify it from being an art (Price 12-45).

Works Cited

Austin, Joe. Taking the train: how graffiti art became an urban crisis in New York City. Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2001.

Grosz, Elizabeth. Future falls excursions into post-modernity. University of Sydney: Power Institute of Fine Arts, 1986.

Macdonald, Nancy. The graffiti subculture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.

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Phillips, Susan. Graffiti and Gangs in L.A. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Price, George. Hip hop culture. Illustrated edition. ABC-CLIO, 2006.

Wheeler, Donna. Lonely Planet Melbourne & Victoria City Guide. City Guide Series. Lonely Planet, 2008.

Young, Alison. Judging the image: Transformations, thinking through feminism. New York: Routledge, 2005.

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