Books

How B****y didn’t conquer the Middle East

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When the new book by Sabrina DeTurk plonked through the letter box and I saw the title I admit I wasn’t too enthused. Firstly street art ain’t particularly my cup-of-tea and secondly the topic of Street Art in the Middle East isn’t exactly uncovered ground since the Arab Spring. I hold some vague theory that the street art that accompanied the uprisings was seized on by Western spectators as an easy visualisation of events in an otherwise politically alien landscape. It was perhaps proof this ‘backward’ region was yearning for Western values and culture. The attention on street art was another simplification of events that fed into, what David Wearing calls, “a deeply ingrained set of basically racist assumptions that frame many people’s understanding of our relationship with this part of the world.”

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Objects in a Glass Case

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I recently got sent a copy of Scribbling Through History which was released just last year and is one of a whole slew of academic books on graffiti that have been published recently. The cover promises the long view on graffiti stretching back from antiquity to the present. Predictably enough, of twelve chapters, the two that cover modernity focus on the Middle-East and the internet. The rest of the content delves deeper into history where the modern idea of what constitutes graffiti becomes blurred with a greater variety of interpretation.

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Écrivez partout !

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Delete Elite by Ben Brohanszky is my new favourite book! Published just last year the title, taken from off the street, is intended as a statement. The book is pitched as a study of ‘conceptual graffiti’ and contains the stuff that doesn’t neatly fit within the street-art/graffiti binary. Instead it is an esoteric meander that takes the reader from the earliest roots of modern graffiti to its contemporary manifestations. From the Provo movement through to Néma this is a tour of wall writing on the boundaries of the conventional graffiti movement. The whole book is meticulously referenced, and footnoted throughout, but also has a casual style which includes line drawings done by the author with his eyes closed.

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Framing A Counter-Narrative

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When I first picked up Graffiti Grrlz I thought the book might contain an argument along the lines of how women are excluded from the masculine graffiti subculture. Actually the book’s author, Jessica Pabón-Colón, has written a positive account of female involvement in graffiti. That’s not to say the book paints a completely rosy picture but that it concentrates on how women practice and contribute to graffiti in an empowering way. Pabón-Colón wants her book to weave the “individual stories (of female participation) into a narrative about how they navigate their experiences as a collective within the subculture”. Through this narrative Graffiti Grrlz provides new and original insights into graffiti. The book explores the activities of female writers, based on interviews with the author, and how they ‘perform’ feminism through the graffiti subculture. From Africa to South America, graffiti jams to graffiti collectives, digital social networks and the internet archive there’s a broad range of experiences covered.

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(Un)Titled//Titled

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Before I begin this review I have to admit to being the type of ‘non-specialised sceptic’ who Andrea Baldini criticises in the recent Un(Authorized)//Commissioned book. The publication he writes in can be regarded as a curators guide to exhibiting graffiti. This is not a topic that would usually appeal to me so, not being a particular expert nor a lover of art-galleries, I approached the book with mild cynicism. However the book brings up some interesting ideas that are worth discussing and has changed my opinion to some extent.

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Le Langage Du Mer ?

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As an Englishman my ability to speak any language except my own is severely limited. So when I first picked up Graffiti Brassaï: Le Langage Du Mur I was a bit puzzled how graffiti could be the language of the sea? I quickly realised my mistake! In fact this is the first serious art-historical study of Brassaï’s Graffiti photography series. Researched by the curator Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska the book sheds light on the artist Brassaï and graffiti as his subject.

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Changing the Urban Wallpaper

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Advertising Shits in Your Head is a new handy pocket guide to modern advertising and, more importantly, how it can be subverted. Published by Dog Section Press just last year it has already run into a second edition. The book’s title was originally used in an article by a certain Bill Posters where he attacks advertisers who surreptitiously “shit in your head”. Expanding on this Advertising Shits in Your Head discusses why advertising should be regarded as such a problem and how it can be tackled effectively. The publishers tell me the book is “intended as a call to arms against the outdoor advertising industry particularly, and capitalism generally. It’s also an exploration of the origins of the modern day, international subvertising movement, and a guide to some of the theory and practice underpinning it.”

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