Graffiti: A Democratic Medium and Gateway to Social Change


Dating “back as far as ancient Rome and Pompeii,” graffiti is a cultural practice that, while often regarded as contemporary, has existed throughout most of human civilization. Like art, graffiti is a means of visual expression, and through it people are able to convey messages and emotion. What sets it apart from traditional mediums is it’s usual anonymity, and it’s general use of public spaces in more urban areas.  Ricardo Campos, a visual anthropologist and writer for Popular Anthropology, details in his article “Struggles on the walls: Political graffiti in Portugal” that graffiti is a medium for great change.  As he points out, “graffiti marked onto public spaces can be particularly powerful because it has the potential to reach immense audiences.” This power, combined with the anonymity of the artist, allows messages to be conveyed to the public that might otherwise be censored or checked by society or the artist. What’s more, ordinary citizens of any class can make graffiti. In Portugal, as Campos describes, graffiti has given the people a “new willingness to engage in political communication,” and I believe this goes for most anywhere where graffiti is displayed. It is a medium of the general populous, and it is a reflection of the culture behind traditional advertisement and funded propaganda. Anthropology, and more specifically visual anthropology, can definitely learn a lot from graffiti itself and its artists, as it is an art form that, as said before, rests at the very heart of regional culture and is created solely by the people.