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Stop the war on graffiti!

November 19, 2011
Saturday, February 7, 2009 – 11:00
By Tim Dobson

Eighteen-year-old Cheyene Back was sentenced on February 2 to three months jail, despite having no prior convictions.

Her crime? She wrote “2shie” in black texta on the wall of the Hyde Park Cafe, otherwise known as “intentionally or recklessly damaging a brick wall”.

The sentence has been described as “almost unheard of” by one barrister, according to the February 3 Sydney Morning Herald.

New South Wales Premier Nathan Rees disagrees, however, telling reporters the sentence is “absolutely appropriate” and that the offending graffiti “is something that affects not only the aesthetic but people’s sense of safety”.

That this comes from someone whose “aesthetic values” include comparing being in a traffic jam to falling in love,
should lead many to question Rees’s taste.

But more to the point, the safety of people in New South Wales is threatened much more by having an incompetent, deeply unpopular government, who can’t manage to retain public services but can still find time to worry about keeping cafe walls spotless.

Even the manager of the cafe thought the sentence was harsh, stating: “I think it’s a little bit harsh [and] I really prefer the Government doing something more … some more video cameras and give her the education about it instead of jail”, she told the February 3 SMH.

Graffiti is a legitimate form of art and has the ability to inspire, move and provoke like art forms. The streets of Paris in 1968 were alive with graffiti, reflecting the mood of change and revolution in the air.

“Your Happiness is being bought. Steal it.” “Those who make revolutions half way only dig their own graves.” “Run, comrade, the old world is behind you!” “Revolution, I love you.” These were just some of the slogans scrawled across the walls of Paris at the time.

The more contemporary graffiti of the British artist Bansky haunts the powers that be. He uses his art to question and protest some of the most absurd and destructive aspects of capitalist culture.

In Australia, most graffiti isn’t politically motivated let alone inspired by revolutionary ideas, but seeing “Free Gaza” scrawled up on walls throughout Sydney was a welcome relief from the remorseless visual pollution of advertising billboards.

The form that most graffiti takes in this country is that of “tagging”, which is a graffiti artist scrawling their alias on property . This may be considered a nuisance to some but what it reflects is the alienation that many youth feel in this country.

With an inability to express themselves freely or forge an identity free from the unbending pressure to conform, many young people see this as both a way to express and assert themselves.

This kind of expression should not be simply condemned but rather attempts should be made to understand. Taking this view, Resistance can see that no amount of jail terms or CCTV cameras or community service will “fix the graffiti problem”.

Only in a society where youth are no longer alienated will anti-social acts begin to disappear. A good start would be to provide more public space for young people and to begin to deal with youth unemployment.

Resistance members who ran in the Newcastle Council elections last year ran under the slogan, which still very much applies now: “Stop the war on graffiti! Start the war on climate change!”.

In other words, Nathan Rees, get your damn priorities straight.

Back, now on bail, will appeal her jailing on March 2. Resistance members across the country will celebrate if sanity prevails and she is released without charge.

[Tim Dobson is an organiser of the Sydney branch of Resistance.]

From GLW issue 782

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