The Graffiti Wall of Fame
On the Side of JHS 13 nearest to Park Avenue, a passerby can see what happens when Harlem street artists are given the right to write on public walls. A freshly painted black chain link fence along part of East 106th street encloses the schools playground. On the southeast corner of the block, a wall runs all the way up to 107th street; it’s a double sided showcase of graffiti mayhem: complicated and colorful murals and tags appearing with a likeness to please those who pass it.
The place is called the graffiti hall of fame and holds some pretty impressive pieces of art for those interested in spending no money to see excellent creativity. Across from the 6th train adjacent to JHS 13 is a magnum opus attraction of the Hall of Fame that I will just call “the outer wall.” On both ends of the wall sit self-caricatures of graffiti artist NOSM who shows himself as a giant grey malnourished outlaw cowboy who holds a huge belt buckle with his name written in bubble letters.
At the center of the “the outer wall” is a big mural of graffiti eye candy. The mural propels the picture of a tagger jumping a boarded up half wall that that sits just under a purple subway riding into the horizon. In the center of the wall written on what looks like a small paper napkin reads “Graffiti Wall of Fame” in red sharpie-like text.
In terms of legality, this “graf art” might be the most legitimate kind of work that you can look at in New York City. And with the NYPD and city laws looking down on guys in hoodies yielding spray cans, it seems that what you get from Harlem’s graffiti hall of fame is a safe haven for street expressionists. In the eyes of Conor Sullivan, a freshmen at Marymount Manhattan college, legitimate street art stands as “Fun to look at, but less raw, or dangerous…it’s not the real deal.”
For Jimmy, a local and resident of the nearby Jacky Robinson housing projects, the Graffiti Hall of Fame is a good place for Harlem people to go to. Originally from The Bronx, where an artist’s tags are “disrespected and written over by amateurs”; the now Harlem commoner was pleased to say he’d “rather see guys do this here than outside selling drugs.”
Behind The Wall of Fame, lies what you could rather refer to as the Graffiti Hall of Fame. Encased behind both the “outer wall” and the fence along East 106th street is the playground of Central Park East’s junior high school. The view from the inside of the schoolyard shows the other face of the outer wall, where bright colored graffiti of hallucinogenic like painted scenes stretch all the way down park avenue.
In the middle of the schoolyard, a community baseball team practices for an upcoming game. The players, all teenagers who concentrate on their running and drills, seem to be accustomed to the artwork, but still look at the wall from time to time. When asked about the work of the Hall of Fame, one of the assistant coach’s didn’t have much to say except that “It’s [tagging] not allowed during school hours…[and] it also gets redone every six months or so.”
From the other side of the wall of fame and on the recess lawn of JHS 13, the positive images and messages of collective Harlem artists seem almost like their own gifts to the youth who live around the close by housing projects. Word’s like “Justice”, “Excellence” and “Community” are offered to the viewing of school kids in fun bubble letters along with blown up cartoon sketches of students getting on the bus and doing their homework.