The Writings on the Wall

It is not accidentally that writing on the walls is the oldest form of human expression. Markers of identity and symbols with collective meanings have been displayed and exhibited in the strangest and most diverse social spaces, since primitive times, even preceding language.

Visual artwork re-emerged in New York’s 1960s and spread globally as a cultural and political form of art – graffiti, coming to defend a cultural space and perform a symbolic resistance by introducing alternative voices. Whether interpreted as a good or a bad ‘kind of art’, graffiti always meant more than static art:  it represented a system of action renegotiating the social significance of public space, expressing mainstream ideas and reproducing political ideologies of the society in which it operates.
 
Graffiti is a connecting bridge between historical ages, it suspends time, brings bygone days to the present and projects them into the future, it’s an immortal mark of the controversial human existence along centuries. This is why, to me, graffiti is NON-STOP – non-stop history, non-stop living, non-stop human existence. 

You may say I’m a  dreamer
But  I’m not the only one…”
                                  (Imagine)

There are many ways in which people remember John Lennon: a composer, a singer, a Beatles, a restless soul in search of his own identity in songs like “It’s my life”, a romantic crying his heart out in “I’m a loser” or just “a jealous guy”. But above all these lies one widely agreed view: Lennon was a revolutionary personality of the 60s, a man of vision, an advocator of peace and security, conveying controversial feelings through his musical work, feelings appreciated as being at the same time bizarre and beautiful, crazy and genius, candid and politically oriented. He visioned a future not ruled by communists anymore, a world not separated by an iron curtain anymore. He gathered the feelings of the 60s in his songs and let them out to the world as ideals of peace and security.

“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with the world: people-
 So do you want to destroy them?
 Until you/we change our heads- there’s no chance.”
          (Lennon’s reply to J.Hoyland’s criticism of the Revolution album )

Peace was the major theme in all of Lennon’s political compositions.
For him, “imagination” was a force enough to change the world, the power to “imagine” was all that the world needed to reach peace and unity. In the famous song “Imagine”, Lennon asks his listeners to “Imagine all the people/ Living life in peace” and “the world will live as one,” and provokes them to a mental revolution: “You may say I’m a dreamer/ But I’m not the only one/ I hope some day you join us.” In songs like “Revolution”, he clearly points out that the change cannot come from the outside, that it is not about institutions and formal political building, but it’s all about a revolution of the mind: “You tell me it’s the institution/ Well you know/ You’d better free your mind instead”.Lennon’s artistic creation conveyed to the world more than just music and verse, but powerful political ideas too. Since, at that time, western pop songs were banned by Communist authorities and punished with imprisonment, because they were praising freedom – a non-sense for the doctrine -, the artist John Lennon and his songs came as a breath of fresh air for the youth living under communist rule.

Look at the world we’re living in and ask yourself: why?
 And then come and join us.
 Love,
 John Lennon
 PS: You smash it, I’ll build around it.”
 (Lennon’s reply to J.Hoyland’s criticism of the Revolution album )

He was a strong advocator of peaceful protests as main instruments for rising political demands, and this is why many put him in line with the famous Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. In “Power to the People,” Lennon urges people to “Get you on [their] feet/ And in the street”. His musical compositions affected so deep the people of communist-ruled countries, that soon they would translate its meaning into their reality – Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution stands as undisputable proof.

In Mala Strana, near the French Embassy,
you’ll see the John Lennon Wall.

After Lennon was assassinated on December 8, 1980, a group of young people in Prague spontaneously set up a “mock grave” for the ex-Beatle – as observers named the monument – on a hidden wall in a 17th century churchyard, risking prison for their “subversive activities against the state”, as the Communist secret police judged their actions. Conceived initially as a tribute to the Beatles’ singer, the Wall soon turned into a public space for political rebellion against the Communist state, a monument dedicated to free speech and to the non-violent expressions of young Czech’s revolt against the regime.     

The wall became the one place where people in Prague overcame fear and expressed their opinions, in the spirit of freedom, by scrawling graffiti messages, paintings of Lennon along with lyrics of his songs. As a prediction of what was about to happen, nothing was capable of stopping the “Lennon phenomenon” once it started. The tension between the regime and the young people’s actions – metaphorically described as “Lennonism” – burst out into clashes between hundreds of students and security police on the nearby Charles Bridge. Still, the Communist authorities never managed to keep the wall clean, despite the repeated efforts of erasing the graffiti, the cameras and the guards posted for surveillance.

“It’s up to you, Yeah you
                  (“Instant Karma”)

Long after the Velvet Revolution, new writing and random graffiti continued to turn up regularly, burring deeper and deeper the scrawling of dissidents in the days of neo -Stalinism.

In 1998, the work of reconstruction of the wall covered the political message of the 1980s by a larger cement “tombstone” with the painted words: “John Winston Lennon: October 9 1940 – Dec. 8, 1980”. The original stone was replaced by a solid white surface, which was repainted afterwards on “organized” painting sessions by Czech and western young people. These youngsters, acting like “hippies” were trying to be part of a time – the 60s and 70s – that they could not understand, because they were not even born back then.

Today, the wall continuously undergoes change and the original portrait of Lennon is long lost under layers of spray-paint added by the thousands of tourists visiting each year. The feelings remain.

After all the billions of dollars and
living under the threat of doom,
  what brought it down?
 Blue jeans and rock and roll.”

                                             (Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones)

It is true that Lennon was not a revolutionary in advocating the ideas of peace and liberty. It was not him who invented these ideas. However, it was him who re-introduced them and made them popular. Lennon’s ideas smoothly got under people’s skin leading them to a peaceful, “Lennonist” revolution.

As other murderers are connected to their victims: Brutus and Caesar, Charlotte Corday and Jean-Paul Marat, […], Lennon himself can be linked with the name of the Soviet Union in just the same manner. It was Lennon who murdered the Soviet Union.[…]He did not live to see its collapse, and could not have predicted that the Beatles would cultivate a generation of freedom-loving people throughout this country that covers one-sixth of the Earth. But without that love of freedom, the fall of totalitarianism would have been impossible, however bankrupt economically the communist regime may have been…the music came to us from an unknown, incomprehensible world, and it bewitched us.”

You Say You Want a Revolution,” Mikhail Safonov, History Today, August 2003

Revolutionary tip!!!
If you want to add your own message on a virtual Lennon’s wall, visit.
www.bagism.com/cgi-bin/lennonwall.cgi?color=FF0000&section=3

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