From the Latin “scariphare,” meaning “to mark the walls with forbidden signs,” “graffiti” entered Italian in the 19th century as a term for illicit markings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed on public surfaces. But this modern misdemeanor and art movement has a long history that overlaps with the cultural practices that would condemn it. Ancient emperors etched their edicts into the faces of cliffs, and medieval sovereigns engaged in law-scratching (Velasco 2019). Writing began among protohuman beings as the stenciling of pigment onto rock (Hoffman et al 2018). Today, paratextual techniques of authorization originating in premodernity—from ancient stamps and signatures to medieval seals and cords—survive in colophons, logos, bar- and QR codes, and other graphics.
This Special Issue invites contributions that consider the relationship of graffiti, broadly construed, to the institution of law, power, and space. While it welcomes discussion of the representation of law by artists, it is especially interested in proposals that probe the role of literary and visual experimentation in shaping physical and digital environments. If dirt, for Mary Douglas, is “matter out of place,” what constitutes writing “out of place” (Douglas 1966)? What role do forms of inscription, whether licit or illicit, play in what Julie Stone Peters calls law’s “art of the real” (Peters 2022)? Contributions from scholars working across modalities, fields and periods are welcome. We are particularly interested in interdisciplinary approaches that bridge art history, legal studies, and cultural analysis.