The writing on the walls

We have talked in the past about our collections of fine art and exhibition catalogues. The collections of the Cambridge University Library are of course large in these areas, and the collections in the French language reflect the importance of French art historically, and of French museums. A number of recent purchases have talked about and exhibited street art and graffiti, both historical and contemporary.

These books consider graffiti both as an art form in itself, and also a reflection of larger social and political events. For instance, Plus beaux graffitis de Suisse / Hélène Koch (S950.b.201.2680) and Graffiti  / photos de Claude Abron (S950.a.201.4185) (see the publisher’s website for a gallery of images) are both chiefly illustrated and contain images of graffiti as found on the walls, motorways, etc. of Switzerland and Paris. However, other recently acquired books in the collections of Cambridge University Library also display graffiti with perhaps more meaning. The book Street art et Charlie : la mémoire des murs / Marie Christian (2016.9.2199) illustrates the response (as seen on walls and buildings throughout France) to the Charlie Hebdo shootings in 2015.


Front and back covers of 2016.9.2199

There have also been historical treatments of graffiti, including the following:

  • Graffiti du Camp de Drancy : des noms sur des murs / sous la direction de Benoît Pouvreau, 2014 (2015.12.259)
  • Graffiti de résistants : sur les murs du fort de Romainville, 1940-1944 / Thomas Fontaine, Sylvie Zaidman, Joël Clesse, 2012 (2014.12.177)
  • Graffitis : inscrire son nom à Rome XVIe-XIXe siècle / Charlotte Guichard, 2014 (C209.c.465)

Not a traditional area of fine art that I would consider a focus of our collections, studies of graffiti are nonetheless of significant value, not just evaluating graffiti as a form of art, but as historical documents and social commentary. I was surprised how fruitful searches on Library Search Plus are in turning up scholarly articles relating to graffiti, including an examination of the restoration of the graffiti at Drancy, which presumably led to the book mentioned above.

Josh Hutchinson


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