Welcome to the Cities issue of Global Graffiti! In this issue, our fourth, we are proud to present short fiction, essays, translation, poetry, and artwork that zeroes in on the ways in which our urban landscapes shape our lives as well as how we shape these spaces in turn.
This interaction between individual and city is one that is interrogated quite well by the art form from which our magazine takes its name. The current exhibit, “Art in the Streets,” showing at the MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) here in Los Angeles, takes up the task of investigating how street artists choose to interpret their city by marking its surfaces. It features artwork from street art pioneers as well as younger artists working in an array of cities, including New York, Los Angeles, São Paulo, and Johannesburg, among others. The exhibit has also sparked a wide range of reactions, from popular acclaim to sharp criticism. Some question the presentation of an art form that is at its roots anti-establishmentarian within the confines of a museum space. Indeed, Banksy is now sponsoring Free Mondays (on other days, general admission runs $10), stating, “I don’t think you should have to pay to look at graffiti. You should only pay if you want to get rid of it.” The question of institutional sponsorship also came up when an anti-war mural by Italian artist Blu commissioned for the exhibit was painted over. Graffiti has always been a controversial art form, though for reasons that have changed over time. A nod to this history of controversy is made by “Art in the Streets” on a small section of wall that displays images from various anti-graffiti campaigns. Now, of course, some of the controversy relates to its commodification as a result of its often ambivalent relationship with the institutional art world.
And yet street art is still powerful because it hits us where we live. It suggests to us our ability to impact our environment rather than merely conforming to it. In his wonderful essay, “Walking in the City,” philosopher Michel de Certeau reflects on the grid-like pattern of streets in midtown Manhattan; he suggests that, although this pattern is imposed on the space, the individual walker still has the capacity to take detours, creating her own “rhetoric of walking,” using the space differently and thus imposing his own influence on that space. Street art reminds us of this capacity. One of the comments that most struck me in the 2007 documentary on graffiti around the world – Bomb It – was that of an LA graffiti writer who saw his work as a type of service, stating that the city is incredibly ugly and suggesting that the city needs his help.
The pieces included in this issue examine the realities and potentialities of urban spaces that include Tirana, Hyderabad, the Veneto and Rome, Mexico City, New York, Atlanta by way of Guyana, and Los Angeles:
We are proud to present “Blinders,” a short story by Harry Gamboa. In this story, Gamboa provides a searing map of the Los Angeles art world, investigating its trajectories and idiosyncrasies. He hilariously lambasts the ways in which that world commodifies political ideologies and artistic production.
Another wonderful fictional offering comes from Mexican author Angelina Muñiz-Huberman. In her short story, “I’ll Never Cross the Street,” translated by Andrea Labinger, the urban landscape becomes a catalyst for the narrator’s reflection on her childhood and the loss of her parents.
We are also happy to introduce our dispatch feature with this issue. The first is a dispatch by Adam Goldwyn about his experience of getting swept up in street protests in the Albanian capital of Tirana in January. In this piece, Goldwyn connects this protest to a broader spirit of contestation gripping other parts of the world this year, while taking some time to reflect on the architecture of the city and what it reveals about Tirana’s history.
The second dispatch, “Love in Hyderabad” by Bhaswati Ghosh, focuses on the author’s deepening love for this Indian city as parallel to the growing love that she feels for her new husband.
In Virginia Agostinelli’s piece, “Envisioning Thirdspace: Spatiality and Marginality in Carlo Mazzacurati’s La giusta distanza,” the author provides critical analysis of Edward Soja’s spatial theories as they relate to the work of contemporary Italian director Carlo Mazzacurati.
In Harold A. Bascom’s short story, “The Weathercock in the Cul-de-sac,” an uncanny rooster crow sparks a sense of community in an Atlanta suburb that is otherwise marked by a distinct lack of intimacy.
“Fototessera,” a short story by K.W. Oxnard, follows the consciousness of a drugged Roman teenager as he reflects on his existential ennui from the vantage point of a photo booth in Rome.
Next up is a trio of pieces located in New York. Noelia Díaz’s essay, “Tulips,” centers on a playground interaction that leads to broader reflections on family, migration, and loss. Barbara Labinger’s story, “Everything Looks Better after Lunch,” also looks at one poignant moment—this one in a New York diner—that leads to a sense of connection in a city that can often isolate. Marjua Estevez’s “Unforgettable, Too” explores the rhythm of the city in poetic form.
Throughout this issue, we are featuring stunning artwork from Colleen Corradi Brannigan’s “Invisible Cities” series. This series of etchings, watercolors, oil paintings, and drawings, takes inspiration from Italo Calvino’s writing, visually representing the imaginary cities described to the Great Kahn by Marco Polo in Calvino’s 1972 novel of the same name.
Global Graffiti turns a year old in a couple of weeks. As we celebrate making it through this year, we hope that you enjoy this issue and send along any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. And keep an eye out for our Issue No. 5 Call for Submissions.