Graffiti 10, 2016

beating heart of the streets

Hasta la victoria siempre! (Until Victory, Always: Che Guevara’s most famous quotation. Ed.) is universally present in Havana. It pounds, laughs and sighs from the walls of the city, a polyphonic voice of the people,
a cryptic greeting from walled-up windows and a confident, broad-chested strut at dilapidated crossroads.
As all around crumbles, it indomitably holds up the flag of the future.
A tireless utopia of the revolution, it proclaims eternal longing for the single idea that leaves all injustice and inequality behind. It dreams a dream, yet also conveys a critical warning. Every painted or written word on a wall conceals enormous power. The graffiti tears down walls, both of masonry and the mind, and makes use of the stones it seeks to tumble as a canvas. It is a subversive and dialectic iconoclast. It is usually a weapon of the young, of the new generation that lacks an official voice of its own.
Honest, authentic photography generally confronts this anarchist urge as an impartial observer, following the graffiti show from a safe distance. Yet occasionally it approaches to examine details more closely, recognizing graffiti as a companion in its colourful, whimsical freedom. Graffiti, too, is a sensuous shaper of the environment and a provocative critic of reality. Graffiti, too, directly incorporates its surroundings into its mode of expression. Like photography, it seeks to communicate with people and objects.
For all those that pay attention, graffiti becomes the beating heart of the streets. It proves that the grey, stupefying masses of built-up masonry and concrete may yet house something like free, untrammelled life.
Photography doffs its hat in respect! To reveal bold, anarchist resistance in all its finesse and capture it in an image, it deliberately maps out an aesthetic frame, thus capturing the explosive, silent cry for freedom.
Photography is not so quick to be covered by paint or whitewash; photography remains. In the background, the annals of time rise grimly, seemingly numb and damned to an eternal grey present. Yet the graffiti rouses people again, calling “Until victory, always!” in tones loud or soft, transforming mere masonry into a blend of a canvas of sarcasm and a living Wailing Wall, depending on the circumstances: the more repressive the political or social system, the more impish the gesture with which graffiti taps passers-by on the shoulder from its position on the wall.

Text by Stephan Reisner

Bildübersicht Grafitti in Havana von Werner Pawlok