Tagging Class at the School of Hard Knocks

Saturday morning dawned slightly colder than anticipated at Midway Studios, where the Pathogeographies project was sponsoring a workshop with Lavie Raven, Minister of Education for the University of Hip Hop. The University of Hip Hop, an interdisciplinary project aimed at developed outreach and lessons, teaches through arts associated with urban music. UofHip Hop has a chapter operating out of Kenwood Academy, where it offers classes about advancing the greater social good, while at the same time fostering and instilling as well as leadership qualities in its students.

The scene at the beginning of the workshop was subdued, with the exception of Raven, who conducted himself in a pleasant but laid-back manner, communicating his ideas in a hushed way and with a twinkle in his eyes that showed exactly how enthusiastic and genuine he is. The room at Midway held an abundance of participants, with a few more trickling in later–no matter how strange it may seem, 10am on a Saturday is still shockingly early for many college students. Raven put the group to work almost immediately, beginning with the basics of graffiti art and the spray can. He focused on the social aspect of graffiti in addition to the aesthetic part of the art–he recalled the “zen-like” quality that graffiti artists have to possess, knowing that their work will inevitably be erased by time or other property owners, or covered by other artists. Raven focused on extolling the body-like idea of a can of spray paint, that it breathes and communicates, that it is to be worked with and not against. Though these notions may appear to be slightly flaky, they were incredibly effective at communicating the dynamic energy of graffiti and its relevance both personally and socially.

One thing that is not to be missed about graffiti: it is incredibly hard. It is physically demanding to hold a spray can and paint for any extended period of time. Raven warned the students about this; he encouraged them all to practice with exercises (the outdoor portion of the workshop opened with jumping jacks and simulated painting movements–twenty one repetitions of multiple stroke patterns can be tiring, even without holding a spray can). As the workshop progressed, the soreness associated with working out developed in the arms of the painters. Raven encouraged performing the exercises more often; after doing them with a five-pound rock, he assured, “Painting feels like butter.”

The subject of the murals painted by the workshop group was political–but just as remarkable as the murals themselves was the time it took the relatively small group to creat and complete them. The large murals featured messages in many languages and fonts (Raven: “I’ve been learning lots of new ways to write… nobody objects to Times New Roman”), and were done within ninety minutes. As the workshop disbanded, Raven encouraged all of the participants to use the skills they had learned to change the world for good. Looking at the huge murals and now-smiling faces, you got the sense that they really could.