Caitlin Bruce awarded WFI Research Grant

This book project, León’s Graffiti Worlds: Citizen Voices in Aerosol, Graffiti as Communication Practice, explores the history of graffiti in León Guanajuato Mexico from 2000 to 2015, built from extensive interviews I conducted between 2012 and 2017 with graffiti practitioners (writers) as well as institutional supporters and local historians. In the book, I argue that graffiti is a vital form of public communication and social critique, and a means of social change.

León is the first city where city-supported legal graffiti has been promoted on a large scale, and the 2009-2012 pilot program was generally described as an unmitigated success by city sources. However, drawing on writer testimony and archival documents, I chart a more complex trajectory. I map the evolving status of the graffiti writer: from delinquent, to civic exemplar, to employee of the state, to a not-yet-resolved status.

It is through this public art form that León’s youth challenge violent state politics; corrosive capitalism; and exploitative international relations, and yet, this form of communication is under-analyzed in communication studies, and is often misunderstood, seen either as mindless vandalism or erudite and straightforward refusal, rather than the complex and often ambivalent territory it straddles: a form of expression between the official and the vernacular, the legal and the illegal.

This project is the first large-scale study of legal graffiti, and the first study of legal graffiti from a communication studies perspective that relies on writer testimony. This project promotes the Waterhouse Family Institute’s mission of creating a more just world by linking communication, social justice, and social change.

By engaging with artists and activists, and documenting their work and their voices, this project rebuts stereotypes or clichés about graffiti artists, and serves as support for future cases about the key role the public art can play in making city spaces and urban communities more inclusive and more just.

The funding, through Villanova University's Waterhouse Family Institute, is part of the institute's mission: "The mission of the Waterhouse Family Institute for the Study of Communication and Society grows out of a different narrative about the nature of Communication—one that sees communication to be the process through which we establish our relationship to ourselves, to one another, and to the world that we share.