191.5 The space of graffiti in Uruguay's democratic transition

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 3:18 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Ximena GRISCTI , PhD student at York University, ON, Canada
Text-based graffiti is a largely overlooked mass medium that has proliferated in post-dictatorial environments worldwide. In the Southern Cone, where the 'Dirty Wars' of the 1970s and 80s were, as Taussig puts it, “ war[s] of silencing”, graffiti emerged as a social medium that rendered visible a wide range of uncensored voices in the public sphere. Drawing upon the works of Harvey, Davis, Perelli, Faraone, and Baudrillard, I will explore the role of graffiti during the initial period of democratization that followed the military dictatorship in Uruguay (1973-1985). During the dictatorial regime, graffiti writing was a political tool treated as a political crime. Most, if not all, of the graffiti that emerged during this time was text-based, it was produced by political militants and its content was overtly political. In the transitional era that followed, the graffiti medium exploded in Montevideo, and was produced by a broad sector of the population. It remained predominantly text-based, however its content ranged from the overtly political, to mundane utterances, to the seemingly absurd and irrational, to the artistic and poetic.

My argument will be that all graffiti that emerged in Uruguay out of the dictatorial environment was a form of social mass media in which wide sectors of the population were engaging in direct action against the ideology of the totalitarian regime. The main issues I will be exploring will be the concept of voice within a regime of imposed silence, the idea of visibility in a regime of totalitarian surveillance, graffiti's potential to negotiate and reclaim public space, and the role of graffiti in constructing a collective memory and social history. It is important to underline that graffiti acquires different significance in different sociopolitical contexts, and thus cannot be studied as a single medium divorced from place, culture, history, and economic circumstances.