Art of vandalism

Some acts of cultural vandalism expose the paradox between art and defacement

Two American women have been arrested for carving their initials into Rome’s Colosseum. Photo: Victor Sokolowicz / Bloomberg News
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Our urge to scribble on ancient walls – and thereby leave a mark of sorts on history – has been a fact of life surely as long as there have been walls around for us to write on.

When Pompeii was properly discovered in the mid-1700s, the world was riveted by the graffiti carved on its Roman walls, all those names and sentences in Vulgar Latin, as the colloquial tongue is called. Much fun was had translating the lewd messages that came down the arches of the years.

Then there were the Assyrian jars excavated by Agatha Christie’s archaeologist husband Max Mallowan from Nineveh in the 1930s. They bore finger marks, something that the ever imaginative Christie fancied to be wordless graffiti.

What is graffiti then when it is not art? As the two American women who were arrested for carving their initials into Rome’s Colosseum will tell you, it is considered a crime. Defacement is cultural vandalism today.