Reading the writing on the walls

21 October 2002
A FIRST-year Historical Studies course recently held a graffiti demonstration for its students with the help of two of Cape Town's best known graffiti artists.

The morning-long session was an attempt to expose Contemporary Popular Culture students to graffiti and an opportunity to question the artists so that students could better understand a misunderstood cultural practice.

With MacI and Falko — who are responsible for several prominent but uncomissioned pieces around the City — on hand, students were able to try their hand at this art form, using spray paint and PVC banners as walls.

The course, which is divided into several modules, examines theoretical issues around popular culture, especially those around identity and how it is expressed through culture. According to tutor Farzanah Badsha, graffiti was a perfect case study for the current module, "Youth culture", because it was a growing sub-culture evolving in demographics and profile; and, secondly, because of its currency.

"Graffiti is a contentious issue that is currently in the news because of a series of by-laws the city of Cape Town is trying to pass," she explains.

Badsha reports that the day before the demonstration, students were treated to a debate between councillor JP Smith — one of the prominent propagators of the by-laws — and a graffiti artist.

"It was a vigorous debate and a lot of questions were thrown at the speakers, but what was interesting was that by the end of the debate a lot of the students who were initially on the artists' side were actually swayed by the arguments put forward by the councillor, who is a very good speaker," she notes.

The graffiti artists' work is on display in the Historical Studies Department.

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