Graffiti as a way of expression

As an art enthusiast and believer in revolution, Rummana Ferdous Fagun writes about her thoughts on grafitti.



Why do people take up doing graffiti on walls instead of showcasing their work elsewhere? Because graffiti is much more than just art. It is a way of expression as well as protest. One of its perks is anonymity. Graffiti, painted mostly at the dead of night, hidden from everyone’s eyes lets an artist bring forth controversial matters without any risk.

From the artistic point of view graffiti is much deeper than that meets the eye. The word itself can be related to many ancient Greek and Italian words, but the one I like most is the Italian term ‘sgraffito’ used to depict a method which involves scratching through layers of pigment to reveal another one beneath it. If you watch some pottery videos you will see that sometimes one layer of earth having different colour is layered on top of the other, so when the top surface is etched it reveals another colour inside. It is much like modern graffiti which not only contains pictures but a hidden meaning waiting to be discovered. It conveys an understanding of the artist’s thoughts or any social movement he’s trying to uphold.

The first instance of modern-graffiti was found in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (in modern-day Turkey). Through years of evolution graffiti has taken the shape of art and artillery of protest. It has become a medium of expression for those who have their mouth shut by society.

Whenever an issue springs up the young generation is the first to come forward in rescue; but it is not always possible to stand strong particularly when family, friend and loved ones’ lives come under threat. To gain popular support, we should appeal to people’s consciences. Grafittis do exactly that. A perfect instance of this is the graffiti series of Subodh scattered around the city.

My first encounter with it was while walking in Agargaon; a picture of a disheveled man running with a cage in his hand. He has encaged a bright, burning sun that grabbed my attention. There is a message — ‘Subodh, run; time is not on your side.’ It had a word written beside it in red, ‘hobeki?’ Though there are many more of these graffiti now but this one is made a deep mark in my heart. To me it seemed like a cry for help and a way to escape from his frustration. The person is trapped in a situation no one wants to be in, trying to do good, but ‘society’ is nothing but an obstacle. The sun embodies an awakening waiting to break free, but Subodh has to flee, taking away even the smallest sliver of hope, because we are not ready for revolution. Not yet. It’s a rotten place to be in, surrounded by people holding you back every step of the way.

However, this is not the first time Bangladesh has witnessed graffiti bearing a troubling but unexplained message. In the 90s, graffiti containing progressive messages were regularly seen in the Dhaka University campus area. One such graffito that gained popularity was ‘Aijuddin is in pain.’ Then Aijuddin and now Subodh is the figure of protest and revolt of the mass people against injustice and sufferings in society; but the sad truth is that the condition of Subodhs across Bangladesh is precarious. Whoever questions the system is under threat. Rising fundamentalism in the last two years has produced a violent reaction against religious minorities in Bangladesh and liberals, and bloggers. Niloy Chatterjee, Anata Bijoy Das and Avijit Roy, were all popular bloggers who were brutally murdered. Their crime was their rational freethinking.

In every society there are the enlightened personalities who try to spread goodness and even put their life in danger propagating their ideologies. One such evolutionary thinker is Shamsia Hassani, who is spreading the light of knowledge and realisation among the people of Kabul, Afganistan. Being a woman and becoming self dependent in Afganistan is an achievement in itself, whereas Shamsia is not only a successful teacher in a National University, she is also trying to change the scenario of the society completely. Therefore, she has to face a lot of backlash from people for painting, for giving women incentive to free themselves. She is trying to normalise the fact that women can have dreams of their own and can become independent; they can be musicians or artists, teachers, lawyers or anything they please to be. She does not want to get rid of ‘Burkha’ because that will not change anything, if the women are not liberated. I watched one of her interview on YouTube and it is so inspiring to see such a brave woman fighting for what is right and influencing the society so deeply. We view Afganistan as a state ravaged by war, full of oppression and suffering, no matter how much of that is true it will not change if the people keep migrating to other countries. Shamsia holds this view. She will not quit and just leave the country in search of a utopia that does not exist. She will keep trying to improve the society bit by bit, ‘Everybody has a very bad image of Afganistan, so maybe I can change it a little bit. Maybe I can make it famous by art, not by war.’

The way I see it, no effort goes unnoticed, if you know where to approach. The world of graffiti is so huge that the possibilities are unbound and in Bangladesh it is gradually becoming a platform for protesting as well as evoking care for community and the nation.


Rummana Ferdous Fagun is a student of Dhaka University.

Comments are closed.