visual black culture



Discrimination against African Americans within the United States has been a recognised problem for decades. Many were forced into sub standard accommodation in areas of cities, which came to be known as ghettos during the first, half of the twentieth century. Within the ghettos the African American community became a segregated underclass. The poverty experienced by the black community was amplified by the discrimination in employment, the better jobs being reserved for white workers. More recently, during the 70s and 80s, campaigns have been set up to end the segregation of the black community. Although the majority of white community agrees with the principal of these campaigns, many still have problems with the practical implications. The result is that urban segregation in the United States is still a serious problem.
In the early 80s the United States got pretty rich, young people were getting more successful and women were making it in business more than ever before. Changes like this were obviously being picked up on by the art world. New, or ‘neo’ expressionism was beginning to appear and work to do with age, gender and ethnic background was becoming more and more popular. The art world imitated the financial world and started to charge huge prices for the work of big name artists. At this time not just artists were celebrities some gallery owners and dealers were getting as much praise such as Mary Boone. The most interesting thing to come out of the period was the way that work that was post-modern was becoming more recognised. That is at least from the point of view of the gallery.
It is thought that the first writer in New York, if not the first to get noticed, was TAKI 183. He was called so as he lived on 183rd street and his real name was Dimitrius, the Greek name for which Taki is a nickname. His name appeared so regularly because he had a job as a messenger and this meant that he had to ride the subway a lot. So he wrote his name or ‘tag’ on most of the trains and stations. This inspired a whole load of other kids to do the same and after an article in The New York Times hundreds of kids wanted their name on the subway cars as well. The effect was snowballing and tags were everywhere. Credit started to be given only to those who could tag somewhere that was hard to reach as a tag would stand alone rather than be crowded by others.
Although most graffiti was seen in the seventies and eighties it did in fact start in the late sixties. New York kids started to write their names on the walls, doors and bins and anywhere else they could. Like TAKI 183 they did not use their real names, but instead used psudonomes. This meant that only a select few would know who they were. Graffiti was also used as territorial message amongst gangs who want to claim an area as their own. It only really became an art form when people had to develop their tags to stand out from those of the masses. The vandal was becoming an artist. Tags of peoples names were becoming logos. The lettering was played around with so it would become easily recognizable to other writers. After some time colour was added and as it was the size or the paintings grew. Style became as important as the words, which continued to grow until such masterpieces filled entire walls or train carriages. The ‘top to bottom whole car’ is an entire carriage of a train painted from roof to wheels, including walls and doors. This is almost always the greatest achievement for a writer although some gangs or ‘crews’ have completed whole trains.
In the eighties graffiti swayed towards mainstream fine art but never went that far and stayed a culture rather than a genre. These days it is in every city in the world.
A great deal of people do not understand the depth of what is behind graffiti. Although graffiti is relatively young in most people’s eyes, it is really no different from cave man paintings. These were made on the walls of the caves using blood