Graffiti and the Archaeology of the Contemporary

“Graffiti is to the city what colored leaves are to the forest. The changing art on the walls reflects the passing of time, and conveys information about the city’s inhabitants, their lives, and culture” (Curtis and Rodenbeck, 2004:1).

Ancient rock art and cave paintings have long been an area of intense interest and research in archaeology. Scratches on walls and pots are carefully recorded, traced, and published in prestigious academic journals. How does our knowledge of this past emplaced art inform our everyday experience in the contemporary world? While some archaeologists evince an interest in modern street art as part of Shanks’ “archaeological sensibility,” few systematic studies have been performed on the wheat paste, spray paint and stencilling that cover our urban landscape. At the 2011 Theoretical Archaeology Conference at UC Berkeley, archaeologists and members of the Oakland street art community will come together to engage in a dialogue meant to explore the archaeological aspects of graffiti art. This session will consider graffiti and archaeology from multiple perspectives, addressing questions such as: How can we record and document graffiti art? What is important? How can this engagement with unauthorized and highly visible art help us read the modern cityscape? How can we make a site visible? How can we convey the importance of a site? What does this intensive annotation of place tell us about the lived experiences of community in cities?

Papers regarding contemporary readings/explanations of graffiti, histories of graffiti, and the materiality of street art are invited to apply.

The sessions for TAG 2011 in Berkeley were announced, along with a sweet logo from Deadeyes/Safety First – local graffiti artists who are participating in the session with their collective, Black Diamonds Shining. Please contact me if you would like to participate in the session!

Author: colleenmorgan

Dr. Colleen Morgan (ORCID 0000-0001-6907-5535) is the Lecturer in Digital Archaeology and Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. She conducts research on digital media and archaeology, with a special focus on embodiment, avatars, genetics and bioarchaeology. She is interested in building archaeological narratives with emerging technology, including photography, video, mobile and locative devices. Through archaeological making she explores past lifeways and our current understanding of heritage, especially regarding issues of authority, authenticity, and identity.

6 thoughts on “Graffiti and the Archaeology of the Contemporary”

  1. Oh man!!! I would love to give a paper, but I don’t think I’ll be able to escape to Berkeley on those dates. I have a perfect paper idea, a study of people that get tattoos based on modern architecture (for a couple of student interviews). Next year, I’m hoping to take this a step further and collect a comprehensive ethnography of all tattoos in my college. Bill Caraher and I would have loved to contribute on Punk Archaeology, but we’re swamped with other responsibilities. Thanks for keeping the field interesting. I can’t wait to see the Berkely TAG program. Kostis

  2. Colleen,

    This is great. I learned more about the culture of graffiti art spending an afternoon hanging out with a former NYC graffiti artist (Rich2) than reading any number of books on the topic. I think your conversation will be most fruitful!


  3. Hello,
    I’d be interested in participating on your panel. I’m more of a wheatpaste and public print artist than spray paint. You could check out the collaborative project I’ve been working on here:

    I’d be willing to submit an abstract, but I could not find your email. I can be reached over email at:
    michelle (at) michellewilsonprojects (dot) com

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