The History of Graffiti and Hip Hop, Graffiti Art History Research by All Weather Artist Rik Cheetham

CHAPTER 7. Censored



Soon after the most prolific years of graffiti, technology started to play its part again in influencing what forms were achievable. However in this case, technology was restricting the potential of what could be created.


At a time when drug use was on the rise, crime rates were up and tension in communities is at an all time high; Increased budget for removal and eradication of graffiti saw new removal solutions being used to clean trains. Train yards were being repaired and secured to stop access. The use of cameras had also become more common in public places; The New York Municipal Building had police cameras installed as early as 1969. The new cleaning processes and the destruction of the artistic productions had a huge effect upon what was fundamentally a culture of positive intent.


Censorship, being a repressive and dominating act which aims to inhibit or control an expressive action, has since been found to be a direct cause and provocation of graffiti and the removal costs in New York show this:




Graffiti REMOVAL COSTS OF New York



1970: $300 000

1971: $600 000 (Article published about Taki 183)

1972: $1 300 000

1973: $2 700 000

1974: $4 000 000

1975: $7 000 000

1976: $10 000 000

1977: $11 000 000

1978: $15 000 000

total(so far): $150 000 000



In 1971 when the first article about TAKI 183 appeared in The New York Times the City of New York was spending 300,000 dollars a year removing Graffiti, 5 years later they were spending 7,000,000.


In 1984 New York City Introduced the ‘Clean Car Campaign’ on the Subway, the aim being to clean off the artwork within 2 hours of it being produced, this not only meant pieces were not running anymore but also significantly reduced the potential for producing full pieces at all. Five years later NYC boasted of a full fleet of 6245 cars that were Graffiti free:- However by 1998, not a decade later, the cost of removing graffiti in the U.S alone was 7 billion dollars whilst the Global total of graffiti writers at this point, was estimated at only 1 million. (reference)


The new security, surveilance and cleaning methods eradicated the ultimate divide between the two separate aims of graffiti writing. The one artistic difference that had existed between the work was the time spent producing the piece. With this factor removed the location became the unification in the aims of a graffiti writer. A piece that was to be put up illegally in a risky spot had to take a simple form; more respect is given for  complex pieces produced when time was available and at risk to the writer.


Whatever the initial intention of the creation, the general response to the existance of graffiti is censorship, which creates the reaction of further graffiti; likely to be communicated back with more negative intent.

The attempt to censor writers, alongside the promotion through the advertising and entertainment media of the artistic side of the culture, created a paradox we see Worldwide today; where art and vandalism have the same label. Ironically the art people liked, was what the graffiti would have looked like if it was permitted.


The fundamental values of rocking would continue to exist, but the ability to create something of quality was slowly being removed. A generation of young people on the verge of a social collapse who, given the freedom would strive to get better and better at what they were doing creatively in their neighbourhoods.


It was at this time that graffiti was leaving the streets and taking a platform within a few open-minded galleries, exhibitions and events. Graffiti had become both celebrated and censored.



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