Yesterday, as I walked to visit my mother-in-law, I was struck by all the graffiti I passed on the way. This morning as I walked into work, I decided to take photos of some of it and to reflect on what I saw. When I got home and looked at my pictures on the computer, I realised that lots of them had been done by the same person (in fact the photo I have included here has the same tag as one I took a picture of yesterday in a different part of town which I’ll include later in the post). I’m interested that I didn’t notice at the time that they’d been done by the same people: although I was looking closely at each tag as I took the pictures, because it is a language and culture I don’t understand, I didn’t notice that the same marks were being repeated again and again.
I find the individual tags really thought-provoking. I understand that young people spend a long time designing and perfecting their tags (which often include their name or nickname and symbols which matter to them). The tag in this photo seems to include initials and a symbol that looks like a question mark. I saw the two marks at the top left as little ‘ray bursts’, but my daughter thinks that’s supposed to be the eyes of a smiley face… I think it’s fascinating that these tags communicate meaning yet are both revealing and obscuring at the same time. They are designed both to make sense to the chosen few whilst also creating ‘visual noise’ for everyone else. They are very effective at both cohering and excluding. I suppose it is a very powerful way to communicate that you are part of one group and resisting the authority of another.
It’s interesting that we all have this need to make our mark. For some people that might be through graffiti, or it could be through writing a poem, taking a photo, making a garden, taking up a powerful position or having a child. It seems that sometimes we make marks as a way of making meaning and communicating what is important to us.
I find it stimulating to think about these things as I reflect on the life of Jesus during Lent. As far as I know, the only record of him making any marks at all is when he doodled on the ground with his finger while some powerful people were trying to trap him. I expect that must have really irritated them (and I would so love to know what he doodled!). Perhaps the next time we see a bit of graffiti, we can move beyond our irritation and reflect for a moment on what might be the meaning behind the visual noise.
As I was thinking about mark making yesterday, I thought I’d include a photo today of a zentangle I drew recently. I only discovered these a few months ago but have really enjoyed learning to create them. There’s something deeply stilling about working on one. Although I have never made a mandala, I imagine that the meditative state they induce is very similar. For me they are effective partly because they integrate light and shade so effectively: they seem to create an internal feeling of balance. (Careful observers might notice the feeble attempt at a graffiti-style tag at the bottom righthand corner!)
Thank you for reading. If you are interested in looking at photos that others have taken in response to this challenge, you can follow Shelley here, Sharon here and Lisa here. My apologies if you’ve been trying to follow links to Sharon’s postings and have ended up on the wrong page. The links should now work properly!