The Urge To Scrawl


Chris Wright finds value in ancient graffiti:

The sexual boasting, the political griping if it weren’t for the cryptic-sounding names and the strange syntax, you could be reading this stuff on the benches of the Harvard Square T. And then there’s this, more than 2,000 years old, etched into a wall in the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii: “Rufus est.” This is Rufus.

Susan Farrell, who oversees the website, says that the underlying motive for all graffiti writers is “the urge to make a permanent mark during an ephemeral life.” This fact is as true of the wall-scratcher Rufus as it is of the kids in Sao Paulo who climb railroad bridges to spray paint their elaborate tags. “I think of it as the need for meaningfulness,” says Farrell, “which I believe is a basic human urge.”

(Photo by Kenny Random)