Cultural Graffiti: A 5 Day Experiment

I had a great response to the format of the 5 Day Experiment i recently shared around ‘Storytelling in Social Leadership’. It was the first in a series of these practical activities, and today i am sharing the structure of the next one, which explores Cultural Graffiti.

Graffiti represents a claimed voice, one that can be taken when all other power or voice has been stolen from you. It’s often utilised in edge-land spaces, intertidal zones, partly out of sight, unloved, unclaimed. And it may be both untidy, and highly authentic, at the same time.

I talk about Cultural Graffiti to describe voices that are claimed within the social spaces of our Organisations, voices that do not directly parrot the formal view, but choose to represent a difference, an opposition, or a counter story. These may not be voices that we want to hear, but we are weaker if they are hidden to us, because they may represent a certain wisdom.

Cultural Graffiti

I use a notion of ‘Sanctioned Subversion’: sometimes a wall is made available for people to draw on, it’s permitted, sanctioned. In similar vein, we can choose to create spaces to hear those voices of opposition or dissent, and choose to be ready to listen to them.

The 5 Day Experiment runs through five separate aspects to explore this.

First, we look around us and map the Edge-Land spaces: i’m working on a structure to support this analysis which i will share later this week.

  • Visibility – how visible is the space? Is it an open space, or a closed one? Can anyone join, or is it by invite only? Is it mainstream, or peripheral? Is it a destination space, or a glimpse through a window?
  • Transience – how permanent is the space? Does it last forever, or wash away with the tide? Can you withdraw a conversation, or can someone else silence it? Is it like a conversation that floats away on the breeze and is gone forever, or is it carved in stone, for eternity?
  • Consequence – what forms of consequence exist? Are you breaking a rule, or simply social convention? Do formal rules apply, or social ones? Does a conversation here count as a ‘work’ one, or is it a social opinion on the side? Is this space formal, or fully social?
  • Ownership – do you own what you write, or does someone else? Is it attributable, or anonymous? Can you silence others, or does everyone own the space?

Graffiti Story

On the second day, we consider the art of graffiti, and i ask you to curate an example, and tell a graffiti story. I have previously shared a couple of examples of these. Similarly we can use a structured format to explore this:

  • Story – what story does the graffiti tell? By reading it, or looking at it, can you see what the story is. You may feel that some of the following are relevant ways to describe it:
  1. Story of protest
  2. Story of opposition
  3. Story of support
  4. Story of love
  5. Story of hate
  6. Story of hope
  7. Story of one person
  8. Story of a community
  9. Story for change
  10. Story for stasis, to keep things the same
  • Voice – is this voice permitted, or claimed, anonymous, or owned? Is this voice one of irony, celebration, protest, or joy?
  • Purpose – what is the purpose of this story? To celebrate, drive change, add comment, vent frustration, to infuriate, or placate?
  • Context – does the context of the story relate to the story itself? For example, Banksy typically posts graffiti in a context that is relevant to the story itself. A political statement painted on the side of a parliament building is different from the same story drawn in your bedroom.

The third day is an opportunity to create a ‘Sanctioned Subversion’ space, perhaps by making a half drawn poster, or structured discussion group. These are examples of the types of poster you could make:

  • Change is always good”,
  • What we do today is not enough
  • We are at the peak of our potential
  • More new ideas are always better
  • Different generations think differently

Each one includes the incitement to ‘Graffiti this poster’.

The fourth day explores how someone may be silenced. Examples may include:

Here are some examples of how your voice can be taken away:

  • You can be told to be silent
  • You may exist within a dominant societal narrative where you have no voice
  • You may exist under strict rules and strong consequence
  • You may be uncertain what is allowed, so you play it safe
  • You may have been penalised before, so you play it safe now
  • You may have seen others penalised or persecuted, so you have learnt to be silent by proxy
  • You may believe that an issue is not YOUR issue, so you ignore it
  • You may lack access to spaces where you can speak safely
  • You may lack the tools or technologies to tell your story
  • You may feel that you lack authenticity or permission to tell a story
  • You may not be clear exactly what the story is
  • You may be too angry to tell a story
  • You may be too passive to have a voice
  • Someone may have stolen your voice
  • You may find yourself painted into a corner where you are characterised as a troublemaker

The activity is to explore and expand on this.

The final day sees the creation of Guidelines that you can use in your own practice, or broader Organisation, based upon the experience of the experiment.

I will run a couple of groups through this, and share any of my own learning as i go.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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3 Responses to Cultural Graffiti: A 5 Day Experiment

  1. Drina says:

    Great article, although I have an appreciation for the graphic art of Grafitti, I have never looked at it from this point of view.

  2. Pingback: Cultural Graffiti: A 5 Day Experiment – Day 2 – Curation | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  3. Pingback: Prototyping the Community Builder Certification | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

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