Art exhibit to explore the uses of modern graffiti

By Jen Weddle

Graduate students of NIU’s award-winning museum studies program have been hard at work on the art exhibit Tagged: Exploring Modern Graffiti.

The fall exhibit opened on Thursday and goes through Saturday. Tagged explores this question: In the ever-evolving landscape of modern graffiti, is this form of expression an art or a crime?

“Obviously it can be both, but it really depends on what the use is for,” said Paul Hoffman, junior electrical engineering major who spent a break between classes on Monday viewing the exhibit. “If they’re tagging private property with derogatory words or if they have permission to do a mural, then the mural would be considered art but the other one is vandalism.”

The exhibit features videos and photographs of graffiti playing roles in music, fashion, society and the art world.

One video included a song by Blondie called Rapture, the first rap song MTV broadcasted. In the video, there is a scene where Deborah Harry is walking down a street and the walls are filled with graffiti. This part of the exhibit, called Modern History, explores the place of graffiti in the hip-hop world. Also included in this category is the well-known World War II graffiti called “Kilroy was here.” It depicts a bald man peering over a wall, and it was associated with GIs (Government Inductees) during the war in the 1940s.

The vandalism category explored graffiti and hate crimes, group graffiti and graffiti and public monuments. This was a reminder that there are ways in which graffiti stops being art and becomes an act with criminal intentions. The photographs depicted gang symbols, words written on religious buildings and words spray-painted on government monuments. It’s a reminder that there is a fine line between art and crime.

Free Walls was another category introduced in the exhibit. These walls were created so artists could freely express themselves somewhere without having to vandalize a piece of property. The graduate students also created a free wall for visitors of the exhibit so they could create their own graffiti.

Some of the exhibits explored artists like Banksy, a well-known graffiti artist from England. The exhibit featured a photo of Kissing Cops, a graffiti-inspired art piece depicting two male officers kissing. Tagged also explores how artists have used graffiti in different media such as for advertising and marketing.

“I thought it was cool to see the history of graffiti and how it’s evolving in our society today,” Hoffman said.

Yarn bombing and moss graffiti could also be found in the exhibit. Yarn bombing is a type of graffiti that doesn’t use paint or chalk, but instead uses bright colors and patterns to create artwork. It’s non-permanent but still considered illegal, although it’s rarely prosecuted because its main goal is to create warmth and comfort in cold, sterile public places.

Moss graffiti is a fairly new art form where the artist uses moss to create images. This is a type of green art because of its nature-inspired appearance. The graduate students left leaflets with a recipe to create your own moss graffiti.

Tagged: Exploring Modern Graffiti is located in Jack Arends Hall, Room 214. The exhibit is open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday and noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday. The event is free and open to the public.