When in Rome: Graffiti

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Rome, La Città Eterna, arrests man through the glory of its architecture, sculptures and paintings, but, as the sun sets on the Eternal City and the metal shutters are pulled down over shop doors, visitors encounter a different city, adorned with a different kind of art — graffiti. 

Most of us respond to this vandalism with disappointment. Why must this otherwise beautiful city be filled with ugly neon scrawlings on trains and down alleys? 

Grace Kendall, a junior art history major, usually finds graffiti as an act of vandalism deplorable. She does believe that it can reflect the good but is also cautious about its capability for destruction.

In a more unusual perspective, Mr. Steven Foutch, head of the art department, finds graffiti fascinating. He suggests that students ask themselves: “Does it feed the eyes? Is it beautiful? Is it useful?”

Foutch believes that, juxtaposed to beautiful landmarks such as Piazza Navona, graffiti can be shocking and even repulsive, but one must remember the importance that graffiti has had throughout history as “a kind of message board for those without a platform from which to speak.” He thinks of it as a way to “start a conversation on one’s own terms.” 

One of Foutch’s favorite works of graffiti in Rome is the image of a nun praying the rosary. Hidden at the bottom of a crowded flight of steps, it allows the viewer only a moment’s glance but creates “an intimate moment of connection with the unknown artist.” 

His other favorite is one of Superman speed-eating cheeseburgers.

“Roman graffiti has been a gateway to understanding the Roman person since Classical antiquity,” said junior history major, Joey Bremer. 

Although not in Rome, Bremer’s favorite example of graffiti is in Pompeii. It reads, “On April 19, I made bread.” Not only is this humorous, but it also shows how graffiti is, according to Bremer, “the voice of the common man.” 

This suggests that graffiti, as well as the great works of art, can serve to unite us all in the human experience. Foutch considers works of graffiti to be “echoes of the unseen culture” of Rome. So far as these images represent the “right now,” he said, they contribute to the timelessness of the city. 

He also admires how, even though vandalism is a subversive act, there exists a “code of respect among these artists” for each other and for important, historical art.

As UD students, we have our own versions of communication through graffiti in the Rome campus’s Shakespeare Alley and the Charity Week jail.

Just this past week, passionate scrawlings appeared on the Charity Week jail where incarcerated students wrote poetry, jokes and musings in order to entertain themselves and others.

The Shakespeare Alley, a wall on the Rome campus on which students are encouraged to graffiti, bridges the great divide between Fromers and Spromers by allowing them to pass down their memories, advice and artwork.

Next time you are in Rome, pay attention to the graffiti on the sidewalks and alleyways and question whether it adds or detracts from the beauty of the Eternal City.

For any who wish to further explore the history of graffiti in Rome, Foutch recommends the website “The Ancient Graffiti Project.”

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