I actually enjoy graffiti.
Some of it, anyway.
I’m not talking about “gang tags” or spray painted declarations such as “Terry Loves Sherry”. Or anything nonsensical and/or without artistic merit done merely to deface a public building or sacred place.
That having been said, I have to admit that I have fond memories of waiting at railway crossings and seeing the sometimes ingenious renderings of graffiti artists on the boxcars of trains. I have also found what I personally considered to be beautiful art, whether in the form of pictures or slogans, in places where I probably should not have been wandering (tunnels, underpasses, etc.).
Graffiti (from the Italian graffiato, meaning “scratched”) has been with us since antiquity, examples having been found in sites in Egypt, Asia, and the remains of the Roman Empire. Much in line with today’s graffiti, these examples have ranged from the political to the humorous (so often tragically entertwined) to the sexual, purely artistic, and often idiotic quotations that are nothing more than mere vandalism.
Which, at long last, brings me to my point.
On 17 February, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Willofield, east Belfast, received some unwelcomed decorations to it’s front doors.
Anti-“Fenian” and pro-Ulster Volunteer Force slogans were poorly scrawled upon the twin doors of the church.
This act follows in the wake of the recent vandalism of a memorial commemorating James McCurrie and Robert Neill, shot by the IRA in the Newtowns Road area on 27 June, 1970. The vandals tore down a union flag and smashed several flower pots.
Directly prior to this incident, a Bessbrook Armagh memorial, dedicated to ten Protestant men killed by the IRA in 1976, was splashed with paint. It was not the first time either of these memorials had been vandalised. Nor was the defacing of St. Anthony’s Church the first time a Catholic or nationalist memorial or landmark similarly violated.
I can only hope that these incidents were the acts of disgruntled juvenilles and not persons who consider themselves adults. Whomever the perpetrators where, they have accomplished one thing only; they have proven themselves to be talentless, resourceless miscreants, adding fuel to the fire of sectarian conflict in the northern counties of Ireland.
Some of the ancient graffiti we are able to view comes from Pompeii, famous of course for being destroyed by a volcanic eruption. Some of the graffiti found were curses, others poetry, some sexual in nature, and others poltical. I would like to think that some of them said things like “VOLCANOES OUT NOW!”,
or “BETTER TO DIE ON YOUR FEET IN A VOLCANIC ERUPTION THAN LIVE ON YOUR KNEES…UH…IN A PLACE WITHOUT ACTIVE VOLCANOES?”
If you want to use graffiti as a form of political or social protest, go for it. In my humble opinion, if you actually wish to achieve something using graffiti, it would be best not to employ it on shrines, graves, churches, people’s homes, or other places that are considered to be sacred or safe to the public at large. Otherwise, your efforts are for nothing, unless what you’re after is “physical graffiti” (all apologies), of which you yourself may become a part.