Ian Curtis Graffiti

Ian Curtis wet paint

I am pleased to see the Ian Curtis graffiti on Wallace Street (Wellington) has been reinstated. I was horrified and affronted when I discovered it had been obliterated, covered by a huge ugly black rectangle. I felt like some part of my culture had been attacked.

The reason why I was upset about this particular piece of graffiti being removed is because it tells a story. It wasn’t pretty or visually impressive but it held meaning.

It is most obviously a memorial to Ian Curtis, singer from the band Joy Division in his brief life. He committed suicide in 1980. The graffiti first appeared in 1981. It has been painted over and reinstated more than once since then. (Ref 1)

I think it’s staying power comes from it’s comment on well being or rather alienation of young people for the last few decades. Graffiti is a way for alienated young people to make a mark, to have a voice in society. This piece acknowledged these things through its content, and through its aesthetic of not dressing things up. Saying it straight with ordinary white paint and a house brush.

Suicide is not uncommon in this country. New Zealand had high rates of youth suicide in the 1980s and 1990s. Between 1978 and 1998 we ranked 2nd worst (behind only Finland). (Ref 2) The graffiti is placed just over the road from a university and high school. Thousands of young people have seen this acknowledgement of a singer who felt the pain.

Latest renditions include the lyric “walk in silence”. I feel this graffiti draws attention to the silence around suicide and depression. We’ve had a bit more exposure in the last few years to the idea of mental health being similar to any other kind of health but it’s still hard for many who experience it to talk about.

The Mental Health Foundation for NZ says 1 in 6 new Zealanders experience depression at some point in their life time, so this message is still as valid as it has been for the last two decades. (ref 3)

It is ironic that layers of oppressive black squares by the anti-graffiti squad reinforce that message of being silenced, and refreshing that this voice can still shout through.

1. http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/2857052/Killjoy-division-cleans-up-Ian-Curtis-wall
2. http://www.nzhis.govt.nz/moh.nsf/pagesns/320 and http://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/116-1175/461/
3. http://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/page/239-Latest-headlines#study

or check out Movember – changing the face of men’s health: http://nz.movember.com/

Discussion (5) ¬

  1. What a beautiful piece of writing, I love the sign “caution wet paint” its ironic isn’t, it that official sign is being used illegally. I’ll admit for a long time I didn’t get this graffiti. Anyway great start!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Draw. I’ll be adding more about graffiti’s place in public space soon.

  3. Yay, you answered :)
    Looking forward to seeing what you will be adding here

  4. I love that bit of graffiti too – partly because its a link to my childhood in Wellington, when we used to live in Mt Cook, back before it got poshed up. It really feels like this current bout of anti-graffiti advertisements is aimed at deleting these kinds of voices from the public sphere in Wellington, making it more like some kind of neutral utopia. Gross! So glad someone is drawing attention to the reasons we NEED graffiti right now.

  5. Hi Allison, I hope to show through this blog that not just graffiti, but all kinds of creative response, is vital to life in a humane urban environment. Stay tuned :-)

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