Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v04n20)
Beats from a Broad Ripple Rat - by Lisa Battiston
posted: Oct. 05, 2007
I was at Spin for a hip hop show with my boyfriend not too long ago. Upon leaving the show and migrating to my car, I searched through my purse for my keys only to find something peculiar.
At the bottom of my purse was a four of spades from a deck of cards, on the back of the card written "I am am what you AM NOT" and the tag "chys". My boyfriend also had a playing card in his back pocket, the same words scrawled on the back. It was as if who'd ever deposited the playing cards in these personal spots had said, "Look at how close I was." It was creepy, but certainly a little interesting. I wondered why taggers tag. We've all seen the graffiti in Broad Ripple - I just wondered why.
So I looked up "graffiti" on Wikipedia.
You see unsightly graffiti on public buildings and don't think that the roots of such "art" can be drawn back to ancient times. I learned from the Wikipedia article that the first known examples of modern style graffiti can be drawn back to an ancient Greek city. Ancient Romans scrawled graffiti in Egypt and one can even see examples of graffiti in Pompeii that include "Latin curses, magic spells, declarations of love, alphabets, political slogans and famous literary quotes." Mayan graffiti has also been found as well as Viking graffiti. The names of famous Renaissance artists have also been found in famous ruins and (this one's my favorite because I'm semi-obsessed with him) Lord Byron has also scratched his name into one of the columns of the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion in Attica, Greece.
Who knew, right? Who knew that those haphazard spray paint marks have roots with people who lived and died 2000 years ago?
It was also interesting to learn that modern graffiti predates modern hip hop culture. I can remember reading Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book (which, like a law-abiding citizen, I actually bought) and Hoffman advocating spray painting the word "war" on to Stop signs - it was a cheap and easy way to make a political statement in the late 60s. That book, though, was published in 1971, and I still see the makeshift "stop war" signs today. There's even a stop sign in my neighborhood with "me" written on to the sign - interesting, indeed. The Wikipedia article also references stencil graffiti in association with punk bands of the 70s like Black Flag.
At some point in the 70s, though, there was a shift, it seems. Graffiti was less about making specific statements and more an advertisement of. . . Well, I suppose of self. Of the name of the tagger. That was the feeling I got after all of the reading I did - outside of the beautiful graffiti art many of us are familiar with, it seems that simply getting one's tag anywhere and everywhere is a form of self promotion, almost a bragging right.
Which makes me think of a familiar name in Broad Ripple, if you pay attention to the graffiti everywhere: Arso.
I don't know who Arso is, but you see his/her tags on buildings and think, "Geez, how did they get up there?" The marks I'm most familiar with are the ones on the buildings on the strip in Broad Ripple, on top of the buildings by that smoking shop. I've also seen them at the back of Spin's building near the rooftops.
So I think I've gotten more familiar with the idea of graffiti, what it is, where it came from. I still don't think I understand why someone tags a name everywhere other than establishing some kind of fame. In the very least, I think it's innovative.
But then - I don't own any tagged buildings either.