Madeline Blount
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May 5, 2009 @ 4:05 PM | Permalink

 "'Sup, Limassol?  'Sup, CYPRUSS!  Lemme hear you say, OHHHHHhhh!"

The Street Festival in Limassol, major port-city in Cyprus.  I took a 2-hour bus ride to get there, sitting next to Chinese immigrant women and an old Cypriot village man who crossed himself whenever the bus passed a church.  At one point the bus pulled over to meet a pick-up truck, where a monk stepped out to trade mail bags with the bus driver.  Roadside transaction.  The monk drove off in his truck up a dirt road to his monastery, and the bus continued on to Limassol, stopping at every village along the way . . .

It took me a while to find the street fest, but when I did find it I still wasn't sure where exactly I was.  Cyprus 2009, or New York City 1979?  Not that I was alive in 1979, but I've had my bouts of obsession with the genesis of graffiti and hip hop.  When the MC got on the stage and asked everyone to say "OHHHHHhhh," I looked around at kids break-dancing, graffiti-writing, and skateboarding; the hip hop diaspora has reached this remote island, at least among 12 year-olds.

Ecstatic to see that kind of graffiti in Cyprus!  The colors bleeding into the sun, making those streets bright as fire.  Warming as sitting in front of a fire, too, to be surrounded by something I'm familiar with in a place that I am still not.  

I took a seat on the corner to watch the writing on the wall.  These kids were taking their inspiration directly from the colorful wild-style graffiti of 1970's New York, the kind that used to cover the outsides of the subway cars.  I talked to one of the older writers, who called himself Papparazzi (a tag name, again like graffiti writers anywhere in the world) -- he was aware of his work as a continuation of those graf traditions, even citing famous writers from New York as he told me his story.  But then he gave me his business card.

A key difference between those pioneering writers and the ones in Limassol is that the writers back in the day (or in many places still) wrote undercover.  They bombed (wrote on) subway cars at night, leaping over the electrocuting train rails, and ran from the police when necessary.  Breakdancing on the streets used to be specifically forbidden, and cops would break up any gatherings with music and too many people.  In Cyprus the graffiti walls were out in the open, on display; the dance floor even had Red Bull sponsorship.  

This is not to say that 1970's New York was the only "real" graffiti and any other space-time for hip hop is some fake attempt to re-create it (or, posing).  Like any other form, hip hop changes with its context and those who take up its practice.  It means a similar freedom for youth writers today, anywhere, that it might have to those in the Bronx during the hey-day.  The Cypriots can use hip hop culture as a vehicle for constructing their own alternative culture.  To be in that officially sanctioned and soda-sponsored street festival, however, made me question once again whether legal graffiti is in fact graffiti at all.

Though it looks a lot like it.

i like pies, too. 

performing and constructing rebellion, one forlorn look at a time



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Loved the ending on this. Related: I find that sometimes I remember a meeting or moment but can't recall what country it happened in. I also find that if I ...

Saleem Reshamwala on Upon Waking, and Placelessness 2009-03-23

Thanks Saleem -- I've also experienced that tonguetied delirium from speaking multiple languages in the same conversation. . . interesting to think of meaning separate from words, does meaning require ...

Madeline Blount on Upon Waking, and Placelessness 2009-03-26

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