CAVE DRAWINGS to LIBYAN WALLS — GRAFFITI By Victoria Giraud

I’ve generally enjoyed graffiti–there’s plenty of it in Los Angeles– despite the campaigns and rhetoric against it. Much of it is is imaginative and colorful and I like the expressiveness of it. It’s painted over again and again, but it will always reappear. In Los Angeles, one of our museums had a recent exhibit and charged a fee to see it. Unfortunately, I missed out but there’s always the Internet, where I discovered some artists had used hundreds of lively multicolor graffiti drawings, including initials, to decorate the walls of a bedroom.

It wasn’t long ago that I discovered that graffiti, an Italian word which is defined as writing or drawing in a public place,  has been around since ancient times. Since I love history, I obviously wasn’t paying attention to this fascinating aspect of human behavior.  The wonderful series on Rome shown on HBO a few years back was so realistic the scenes included graffiti on various walls. In doing a little Internet research, I found out the Mayans used graffiti, the Crusaders used it in a Jerusalem church, and it’s still there in the ruins of Pompeii. It was even in the catacombs of Rome. On a Pompeii wall, there was a drawing of a penis with the message underneath, “Handle with care!” That’s humorous no matter what century we’re in.

During the uprising against Ghadaffi’s regime in Libya, graffiti artists took to the streets in Tripoli and Benghazi and voiced their rage on many walls in those cities. These messages served as an excellent means for the people to make their opinions known.

Ghadaffi sucking Libyan oil

 

Last summer I saw Werner Herzog’s documentary, “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” about the Chauvet Cave in southern France that is full of over 30,000 year-old prehistoric drawings and bones of animals: lions, horses, rhinoceros, cave bears and wooly mammoths, among others. Protected by an ancient landslide, the cave was hidden until 1994 and is in pristine shape. Herzog was given special permission by the French minister of culture to film there. I would recommend this thoughtful and fascinating film to anyone.

Ancient cave drawings in Southern France

Other than the incredibly beautiful and realistic drawings and the realization that humanity was capable of so much more than we’ve thought, I was intrigued by the observations voiced by Herzog and the French experts he interviewed. A French interviewee claimed ancient man felt differently about his/her world. As I interpreted, the mind was not of primary importance, emotion was. Mankind felt more connected to the world around him: to the animals, the earth and its features, birth and death. They were more naturally spiritual.

Herzog said he and his crew, plus many of the scientists who study the cave, sense other presences when they visit the site. They feel as if they are being watched.  I can easily imagine this cave is a sacred place of spirits.

Perhaps archaeologists from some future century will discover some of our present day graffiti and they will ponder its meanings: whether they are initials or a kind of political commentary. Or, perhaps someone’s reaction to Rush Limbaugh’s rantings…

 

 

 

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