Storytellers Were Here

Storytellers Were Here
This week we take a look at the storytelling hidden in plain sight, graffiti. Graffiti has its routes much farther back than you might realize. We explore why this storytelling style that goes against the grain is so special.

Bit of a history trip on this one. As we started the Pathfinder process of looking into the why and how stories are told, we found that graffiti has always been a symbol of the people. It's the untouched version of history. We've just scratched the surface of this artform but we hope this episode inspires you to see your next city wall in a different way.

This episode was written by Ollie Judge and edited by Rodger Morley. You can find more of their work at Adrift Entertainment.


Ollie: [00:00:00] in this show, we've touched on some of the greatest storytellers of our time. Some of those stories have changed our lives and some of them have changed. The world. Storytelling is a skill, but it's also a privilege to entertain and to educate and to have people here and share your story. It gives you a unique power, but what about those who don't have that same platform to share their story?

[00:00:28] Those who hold a story in their minds. Perhaps not the platform to communicate. Does that story go on told, I guess in many cases it probably does. After a history is written by the victorious, perhaps stories are told and shared by the lucky few, but not everyone gives up and goes unheard. Some look around them for that canvas of it.

[00:00:49] Some look to the closest and simplest means of communication that they have at their disposal, the walls around them. The pen in the hand and the resolve to tell this story, even if it means

[00:01:00] Music: [00:01:00] breaking the law.

[00:01:04] Ollie: [00:01:04] Welcome to Paul finder, a show about storytelling.

[00:01:12] Earlier this year as the world struggled to get to grips with the growing pandemic or focus, turned to hygiene, cleaning to ensure the germs weren't spread. And the virus was contained one morning in July, a cleaning team on the London tube that work. Got to work scrubbing down the newly returned trains.

[00:01:29] It was probably no great surprise that one carriage had been graffitied. Someone had decorated the inside of a circle line. Carriage was sneezing and lost carrying rats as protocol dictate. It was quickly and efficiently removed. They might've been aware of the origination of the piece. They might not, but it seems for us a deep clean wiped around 7.5 million pounds off the value of that tube carriage.

[00:01:52] The outlook was by renowned graffiti, persona Banksy, Banksy shared a video of himself creating the artwork, which featured rats and masks and holding antibacterial gel, along with the message. I get locked down. That's how I get the cup again, knowing that it would be swiftly cleaned and removed by authorities.

[00:02:10] Okay.

[00:02:14] This is the unique storytelling, power of graffiti, a story that is told regardless of potentially great personal cost and consequence must be a story worth paying attention to bank to himself, put it neatly with a message in one of his artworks. If graffiti changed anything, it would be illegal. Of course, there's a fine line between graffiti and vandalism and it doesn't always have to be on the wrong side of the law, but the messages that are sanctioned by authorities seem to lose power, to disturb and challenge the nature of illegal graffiti gives the artist the freedom to tell a story without restraint, without Sentia, if they have a message to share.

[00:02:52] And this is the only way to get people to listen. Then that's quite different to vandalism. As you walk around the streets of any big city, you can't help, but notice graffiti everywhere from scrolls and tags to huge murals on the sides of buildings with the help of the internet. These visual messages are shared far and wide and have the power to challenge all kinds of thinking.

[00:03:12] And it can sometimes be a difficult pill to swallow. Graffiti is associated with modern urban life, but it goes right back to the start of human life as caveman, where we didn't use words, petroglyphs on rock walls were used to illustrate landmarks or boundaries. These pictures and knocks and walls were a primitive, but pretty efficient form of communication.

[00:03:33] By its nature. Graffiti is a femoral is covered up by authorities weathered by time, lost in destruction and demolition. So the examples from our past are rare, but the perfectly preserved work of Pompei lying underneath the volcanic Ash has preserved and immortalized some of the shared by the average person, not just the wise words of Kings and the other public figures that historians decided that are worth listening to the average person that perhaps lives in an average life.

[00:04:00] Which gives us a much richer picture of what it was like living here in those times, graffiti and from the Italian word, that means scratched, which is exactly how messages were shared in Pompei. It wasn't perceived as illegal or wrong at the time. It was socially acceptable words for scratched him to the wolves of public buildings and bathrooms expressing a wide range of ideas, moods, or sometimes just the good old presence of the writer.

[00:04:25] One of the most famous being fitness was here. Goodbye. Some might spread the fame of gladiators who had performed well in the auditorium. And some were just typical lewd remarks. None of these were that far away from what we see today, but for whatever reason, these were the words and thoughts from the average person that they felt they needed to be remembered and shared.

[00:04:46] These inscriptions served their purpose of spreading messages among the local community. But there was a point where the idea of scratch messages spread much further and began to cross borders and cross seas

[00:05:00] cuffed into the granite of the Washington world. War two Memorial is a literal sketch named Kilroy. If you don't recognize the name, you probably recognize the sketch, a little bald head, peering over a wall with fingers, gripping the edge and along nose hanging over the wall with a message next to it.

