By Becky Anderson, Coordinator of Student Activities
Style Wars is an hour-long documentary that follows local graffiti artists, bboys, and rappers, filmed in 1982 in New York City. When it aired nationwide on PBS in 1983, it helped bring hip hop and graffiti culture to mainstream America.
The documentary is also an amazing snapshot of what urban street culture and city infrastructure was like in the grimy, concrete, NYC of the early 80s. The film shows underground subway tunnels, train yards, the MTA system, and other places less visited by tourists in New York. It's a record of an art form that was viewed as temporary, or as an eyesore by public officials, who are also interviewed in the documentary.
Movies about hip hop culture in the early 80s like Beat Street, Wild Style, or Breakin' were scripted and corny (though, I admit that I will watch Breakin' nearly every time I catch it on TV). This documentary is nothing like those films. It's real.
The documentary is really interesting to me, not only as a life-long appreciator and photographer of public art, but because Bartlett Yard, a public art space in Roxbury, is going to be torn down this November to make way for housing.
The 8 1/2 acre property was vacant for years prior to the hard work of volunteers and city administrators to clean it up and create a public art space. While some argue that housing is needed in the area, there aren't many places where graffiti artists are legally allowed to tag. As legal walls grow fewer in number in the area, artists are left with only a few choices: give up, travel further, or paint/post illegally.
Murals there are of Rosa Parks, the Incredible Hulk, and there's work there by artists like Os Gemeos and Barry McGee. Artists have taken over the parking lot as well, creating a giant pair of sneakers out of re-purposed material, and even recreating a tag in 3D out of used cans of paint. The work there is great, and I really hope that come November, the City of Boston finds another space to give these artists an outlet.
Want to learn more about the history of graffiti in Boston? Click here.