Monday, February 24, 2020
Graffitti, that 'something' which keeps becoming
It feels so good that Graffitti is writing its own history, obviously written from the perspective of the present. Despite a few omissions the recent documentary “R/Evoluzzjoni’ on its 25 years of activism, is well produced and does capture the general drift.
Of course from the perspective of someone who lived through the initial years of the movement along with some other towering figures (like Michael Briguglio, Mary Grace Vella, Mark Vella, Silvan Agius and so many others), there is one notable change which deserves further analysis.
Graffitti originated as a dysfunctional ideological movement, somewhat similar to left wing continental groups in the late 1960s and 1970s, which drifted in a plurality of directions (ranging from militant struggles directed at the heart of the state to reformist green politics) in subsequent years.
It was also transposed in to the barren political landscape of the 1990s. It could have gone in so many directions and was super charged by a mixture of existential questions, personal quests and powerful egos, meeting of minds and wills, counter cultural life styles and ideology. It was an explosive mix which for me was for a time all consuming.
In many ways it was a ‘band’ keen on giving shocks to the system. I recall for example waking up with a hang over, with 5 others to protest malta’s international stance against abortion and for a while being scorned as pariahs…or packing up my books before embarking on the Hilton hunger strike...or attending a youth festival in Cuba where we met first hand with what remained of real existing socialism which ended with me delaying a whole plane after leaving my bag full of treasured T shirts at the airport….There was also a tension between intellectual curiosity and dogmatic certainities, many times playful but sometimes oppressive.
25 years on Graffitti is no longer dysfunctional. It has inserted itself in the social fabric and thrives on alliances and an ecosystem which is also nurtured by a wider network which also includes people in the media and the institutions. Some may even say that Graffitti would be better off as a more moderate organisation able to attract mainstream people.
Sure that perspective originates in some of the campaigns of the early 2000s in which the original band was still the driving force. The departure of some of the early protagonists (most of which joined Alternattiva in a similar way as many far left activists did on the continent ) did for a time resurrect the anarchist streak which always refuses to die away (and thank god for that), but eventually Graffitti did settle down as an effective community organiser which is able to speak to people rather than just shock them, more of a facilitator than a vanguard keen on converting the masses to the right path.
Still the aesthetics of revolution still haunt the imaginary of this group. Without it, it would not have lasted so long. It is what gives these fine people a sense of purpose and belonging. It is also that flame which I personally still find so seductive.
Ultimately it is the seductive appeal of ‘the revolution’ and the counter cultural streak which makes graffitti what it is; a rhizome which thrives on multiplicity.
It cannot ever be just another reformist environmentalist or social activist group but it a ‘something’ which has deep roots but which is still pregnant with opportunity and the prospect of becoming. It can be both a particle and a wave.
As Deleuze and Guattari observe a 'rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.'