[00:05:16] Kill Reuters here. It's originated in the U S during the second world war. And you quickly became a mascot for the armed forces. It became such a familiar face overseas that the opposition began to think he was some kind of practice by navigating the world and sneaking behind enemy lines. It most certainly wasn't one person, but the message spread in a way that no other message could.

[00:05:38] Carved into the physical space that armed forces were occupying the parents, the graphic within any war setting serve to boost the morale and let the following waves of forces know that they were not stepping up on unknown ground. It wasn't the stars and stripes, and it wasn't the reassurance of a senior officer.

[00:05:55] It was the voice if an average soldier that knew that deep rooted fear of being on the frontline in defense of their country. And being the first to step into the unknown

[00:06:07] in the same way. On the 2nd of May, 1945, the red army gained control of the Reichstag a building that was seen as the most symbolic target in Berlin and therefore the overall victory against Nazi Germany the same day, not 10 minutes away, Hitler committed suicide in his bunker. Some of the Russians wrote on the walls with childhood or the red and blue chalk they'd use during the push into Germany to Mark the shifting front lines, some wrote their names, somewhat the dates and routes of their journeys through the war most were drunk and still afraid they'd be shot at the end of the war.

[00:06:40] So not all of the messages were as polite or can be repeated on the show, but you get the idea. They reflected the true nature and the emotion of the war. The relief of surviving another day, the fear of still dying before seeing home the anger at the enemy for making them feel this way, the wall showed the venting of all of these emotions.

[00:07:02] As the history has layers of memories piled on top of moments. So the walls of the Reichstag were gradually hidden and forgotten off a century. Later in 1995, the messages from the past, re-emerged behind the sloppy paneling, covering the walls. The building would house Germany's parliament. And so naturally there was a lot of debate about what should happen to these words.

[00:07:23] Some thought they belong in the past and should stay in the past. What's done is done. Why try to humiliate Germany again, who needs a constant reminder of some of the worst of trustees the world has ever seen? But there were many that disagreed in the end part of the wall, graffiti bullet holes in all was preserved and even displayed marking the messages from soldiers in that time, they were seen as scars that shouldn't be hidden echoes of a past that should be acknowledged, remembered, and used as a reminder to be moral and responsible when our lives today.

[00:07:59] Graffiti and marks like these are the mouthpiece of the public giving a voice to those that might otherwise go unheard. It wasn't until the late sixties that the idea of making your Mark in the present became recognized as more than just communication. It could be used as self promotion.

[00:08:17] Clip: [00:08:17] I was the only person in the world who wrote his name on the walls for the sole purpose of establishing reputation.

[00:08:24] I changed the tune, of course, in my generation and generations that followed me and gave birth. For a global phenomenon. MME is Daryl McCray, AKA cornbread. I am the first element of hip hop, 1965. I wrote my name on the walls date. And they out. My very first tag on the wall was in the halls of a juvenile institution, youth development center, 1965.

[00:08:55] You walk in why this institution, all you seen was torn bread. So I knew that if I get this white man's name on things that they media would write about, I can read it myself in their newsletters. And I just thought lighting cornbread. Everywhere. I became a new phenomenon.

[00:09:15] Ollie: [00:09:15] Urban streets were rough places where making yourself heard was close to impossible. And the average person was easily overlooked and forgotten using the physical surroundings to tell your story. You meant that other people were forced to confront these messages and give you their attention, whether they wanted it or not.

[00:09:33] With cornbread success of growing a reputation using bubbles around him, more voices began to come through the walls of the cities all around the world. The bar for getting your story heard was creeping higher and higher giving rise to Wilder. Seeing graffiti appear in the most hard to reach places and the content evolved from simple tagging to political antiestablishment messaging, designed to challenge and change perceptions.

[00:09:58] A key influencer to Banksy himself was French street. Art pioneer black club. Rat who started using stencils to put his own ideas around his home in Paris, in the eighties, the motivation behind his work quickly became clear as history art demonstrated his desire to bring issues of social and political consciousness, to the forefront of the public's perception.

[00:10:19] Using stencils meant that the art could be completed quickly. So it began to appear in more and more public places and generate greater reactions. This gives the artwork and the message. It carries more power than just being present in the street. It's enables the message to connect to the environment itself, giving even greater weight to the artist, this message.

[00:10:39] And that's the power of graffiti, the artists behind it. Oh, telling us about the world around us in the world, around us. They tell us a story about the world that we're living in. Graffiti is the unofficial language of society. And in many cases, the unheard voices of society, sometimes it's about political messages.

[00:10:58] Sometimes it's entertainment, and sometimes it might just be about territory, but like it or not, it reflects the tough world that many people find themselves living in. It's a voice of the public by the public, like any good story that can be passed out into the world and take on whole new meanings of their own.

[00:11:16] As the message spreads through communities and the messages retold, it can have a different effect on the audience that I put in front of it. They carry the stories of our time until the struggles you might not be able to hear about and let history. Eventually those walls will be painted with layer upon layer of new stories told by others.

[00:11:37] But as long as graffiti is illegal, it will always hold the power to tell a true story without compromise and without restraint, which surely is the most powerful tool of storytelling we have.