The Building Conservation Directory 2022

PROTECT ION & REMEDIAL TREATMENT 4.1 129 C AT H E D R A L C O MM U N I C AT I O N S T H E B U I L D I N G C O N S E R VAT I O N D I R E C T O R Y 2 0 2 2 GRAFFITI IN CONTEXT from cultural phenomenon to heritage crime CATHERINE WOOLFITT T HE PREVALENCE of graffiti reflects the turbulence of the current social and political climate. Monuments associated with controversial historic figures and events (‘contested heritage’) have been increasingly targeted in recent years. Prominent examples include repeated graffiti attacks on the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, London, and the graffitied sculpture of the slave trader Edward Colston, which was toppled by protesters in 2020 and is now displayed in a museum. Historically, graffiti has been an outlet for political or social protest, to express views at variance with the status quo, including, for example, the highly evocative words and images conscientious objectors inscribed on their cell walls at Richmond Castle and elsewhere during the first world war. In many cases, however, graffiti bears no relationship to the building or site where it is applied. Perpetrators typically target building surfaces indiscriminately, regardless of whether they are modern or historic, apparently selecting surfaces that present a blank canvas, high visibility, and, in some cases, a physical challenge. Although graffiti is most pervasive in urban areas, it extends to sites in remote or rural settings where illicit, anti-social behaviour may be the motivating factor, or, more rarely, where specific groups or individuals target a monument for its symbolic or religious significance. The term graffiti derives from the Greek word γράφειν (graphein) meaning to write . Fundamentally, graffiti in whatever form, pictures, symbols, text, whether inscribed (cut) into surfaces, or applied with paint or other media, is a form of communication. Understanding the motivation of the graffitist and the message being conveyed may inform preventive measures, which range from physical barriers that might be deployed against recurrent attacks, to broader social and educational engagement aimed at preventing further incidents. STREET ART VERSUS GRAFFITI In some urban areas, for example Stokes Croft, Bristol, and Camden, London, street art forms an integral part of the alternative, unconventional character of the streetscape and the ‘sense of place’. The street art movement is often cited as a contributing factor to the proliferation of graffiti. It is true that spray paint, so commonly used by street artists, has become the most popular graffiti medium, The nature of the problem. The historic building façades forming the background to this urban skate park have been covered as graffitists reach progressively higher to make their marks. The building to left of frame is a Grade II listed swimming pool. (All photos: Catherine Woolfitt)