Un-American Graffiti

In a land of crushing poverty with a brutal climate, a high rate of disease, and a notorious dictatorship, it might be strange to confess that one of the things most troubling to me in Sudan was its graffiti.  While I started to gain an appreciation for Arabic graffiti itself (noticing some strange juxtapositions between imported Rasta culture, with images of Bob Marley combined with a Muhammad-like veneration) the stuff that most affected me involved the relics from ancient days.

Often covered in names to the point where the hieroglyphs themselves are barely readable, many of the ruins, temples, pyramids and fortifications from three, four and five millenia ago have been been seriously defaced.  What makes a person decide that their name, or their name with the name of their loved-one encircled in a heart, is worth immortalization?  What attraction does an object of history hold, that a man must stop and surreptitiously carve his bit of history into history?  Have none of those who have immortalized themselves considered how they whittle down the artifacts until, someday, nothing will remain?

I became fascinated, in the same way a motorist is fascinated by a car wreck on the roadside, with the scribblings on Sudan’s monuments.  Looking more closely, what I started to notice is that some of the graffiti itself has aged to the point where it is a new archeological record of its own:  French, Polish, British, Arabic names (and dates!) stretching back through several hundred years.  Looking even deeper, I realized that a good portion of the original hierogylphics were, themselves, graffiti.  Pharoahs had erased previous pharoahs’ names, carving their own glyphs over older glyphs.  So, perhaps graffiti is more of a continuation of a time-honored tradition than a new and destructive pestilence.

Yet, one can’t help but think that Mr. Letorzec’s knife, working over a fresher surface back in 1820, was Not Quite Right.

Graffiti over hieroglyphs, Merowe, Sudan.


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4 responses to “Un-American Graffiti

  • emily

    When I was an undergrad at Univ. of MN they had an art exhibit on graffiti that was the most interesting art event I have been to see. It was all photography showing real life vandalism, but representing it as an art form. Controversial and thought provoking, but also very beautiful in many cases. Scratching your name on something historical is not a work of art, but the timeline of the vandalism is interesting.

  • Benjamin Buchholz

    In a way, with the little serifs Letorzec put on his letters, his vandalism is also kinda pretty. I think some graffiti in America is really beautiful, actually, but so much more of it is just an eyesore.

  • Benjamin Buchholz

    Reblogged this on Not Quite Right and commented:

    Reblogging this post 1) Because it was a cool one and 2) Because it is now cited on a Wiki as evidence that the French explorer Pierre-Constant Letorzec visited Merowe (the link in the footnotes for Letorzec’s visit to Merowe leads to my Un-American Graffiti webpage! Hot-diggity dog.) http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre-Constant_Letorzec

  • Nadja Notariani

    Each man seeks to leave his mark for future generations. It’s how he is remembered, the deeds of his life that will define how his ‘mark’ is viewed. Very interesting post!

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