Monday, March 14, 2011


Roughly translated, "This course is not my world."

Graffiti in Oaxaca is very colorful and visually sophisticated. Books have been written treating it as both political protest and art, for example Protest Graffiti Mexico: Oaxaca . There was quite a bit of fresh work when we were there last summer as it was only a few weeks since an unpopular governor had been voted out of office and a new "people's governor" elected. I haven't followed what's happened since, so I'm not sure how it's all worked out. As I posted before, political violence, which is rarely reported here in the US, continues unabated. I'm curious to know how things are going and will report back once I've done some research.

I was surprised in Rome by how comparatively uninteresting the graffiti was. Surprised because it's so prolific -- it's on every building, no matter how old or sacred it might be. The messages were rarely illustrated unless you count the Brigate Rosse's 5-pointed-star-in-a-circle icon, and those were few and far between on this trip. Most graffiti is sprayed in dripping letters in either red or, less often, black. The sentiments are fairly straight-forward, but a certain amount of insider knowledge is necessary to figure out what the beef is.

A banner spray-painted in red letters and hanging from an apartment balcony read, "Resiste San Lorenzo." While on the surface this suggests to the outsider that Saint Lawrence resist something (what? we wonder), it was in fact an exhortation to the residents of the working class San Lorenzo neighborhood to resist, but whether they should resist the real estate development which threatens some of the older apartment houses or rent hikes or the police or Belusconi himself wasn't clear.

Even the Berlusconi graffiti was less interesting than you would expect with such a colorful subject who presents the graffiti artist with an endless supply of bon mots, not to mention a face that has been botoxed into corpse-like rigidity. I suppose "Berlusconi, Il Buffone" is somewhat more amusing than "Berlusconi Dimettite" (Berlusconi Resign), but neither was particularly subtle or clever.

During a walk near the Pantheon, I came across the following Oaxaca-related graffiti, one fairly old, the other more recent.

Okay, so they misspelled "Oaxaca" on the second example, but my interest was piqued. Was this the work of Mexican exiles in Rome or is there a faction among the Italian Left that turns its attention outward? (Not something you see much from any political party in Italy. Why look overseas when your own issues, and now those of your former colony in Libya, are so mind-boggling?) The red star suggests the work of a Brigades-wannabe, but, as I said, their graffiti was noticeably absent even as I actively searched for it.

On my last Sunday in Rome, I took the number 9 tram along the Via Nomentana to the last stop in a notoriously active (both the Right and the Left) neighborhood past Monte Sacro called the Nuovo Salario. Again, I was greeted on all sides by the same unimaginative, red-letter cliches stating, "God and Family" or "Anti-Fascism Lives." The only difference from the historic center was the brutal ugliness of the "modern" apartment buildings and the dreary shabbiness of the concrete parks. I strolled around a bit and hopped back on the next bus to the Termini, feeling vaguely dissatisfied.

Oh, well. "Valerio Verbano Vive." Or so they say.

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