Monday, March 30, 2009

On the meaning of grafitti and the Dalai Lama

Not long ago Basil Manning, who was an exile in Botswana during the 1980s, gave me an interesting perspective on the role and meaning of grafitti. Apparently his son picked this up while studying in America where grafitti can be found on numerous buses, trains and the walls of certain neighbourhoods.

According to him the painting of grafitti represents a way of making your presence felt, of stating that you also have a place and a right in a particular place, neighbourhood or area, of saying: “I was here and I belong here!”

Of course, grafitti is often also used by hooligans to shock people by confronting them with their own vulgar and obscene impulses in public spaces. But in most instances, according to my friend, it is an act of protest, a way of standing up against the more powerful who, for whatever reason, discriminate against others by not even noticing them, thus excluding those they count as less significant from certain places and denying them freedom of movement and expression. In essence it is a bold statement (“Hello, I’m here as well, you know!”) and even an honest cry for acceptance.

Against this background, it is a great pity when these or similar signs of human struggle, such traces of the need and suffering of relatively marginalised people, are deliberately and blatantly ignored, scorned or carelessly removed. This was part of the sad discovery of the author Andre P Brink after his visit to the scant remains of the concentration camp at Dachau in the south of Germany - there is not even the slightest reminder left of the former inhabitants; their captors had not allowed, in fact severely punished, any attempt at scribbling a message how ever cursory and anonymous, thus one finds no initials scratched into wood or paint, no last message, no grafitti on a wall. This discovery not only drove Brink to tears, it also brought him to write in his latest Memoirs: Nobody should ever be denied the right to cry out: I was here. I am!

Is this not to some extent what happened to the Dalai Lama during the past week? The denial of a visa is also a denial of the opportunity to make any kind of contribution. Sadly, such limitation comes from people, from a government, who should have known better; who during a period of our own history also had to struggle for recognition, for a space in which to be heard, for the right to be. And now they have obviously forgotten, have denied that same right to a figure of undisputed integrity, a man who has become a symbol of peaceful resistance to unchecked, ruthless authority. And that in exchange for financial gain! How sad can it still become?

Carel Anthonissen

1 comment:

  1. Carel, kan jy my dalk help ... ek is op soek na 'n kontaknommer van Cecile Cilliers (sien haar naam verskyn hier op jou blog). Dalk kan jy dit epos na