Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mr. Banksy, I tore down this wall

The French Quarter Business Association is sponsoring its second annual "Graffiti Clean-Up" on Saturday, August 28th. Intended to coincide with Katrina-related events throughout the city, this initiative is billed as a service to the community, and one that will "remove blight" from and "beautify" the historic downtown area of New Orleans.

What is neglected in the relevant publicity is mention of the so-called graffiti that some cherish as artwork, an expression of unique time, space, and experience. One may remember the fracas surrounding the Banksy "graffiti" in the Lower Ninth Ward, which resulted in his paintings literally being torn off the walls and sold.

Though Banksy himself might have been pleased by this somewhat ironic inversion of the relationship between what is vandalism and what is vandalized, the FQBA's project for this coming weekend ignores the artistic potential of graffiti as part of the city's self-articulation, and disregards the historic roots of the Vieux Carré as a bastion of creative evolution and cultural production.

Moreover, the so-called blight doomed by this event's mission is peanuts compared to the actual physical devastation that so thoroughly mars New Orleans' urban landscape. True beautification efforts would best serve the city via the streamlining of long-overdue relief initiatives, specifically those intended to benefit communities marginalized by the systematic failure of political and social resources, pre- and post-Katrina.

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