What is unique about graffiti is that it is a 'phrase out of place'. So it comes as a surprise in the monotony of your existence and the essence of its message is 'wake up'.
Burners, tags and beauty bombs
Tag: The simplest and most prevalent kind of graffiti, a tag is a stylised signature. Burner: a large, more elaborate type of graffiti mural involving the use of multiple colours and elaborate designs. Bomb: to paint murals on many surfaces in a given area. The British graffiti artist Mohammed Ali has been at the Art Dubai event and I recently had the serendipitous opportunity to take in his presentation. The following thoughts came to mind:
Muslim art famously celebrates the "word" in ornate and exquisite elaborations on calligraphic motifs. These words have been, more often than not, verses of the Quran, heavily laden with meaning; but the word for verse is "ayah" which also means signs. "Ayah" is also used to denote the signs of the Almighty on the horizons of His creation in the natural world. Scholars refer to both Allah's written book and His visual book to be read on the horizons of the natural world.
But the verses to be read in the world around us are meant to take you somewhere, to the transcendent, to the sublime; to remind, to enlighten; to "pull one's coat" to a higher awareness of beauty. "Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty," and we are told, "take on the character traits of Allah". This means that when you project goodness, compassion, and beauty, you are reflecting the sublimity of the Divine Presence. Sometimes Muslims forget this. Allah bless Mohammed Ali for reminding us.
Returning to the verses to be read in the world around us. We gain enlightenment from the "lesson" embedded within the verse, which is called an "ibrah". But from the same Arabic root comes the word "ubur" which means to cross over, or to bridge. So the "ayah" wants to cross you over from where you are into a new plane of consciousness and understanding. From the same root though, comes the word "ibarah" which means a "phrase", and the theme of a graffiti piece is more often than not a phrase.
But what is unique about graffiti is that it is a "phrase out of place". So it comes as a surprise in the monotony of your existence and the essence of its message is "wake up". Wake up to this meaning, become conscious of its scope, become aware of its import. The artistic phrase, the artist's verse or sign, is tendering an offer. It is an offer to take you on a journey; to bridge over into a new dimension of time and space; one of awareness and exquisite meaning. It wants to take you from the common to the uncommon, from the mundane to the extraordinary.
It is asking for you to renew your world. It is asking you to change, to become enlivened and new people. But the most important thing is to be conscious people and conscientious people. But first you have to be awake. Jihad Hashim Brown is the director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi