Two people look at a name tag scrawled in elaborate cursive writing on a public wall, one thinks it is defacement of public property, the other smiles to himself and considers it art. Both maybe valid opinions, depending on which school of thought you belong to, but what is interesting is that this New York or Hip-Hop genre of graffiti has a history . “Style Wars” directed by Tony Silver exhaustively chronicles the emergence of this style of graffiti.

The documentary film was shown to a packed audience at Max Mueller Bhavan as part of a graffiti workshop . “Style Wars” is about how a group of daredevil graffiti artists in New York in the Eighties risked life and limb to ‘bomb' subway trains with their nom de plumes. So you have creative names such as Taki 183, Dust, Skeme, Seen, and Wanderer in bold, three-dimensional letters that you cannot help but admire. And though angry government officials, high-browed individuals and ladies with shiny pearls do everything to stop these graffiti writers, including promote advertisements with absurd statements, “Take it from the champs, graffiti is meant for chumps,” they are in no mood to give up.

The filmmaker clearly shows that graffiti writing is as much about a person's right to express himself as it is about reclaiming space. The battle between the authorities and the rebel writers turn ugly. Fences with barbed, electric wires and ferocious dogs are successfully used to scare the graffiti artists away, and once again subway trains are painted in pristine white.

There is a brilliant shot of a large number of white trains with classical western music playing in the background, which makes you miss the vividly-hued graffiti-riddled ones. The film also focuses on the style wars among graffiti writers; they fight over who can most ‘rock the city' with their name on the train.

The director, Tony Silver, brilliantly weaves in different issues within the narrative. He does justice to hip-hop culture, getting the viewer interested in its different dance styles — baby, turtle, head spin, which makes you want to groove along or tap your feet and even head bang. A mother complaining about her teenaged son's devil-may-care attitude towards graffiti writing is endearing and hilarious.

The film corrects a common misconception that graffiti appeals only to poor, disadvantaged people. A talented young white graffiti writer says: “Everybody thinks graffiti writers are black or Puerto Rican. That's wrong—there are white writers too.” Graffiti is not some random scribble, on the contrary, much thought and creativity goes into it.

There is still a great, global demand for the film, but the original negative has been destroyed. Public Art Films, however, is currently raising funds to restore the original print and retrieve its vivid colours.

Artists Gabor Doleviczenyi and Robert Kaltenhäuser along with twenty participants will paint the compound wall of Max Mueller Bhavan , which will be on show till July 4. Call: 25205305 or visit bangalore


Street art turns high browJanuary 12, 2010