Tuesday, January 20, 2004


From the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary:


Pronunciation: gr&-'fE-(")tO, gra-, grä-
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural graf·fi·ti /-(")tE/
Etymology: Italian, incised inscription, from graffiare to scratch, probably from grafio stylus, from Latin graphium

: an inscription or drawing made on some public surface (as a rock or wall)


If you go to KLCC via the Putra LRT nowadays, you are bound to notice the ‘Ekspresi Natural’ (Natural Expression) zone sponsored by Lipton along the tunnel from the LRT station to the mall itself. There are seven (correct me if I’m wrong) ‘panels’ where the public can do stuff like scribble or draw on it, make sounds and there’s even a panel that looks like an empty music sheet, where one could go and write a short composition if one wishes to.

I found the idea interesting, and it was indeed a different sight from to the usual advertisement panels. The thing that struck me was that marker pens weren’t provided whereas most of the panels are in form of white-boards, so I presume you’d have to bring your own. Seemed like a lot of people do carry along marker pens in their bags/pockets, for I found the white-board panels scribbled with a colorful mix of statements nevertheless.

For other people (like yours truly) who do not make it a habit to carry multi-colored marker pens on their person, don’t fret, there’s still hope for us. Target the red panel where you can simply use pressure from your fingers (or nose, elbow or any body part you wish as long as you’re not risking indecent exposure charges) to make your statement or leave your mark. Which was what I did (use my fingers, that is).

Can you detect my mark there?

Let’s get a closer look.

Yes, that's my own 'stylized signature' there.

And this is how it looks like in a negative setting. I found you could see the background better this way.

I delved on an online search on graffiti, and found out from this interesting paper that the above form of graffiti can be categorized as tagging.

Tagging is described as a stylized signature that a writer marks on the environment - the most widespread type of graffiti that has been inscribed on the walls, buses and trains of the urban environment. The writer feels a sense of power by participating in an activity and culture that is so active and has such a visible effect on their physical surroundings.

Gosh, how true. I have to admit that I found myself feeling that so-called ‘sense of power’ while I was doing it.

According to a forum discussion at the Department of Communication Studies of the California State University, Northridge:

Graffiti is the language that gangs use to communicate. Gangs need graffiti to make their mark and to claim their territory, in order to claim their place in the neighborhood. Once they have claimed their place, gangs need to make sure that they are able to keep it.

Gasp! Am I part of a gang now? The ‘Lipton-Ekspresi-Natural’ gang, or LEN for short?

Gangs are all about being in a positive environment. People join gangs to belong. The gang members want to feel as if they are part of something. They need to fill a void in their lives.

Ok. Now I feel much better. It’s a positive thing to be in a gang, apparently. Void in my life.. erm…. I think it must’ve been the void in my stomach at that particular time which prompted me to do it.

Later I came upon this on bathroom graffiti. Yes, somebody from the University of Iowa actually did a piece on those extra-curricular writings by aspiring poets on the walls of campus toilets, and found that :

1) The degrading of minority groups is often seen in men’s graffiti, possibly because men may perceive the subordinate groups as threatening, reflecting the subjective concerns and fears experienced by men. Men strive to reaffirm and maintain their superior position in society;


2) Women’s bathroom graffiti is often cooperative and helpful. In contrast to men, women strive to alter their position in the stratified society, or at least find ways to deal with their situation.

Deep, huh?

And furthermore,

Women’s graffiti contained a lot of questions compared to men’s. The abundance of questions in women’s graffiti shows that women look to other women for advice, perhaps with the mindset that any woman will be likely to understand and react to the situation.

The lack of questions from men may show that men are less concerned with the opinions of other anonymous men when dealing with problems. It is more likely, however, that the context of bathroom graffiti is not seen as an appropriate place to solicit advice from other men.

Well, perhaps the situation do not apply as such in our culture, for I’ve been to many women’s public restrooms, and I don’t think there is an “abundance of questions in women’s graffiti” here. For the men’s, I can’t comment lah, obviously. The only times I’ve stepped inside a men’s restroom were all tersilap masuk cases, and even then only one step or two before I realized that there were strange-looking contraptions in there and that’s not where I belong. What say you?

Gang graffiti, bathroom graffiti, if people keep their marker pens / aerosol paint cans / brushes away from the public walls / seats / doors, there would be less of them colorful phrases in the urban environment. But then, you can always go to the ‘Ekspresi Natural’ zone, and scribble away! (don’t forget the marker pens though– whiteboard type, of course).

Reference Links:

1) Graffiti as a Language and its Meaning

2) Graffiti: Evidence of gender differences or similarities in communication

3) Gang Graffiti @ Streetgangs.com (with a graffiti gallery)

4) Gang Graffiti on the City Landscape
(a 25-page paper by Alonso, Alejandro A., presented at the Western Geography Graduate Conference, San Diego State University, February 14, 1998)

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