I don’t claim to be an expert on graffiti, but many of the Romans I’ve met do. As Americans, we are quick to point out the unseemly graffiti that seems to be everywhere in Rome. When I say everywhere, I really do mean everywhere, except maybe on UNESCO protected monuments. Romans are quick to inform you, however, that graffiti was born in Rome, and they take great pride in the personal expressions that cover every surface. So the question you should be asking is, why do I feel so compelled to discuss graffiti with you?
Over the weekend, the Rome Arcadia Center held a ‘Graffiti Workshop’ for students. Maybe their aim was to reassure us that we aren’t living in dangerous ganglands that graffiti is typically associated with, but realistically, it was to educate us on how graffiti has played a role in shaping Rome.
Saturday morning we ventured into an area we expected to be the boondocks for how far away it seemed to be. This is a good place to tell you that Rome is massive. To put it into perspective, Rome is almost ten times the size of Washington D.C. The point being, Rome isn’t just the touristy City Center most people find themselves in during their stay. That being said, the forty minute metro ride brought us, surprisingly, to an area, Quadraro, much like the neighborhood that we reside in. Quadraro was important during World War II because it was known for being anti-fascist, even called the ‘Hornet’s Nest’ for this reason.
The main event of Saturday was a bike tour through Quadraro and neighboring areas, guided by a member of the Street Heart Project. Street Heart in Rome is a wonderful program that encourages artists from around the world to come to Rome to produce pieces of street art for the city. The goal is to cut down on random graffiti tagging to create pieces that the community can be proud of. Famous street artists like Buff Monster, Jef Aerosol, and ETAM CRU have all done pieces in Quadraro. The most important thing I took away from the tour was that while graffiti might be unseemly, such beautiful street art as the pieces I saw would not have been born without it.
The workshop didn’t stop there. Arcadia arranged for us to collaborate with a well known Roman street artist, MauPal. MauPal, Mauro Pallotta, is most famous in Rome for his street art piece known as ‘Super Pope’ which depicts Pope Francis as a super hero. I recommend looking at his other works as well, they are incredible.
We worked with MauPal to create our very own street art mural. Under the theme of gender equality, we tried to take such a complex idea and make it simple enough that a child could understand. Let me tell you, street art isn’t all fun and games. Being a street artist for a day, I learned some very harsh realities. While painting, spiders found themselves covered in paint while crawling down our canvas, mosquitoes feasted on our bare skin for hours, and sticks and dirt covered my clothing from sitting on the ground to create my work of art.
In the end, our masterpiece might not have been at the level of MauPal, but it was something we can be proud of. A piece of us will live on in the Eternal City, and that’s not something many people can say. Also, if I ever run for president, at least there is proof I’ve always stood for gender equality.
What I hope you take from this is, first and foremost, is that I did something really awesome, but also that there will be parts of any new city you find yourself in that don't, at first glance, evoke positive emotions in you. I initially had a negative reaction to the graffiti I walked passed in Rome, viewing it as ugly and dirty. It took this experience to see the value and history that comes along with the graffiti in Rome, as well as the beautiful movements like Street Heart that are growing from the graffiti culture.
I leave you with this: there is reason behind everything, even if the reason isn’t apparent to you at first. Transplanting yourself into a foreign environment is never easy, but once you begin learning about it, you will appreciate the things that once seemed strange.