The can is mightier than the sword

Words: Dave Mann

To many, graffiti is the unsightly, offensive by-product of a wasted youth, vandalising public space and generally making a mess of things. To the more informed and fervent followers of the art form, like Cale Waddacor, graffiti is a movement. It’s a form of expression and a lifestyle that lives both on and off the streets.

Speaking on the graffiti scene in South Africa, Waddacor gave a series of Think!Fest talks to a diverse audience at this year’s Festival, providing a much-needed insight into the world of graffiti art. Waddacor recently released his book, Graffiti South Africa, which features around 300 colourful, sprawling, high-resolution photos of graffiti from all over the country.

His talks ranged from the role of urban art in a contemporary society, to the history of graffiti in SA with pictures of local pioneers dating back to the 1980s such as Gogga and Falko, juxtaposed with modern day, graffiti plastered Jozi cityscapes. A personal favourite was Waddacor’s talk on the process of putting his book together and how he came to be involved in the local graffiti scene. Here, Waddacor did well to succinctly and successfully debunk notions of gangsterism and senseless vandalism in graffiti writing.

Graffiti South Africa - Cale Waddacor (2)

Waddacor explained that for many, graffiti is a coming of age experience, often arising through the subcultures that form through hip hop, skating, and punk music. Graffiti writers aren’t all can toting, balaclava clad thugs, but rather, they started out as the shy, quiet kids in class who had a lot to say, but didn’t quite know how to say it yet.

He hopes to put up a few murals with fellow artists while he’s in town so keep an eye on the streets of Grahamstown for some new work. Stop to take a look longer than a passing glance, and maybe the letters will even speak to you a little differently.