Many visitors to the larger Spanish, and indeed European, cities have remarked upon the graffiti there: Is it legal? What does it say? Who does it and how do they get to some of those seemingly inaccessible places anyway!?
The word graffiti stems from the Italian word graffiato meaning scratched which is appropriate because in ancient times graffiti was often scratched into walls by using a sharp object. It is tempting to think of graffiti as only a temporary blot on a permanent structure, but visitors to the cathedral in Granada will notice the name “Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera” etched very neatly onto the façade. When the leader and founder of the extreme right-wing Falangist party was killed very early on in the Spanish civil war, it is said his supporters heralded him as a martyr and scratched his name onto every cathedral in Spain.
For an example of older graffiti in Spain, 500 years older in fact, on the walls of the university of Salamanca you can still clearly see the word “Victor” (victorious). Upon graduation, students would throw a huge party, bullfighting included, and afterwards use the bull’s blood to make the paint
Graffiti today can be a mixture of art, “tags”, and personal and political notes. It is a way of leaving a mark or making a comment on society. Some is illegal and vandalism for vandalism’s sake and some is encouraged and authorized in spots which are specially set aside. In Madrid it is now possible to go on graffiti tours and meet the upcoming artists who are constantly changing the face of the city.
On a recent tour in Cordoba we saw the above graffiti stencils reflecting the current difficult political climate in Spain. The scissors to the left of the image refer to the budget “cuts” made by the ruling party Partido Popular, the initials PP cleverly incorporated. The familiar “Drink Coca-Cola” logo on the right has been transformed into an universal appeal “Take Conscience.” It was certainly effective in getting us to pay attention and was the jumping-off point for a debate about current affairs and the role of graffiti itself.
While graffiti is obviously not an exclusively European phenomenon, it can be an interesting gauge of young people’s current, and as we have seen, past preoccupations.