Many people know or have heard about the complicated and hot topic of graffiti art. Most seem to know a side of graffiti that only concerns its legality and the issues that arise due to its contestatory nature.
There are many laws that state that images on public spaces are only to be placed there with permission by the owner of the space and the local government. If an image shows up on a private or public space with no permission, it is to be removed immediately. But often overlooked is just how difficult and dangerous the act of creating art and writing on walls and spaces can be. Gang violence and protesters of graffiti can be a threat to anyone caught in the act, not to mention the danger each artist may face if caught by the authorities in the process of writing. Artists will go to extreme lengths to put their pieces up in the most obscure of locations. From the tallest tower, to the undersides of bridges, street artists risk their health and sometimes lives while making art.
When you see a piece of graffiti in a place that just seems too unrealistic for anyone to have put it there, the thought doesn’t go much past that. The words on the undersides of bridges, the backs of billboards, and high up on a tiny tower catch your eye. You notice the image and it may be intriguing for 10 seconds, then you move on to the next thought. Graffiti artists understand just how hard it was to get it there as well as all the thoughts and effort attempting to portray the right effect and create the perfect image. Creating, all while balancing on a tiny ledge or the small step of a ladder and trying not to look down and see just how high up they are or think about how long it would take for them to hit the ground if they fall. Because, if they do fall, the consequences could be dire. Catastrophic injuries such as broken bones, head or spinal injuries could destroy their career, dismantling their livelihood. In the blink of an eye or a slip of the foot their future is in the balance. Besides just being hurt, a fall from some heights these artists are dangling from could be fatal, and their work would cease. Yet location is just one hazard a graffiti artist faces.
There is another menacing aspect that graffiti artists face: humans. Not only do artists face the threats and actions from those who protest graffiti and street art, but also from other artists if the writer paints in the wrong part of town. Certain sections of a city are reserved to a specific group of artists called ‘gangs’. If an artist paints in an area controlled by one gang and they are from a different gang or aren’t affiliated with the specific gang, they will face serious consequences. Gang wars may arise, or, if the artist is caught in the act, they may severely injured. Writing one’s name or nickname in someone’s territory, known as “tagging,” is like trespassing and whoever commits this crime is subject to harsh punishment. This punishment might be physical harm to the artist, or detrimental harm to their credibility and reputation, depending on how much influence the particular gang has on the graffiti community.
Aside from gang violence, graffiti artists face the heavy threat of all those who oppose graffiti. Hefty legal actions may be taken if ever an artist is caught in the act or found to be illegally painting on walls. Some of these protesters may not be satisfied with the law and might try to take matter into their own hands. Due to the political nature of many graffiti artists’ work, they create enemies along with their pieces. One such artist by the name of Cacao Rocks knows this all too well. I had the chance of meeting Cacao and heard him speak at the University of Michigan. He related the story of how, after revealing his appearance after many year of keeping his identity secret, he was attacked. One day while he was out, he was stabbed in the stomach and was taken to the hospital where he required stitches. He said in the interview that he “regretted revealing his identity” and rightfully so. Showing his face nearly cost him his life.
While the images they put up may be pleasing or teasing, the hard work graffiti artists put in often go without notice. The images a writer puts up could bring them immediate danger, potentially putting their life on the line. Whether it’s the location of the piece that might be the hazard or other people who want to see that the artist doesn’t put any more pieces, a graffiti artist faces many dangerous in their risky endeavors.