Two tags written with spray paint on the wall right outside the One Happy Family solidarity structure in Lesvos. Two names that are neither Greek nor western.
Name writing as part of the same family of inscriptions in public and private spaces is deeply rooted throughout human history. Being at the same time essential acts of presence, one of the many applications of such traces in space is communicating messages. In this particular case, the two names are evidence of visibility. They had been there, then they moved elsewhere on the island, but the evidence they passed through stands there because they wrote it on the wall. Besides the people who know them personally and recall their personalities, the rest of the audience who sees their names also reads the origin of their names.
Although name writing has a long tradition and a great number of variant writing cultures, in this specific act of visibility one can find analogues to the birth of the New York City graffiti writing in the early 1970s. At that time and place, the majority of graffiti writers were coming from the poorest of segregated neighbourhoods, and from minority and migrant populations, many of whom had recently arrived from other countries. The neglected areas in which they were living had already been turned into ghettos with poor infrastructures, and inhumane conditions. At the same time as they were the victims of state politics and local authorities’ policies, the populations of these ghettos were being accused of being the source of problems facing the city. New York City kids started tagging their environment. Their very own presence in every city corner through writing their names on walls and on the sides of the subway cars was signifying their vital energy, their creative potential, and their existence—which ran counter to their construction as insignificant in the dominant discourse. Their name writing practice created what later became a worldwide art form and a global culture. In this sense, although the content of the youths’ names was not explicitly political, the act of writing them itself was totally political. Through their invented names, written on the city’s surfaces, they were proving their existence, they were representing various forms of belonging, and, last but not least, they were making visible their cultural backgrounds.
In a very similar manner, today’s public discourse disorients when it accuses migrants—those who suffer the conditions they have been involuntarily experiencing—as being responsible for the conditions they experience as well as causing any number of other everyday problems. They want to keep them segregated and invisible, confined to inhumane ghettos like Moria camp. In such a manner, although they may not seem to incorporate a political message on the first reading, the tags of Muhammed’s and Hussin’s names can be read as examples of important political writings on the islands’ walls.
Baudrillard, Jean. 1993. Symbolic Exchange and Death. London: Sage Publications.
Fliesher, Alan and Paul Iovino with introduction by Phase 2. 2012. Classic Hits: New York’s Pioneering Subway Graffiti Writers, Stockholm: Dokument Press.
Sennett, Richard. 1970. The uses of disorder: personal identity & city life. New York: Knopf.