Dear The Florentine,
There has been a lot of talk in Italy about the ‘problem’ of graffiti in and around city centers. The talk tends to be biased and focus on things such as tourism (and negative impressions), punishment, and ways to stop the problem of graffiti. Very seldom or perhaps never has there been a published article written from the perspective of the graffiti writers. I sincerely hope you can help me change that. I am a native Florentine and a graffiti artist. I have constructed a letter of explanation to your audience wishing to extinguish certain assumptions and hoping to provide firm footing on which to create a new opinion. I’d like to give clear information, without censorship. I hope to help shed a different shade of light on the subject. In an unfortunate state of expurgation, I have found that this may be the only voice I have. Thank you for your consideration, understanding, and open mindedness.
You probably wouldn’t recognize me if you saw me, but you always walk by with a smug look of disdain when you see what I have done. Perhaps you where sleeping when I snuck out at night, armed with a can of spray-paint, a mask, a message and the desire to do what I love to do. There is something about the way the paint hisses out of the can in meticulous lines and the way it stains the stones, running down in sloppy drops as if the walls were bleeding thousands of years of history. They bleed for Florence, they bleed my history, the history of my family and my children. It is a history I hope to change for the better, even though few listen, and even fewer understand.
I apologize for shaking you out of a fantasy, dear Reader, but I wish to introduce myself in a truer light. I am, to put it plainly, a graffiti artist, although I prefer the name political writer. I am twenty-nine yeas old, a semi-professional soccer player, a writer for a website I myself created, and a college student as well. What I am not is a silly child with misplaced anger who happened upon a can of spray-paint at an opportune moment. I am a Florentine sharing a culture, a child who was raised with stories of political complication and strife, and I have grown up bearing witness to the fact that my city and country are becoming, in my opinion, an amusement park—a land of dead and enshrined ruins.
I know that when many visit Florence, they don’t understand the signs and symbols I create together with so many others that glare nearly naked on the wall before them. These people go to the Uffizi, or the Strozzi Palace to see infamous art, to see a historical Italy that has long since flat lined into a dying nation. They are blind to Italy’s current situation until the anarchist, fascist, or Nazi symbols scream on a wall before them, ‘THERE IS SO MUCH YOU DON’T KNOW!’ But there is so much more to discover and the issues underlying these messages are both political and social.
Politically speaking, Italy has always been in a constant state of what I like to term ‘ping- pong politic,’ tossing responsibility back and forth between parties and political ideologies. We have gone from fascist control (under Mussolini) to the other side of the spectrum, Communism due to an alliance with Russia. We have alternated between what can be coined ‘Christian Democracy’ (which lacked democratic freedom in itself), to the Italian Social Movement and their various subcultures (including Fronte della Gioventù—a party that fits my personal beliefs).
Now we are stagnant, loitering somewhere in the middle of spectrum, abandoning extremist thinking trying to fit somewhere meant to appeal to those too fed up to adopt either side. The names, faces, dates and terminology used in the politics are countless. What is most important are the inconsistencies in government that the Italian people have faced—the suffocating silence enforced by most officials, and the death and pain wrapped within the wrong political alliances.
But when I write, I write for more than this reason. I write to express my frustration in a world where illegal immigrants come to Italy to start a better life, but end up complicating economics and the daily living of the Italian people. My graffiti is about this, it is about me, because these are the reasons I am unable to find a job, and these are the reasons I struggle but can’t seem to make it on my own.
I do not write without fear of retribution. The current penalty for my actions (if caught) is imprisonment and 2,500 Euro fine, not to mention massive social implications which include but are not limited to inability to find employment. I have heard that some have suggested designating graffiti sites (moveable panels dispersed among cities). Milan, Rome, and Florence have all brought this option to the table, although it will do little to solve the problem. Perhaps it would serve those who make artistic graffiti, those with bright chubby letters and a signed name. But what I do—what the problem is—is a different thing entirely. Those initiatives seem like just another way to enforce silence, to pacify those with unrest, without taking the time to honestly understand what was written in the first place.
I am not asking for your approval, just an understanding. Me and others like me are the living breathing composite of Florence: the city you and I love so much. We are the people that serve you coffee, the men driving your taxis, and the ones teaching your children—the very blood that keep the city running. I just wish better for Italy and its citizens, and I wish for a day when I can look at Florence through the same lens of adoration as you, and others like you. I want to be one of those who see Florence as a land of possibilities and wander through, a functioning society, that despite normal qualms, is able and truly alive.