Found in Chesterton: graffiti with a classical twistSWNS

Cambridge has yet to be graced with a midnight visit from Banksy; indeed, if you were to take a stroll through the city centre, you would be hard-pressed to find any graffiti at all – the vast majority of it is instantaneously scrubbed off the city’s immaculate stone walls under the orders of college leaderships.

However, this is not to say that Cambridge’s graffiti scene has been entirely suppressed by the overzealous use of industrial paint remover. In fact it raises its head surprisingly often, and when it does the results are usually marvellous.

Just last week for instance, whilst wandering down Pembroke Street, I came across ‘ROMANI ITE DOMUM’ (‘Romans go home’) roughly chalked onto the side of a university building. This particular piece, while perhaps fledgling in its artistry, is archetypal of the best of the city’s graffiti: political, self-aware and satirical. The anonymous artist got right time what the protagonist of The Life of Brian got so disastrously wrong – landing a visual jab at the presumed powers that be. However, for now, I will perhaps leave a comparative study of the Roman occupation of Judea and the treatment of students by the University of Cambridge to someone better qualified.

'Romani Ite Domum'Sam Hampson

The graffiti artists of Cambridge, it would seem, are often drawn to the satirical use of Latin in their work. For example, the controversial Water Street estate development in the north of the city, where houses cost upward of £1 million, was decorated late one April evening last year by a vigilante artist seemingly taking a stand against the perceived pricing out of locals. ‘Locus in Domum, Loci Populum!’ was painted across four houses, and early the next morning, members of the university’s Classics department – including Mary Beard – were rushed to decipher the statement, in a turn of events reminiscent of an Arthur Conan Doyle novel. After some classical academic head-scratching, it was generally concluded that the twilight artist had intended to write ‘local homes for local people’ on the gargantuan new-builds, but unfortunately had made the eternal error of relying upon Google Translate to do so.

Nonetheless, this graffiti artist and their pidgin Latin were able to reignite an important debate on ‘who Cambridge is for’ and about gentrification more broadly, a debate which is currently sweeping across cities nationwide. Cambridge’s public artistry has since gone from strength to strength with regular new additions on Newmarket Road, as well as numerous examples by the city’s mysterious heron graffiti artist, whose aim is “to give Cambridge its own unique urban mascot”. Furthermore, just last month, a creative tribute was left to Professor Stephen Hawking on a wall near the Mill Road bridge, where the gaze of passers-by is now met by the piercing eyes of the late professor, depicted in celestial neon blues and pinks.


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Unfortunately however, things took an artistic nosedive last week when graffiti was discovered in a bathroom stall in Anglia Ruskin, which touted the supposed “superiority” of the University of Cambridge and its students, along with other malicious statements to a similar effect. After being contacted by a student representative at Anglia Ruskin, CUSU released a statement condemning the act of vandalism: “We would like to apologise on behalf of Cambridge students for this behaviour, both as an act of deplorable vandalism and as part of a rhetoric of institutional elitism. This is an unacceptable, harmful, and bigoted idea and has no place in this University. As members of the wider communities of higher education and academia, it is paramount that we show respect for members of other institutions.”

CUSU’s highlighting of the bigotry behind the words goes to the heart of the matter. Much like the snobbery attached to graffiti in the art world, the bigotry that still exists within small pockets of our student body is archaic and frankly boring. Out of respect for our neighbours and friends at Anglia Ruskin, we have a duty to call out this snobbery wherever it may arise – even if it is above a urinal. Cambridge’s graffiti artists have an important tradition of contributing something to the city’s walls and its residents. The best of their work is political, aesthetic and most of all it is intelligent. The example found in a bathroom at Anglia Ruskin is none of the above, and as such it should be scrubbed not only from the toilet stall but also from the artistic record.

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