Sometimes regarded as unsightly damage or unwanted, cast aside and misunderstood, graffiti has slowly gained recognition as an art form. From internationally known artists like Banksy to underground locals like those displayed in Los Angeles’ Crewest gallery, graffiti has generated a sustainable following—and with such power comes responsibility.
On Aug. 7, in collaboration with the Claremont Human Service Department, the Claremont Museum of Art will open its first exhibition of graffiti created by local seventh- and eighth-grade students, aRtPM: A Student Graffiti Art Exhibition. The gallery will be displaying graffiti art created by the students following the theme of “Our Reality.” While Claremont does not itself have a heavy graffiti problem, the exhibition stands to educate where graffiti belongs.
“We wanted to make the distinction between tagging and graffiti art and what the art form has become,” says Lori Evans Lama, director of arts education and public programs at the Claremont Museum of Art. “So we provided information on some of the more successful graffiti artists whose works are shown in galleries and are worth thousands and thousands of dollars.”
The students—about a dozen of them—all from TAC (TRACKS Activity Center), a student activity center located at the El Roble Intermediate School campus in Claremont, were first introduced to the art form in a museum setting, allowing them to recognize graffiti in legal forms—versus that which is considered vandalism—before actually painting.
“The first step was to indoctrinate them into a museum to show them what to expect because they all thought that it was something that’s not for them,” says Lama. “So we brought them into a museum and gave them a tour of the current exhibition and really developed a nice rapport with the kids. They really enjoyed the exhibition.”
According to Lama, as the first project the museum has done with middle school children and the first in collaboration with a city department, they wanted to center on a theme and genre that the kids would be interested in and could relate to.
“We picked graffiti to work on with these kids as a genre because we wanted to pick something that they would think was not lame,” says Lama. “It’s a group that’s difficult to work with because it’s difficult to prompt their interests and because they want to seem cool—and nothing is less cool than a bunch of people from the city in a museum, but we’ve worked hard to come up with a concept for the project that would seem interesting to them and we’ve been pleased with the response.”
With most of the students coming from diverse backgrounds, Lama says that the theme of “Our Reality” suits them perfectly.
Following the theme, one eighth-grader wrote in an artist statement for the work titled My Escape, “I use the style of techno music to escape the reality of life, to cool down, to put me in a good mood. The quick beats of techno music make me want to dance and act as an inspiration to paint this piece. Kids these days use music to calm themselves down.”
Another eighth-grader wrote, “My reality is that when my parents look at me they see a shy little girl, but to me I’m not shy. When my mom talks to me about not hanging around other teenagers, it sounds as if she thinks I’m bad. I don’t want to be misunderstood,” about her piece entitled, Misunderstanding Me.
“It’s what hits a nerve,” says Lama. “In terms of artistic expression, I think it’s a positive thing.”
aRtPM: A Student Graffiti Art Exhibition at Claremont Museum of Art, 536 West First St., Claremont, (909) 621-3200; www.claremontmuseum.org. Fri, Aug. 7. 11AM-8:30PM. Free.