Graffiti: The Silent Revolution

Ricardo Campos, the author of the article Struggles on the walls: Political graffiti in Portugal, tells of the use of graffiti as a vehicle for political expression in Portugal’s tense political climate. Campos suggests that graffiti has become “a common language and shared mechanisms for the production and evaluation of an identical aesthetic.” Graffiti has been a prominent way in which peaceful revolutions manifest themselves since the 1960’s and 1970’s. However, in response to a recent economic and social crisis in Portugal, graffiti has taken a new and important form in Portugal’s urban areas. Colorful and bold displays of defiance through words and art are being painted all over the once-bland walls of city centers.

In the United States we often view the act of doing graffiti as a mindless criminal act. Maybe this is because we often see it in the context of gangs. In reality, many of the graffiti artists in the U.S. start by “tagging” or writing their customized signature or logo on public property. This is an act of forming and shaping identity. This gradually evolves into the artist gaining a sense of who they are as an artist- not just a tagger. The process in Portugal seems to be similar, but more focused around the end goal of making bold political statements to a broad audience (passers by).

From what I have observed living in and traveling to urban areas in the U.S., I see that graffiti can often be found in the form of art, and is less often making a blatant political statement. This contrast appears to show that in the U.S. people are generally using graffiti as method of forming personal identity, while graffiti in Portugal tends to have the goal of reshaping the perspectives of those who view the art, not those who create it. Thus forming more of a collective identity.