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Graffiti is as ubiquitous as telephone poles in America's cities; it is as old as the earliest civilizations. The most public medium in the country today, graffiti can signal territory, love, or liberation. Ironically, graffiti is understood by only a fraction of those who encounter it. Usually read as a sign of urban decay and as a loss of control over the physical environment, graffiti has become one of the most potent cultural languages of our age. This book takes a look at the phenomenon as it is embodied in the neighbourhoods of one of its epicentres, Los Angeles. Anthropologist Susan Phillips enters the lives of the African-American and Chicano gang members to write a guide to their symbolic and visual expression. She decodes the graffiti - explaining how, for instance, gang boundaries are visually delimited and how "memorial" graffiti functions - as well as placing it in the context of the changing urban landscapes within the city. Graffiti, she argues, is inextricably linked to political change, to race, and to art, and she demonstrates how those connections are played out in contemporary LA. The book is, on this level, an iconography of street imagery. But it is also a personal narrative about entering the world of LA street gangs.
University of Chicago Press
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