Each day in October, the street artist Banksy will unveil a piece in his New York City-wide installation, “Better Out Than In.” His colloquial title pairs nicely with his often wry critique of the ordinary and the expected. The quippish title also toys with that linguistic meeting of the popular and the fringe: if Britons excuse themselves with “better out than in,” graffiti artists “throw up” their works. In a perfectly inappropriate pun, Banksy’s title claims both cliche and subculture. And self-referentially gestures towards Banky’s fondness for subjects that spew the unexpected.
Like so many New Yorkers now chasing after Banksy, I’m a fan. As a San Diegan, I’d long smiled at Shepard Fairey’s Andre the Giant “Obey” stickers. But street art caught more than my eye when I saw it played out in a theatre: I fell for graffiti via playwright Oliver Mayer’s “The Road To L.A.,” which stages a contemporary tagger’s interactions with the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueros, who appears in the play as a contemporary – and still relevant – artist. After the play, I paid more attention to San Diego’s street art. I pilgrimaged to Mexico City to see Siqueiros’s work. I get what Mayer means about public art being at once a youthful immediacy and a legacy.
I appreciate graffiti as cultural expression and political force. And I like graffiti for graffiti’s sake. But graffiti’s ideas speak to blogging, too. Not unlike street artists who insist on hanging art outside the museum, bloggers exist independent of the (print) publishing industry. Like a building’s exterior wall, blogs promise an in to writing that doesn’t require the writer getting in.
Graffiti lends itself to motherhood, too. Like the characters in Mayer’s play, Banksy reminds us that public space belongs to us – the public. Isn’t this what we promise our children? The world is yours. Maybe a young Banksy listened to his mum, so he takes an occasional wall for his canvas. And the public street becomes his own.
I hope my daughters, too, find a way to make the world their own. Like Banksy, let them (re)draw walls. Let them prove that the world is more than boundaries, delineations, and limitations.
Right now, my influence on my young daughters is powerful. I’m who they look to when they wake, when they smile, when they cry. I’m their first, and they fell almost as hard for me as I did for them. But soon enough, the newness of it all will fade and I’ll just be mom. I’ll hover outside of my daughters’ youthful immediacy. Friends and lovers and songs and celebrities and cities will wash over my influence. And by the time my girls come of age, chances are I’ll look the part. I’ll wear gray hair like whitewash. But like whitewashed graffiti I’ll still be there, reminding, encouraging, and challenging. I hope I offer something good. Like this: