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Header image: Courtesy Prof. Rohan Jayasekara, Dean, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo (2011 - 2014).
The writing is on the wall !! - By Nihal D. Amerasekera
The writing is on
the wall !!
By Nihal D
The above caption is a reference to a
graffiti on the wall in Babylon, the great Kingdom, between the rivers
Euphrates and Tigris around 550BC. The region iscurrently referred to as Iraq. The graffiti was a prediction about the destruction of the
Kingdom of Babylon. So you see, Graffiti is old as history itself.
In the spring of 2008, the Tate Modern in
London opened the world’s first major public museum display of graffiti and
street art.Thankfully it is considered
as serious art. With his satirical
street art, dark humour and political sketches Banksy is one of the best known
ofthe street artists.
Wall paintings , etches and scratchers have
been with us since the time of the Pharaohs. I have seen their handiwork in Ephesus in
Turkey from the 10th Century BC.Ever since I arrived in London, the graffiti capital of the world, I
have been mesmerized by the artistic beauty and the clever thinking behind some
of the work of the ‘masters’. Their
creations with the spray cans and the paint brushes have been magnificent. They
use their creative minds as their palettesandthe drab walls and railway arches as their canvas. Of course there is
vandalism and bad language created by warped minds of some graffiti artists.They
too are a cross section of our society with those same social problems.
I will always remember a graffiti of Che
Guevara on a blank wall which is a
symbol of poverty and suffering of the social underclass. Its colour and the facial
expression brought him back to life.This must be the work of another Picasso
unable to claim his fame due to his background of poverty. Since the 1970’s
there has been a gradual move away from graffiti as it is a now a punishable
offence.Graffiti areconsidereda desecration of the environment
but I remember with much affection the glory daysof those colourful muralsand inspirational aphorisms. Thereisoften an irresistible desire to scribble. I read a news clip from the
Sri Lanka Daily Mirror of a girl who had scribbled on the mirror wall at
Sigiriyawith a hairpin and was punished with 2 years imprisonment. The sentence
was later squashed. The wheels of justice in Sri Lanka grinds slowly both to
convict and to release.
I started my career as a trainee
radiologist in a London teaching hospital. It is a completely different ball
game to being a medical registrar. Once again I felt like a helpless medical
student learning the heart sounds, timing murmurs and eliciting clinical signs.To make diagnoses looking at
images and not having the patient before me needed a new way of thinking. The
return to radiation physics was soul destroying. The rest of the trainees felt
the heat too. I wasn’t surprised to find a graffiti in an inaccessible corner
of the registrars toilet “XRAY IS A FOUR LETTER WORD”.
It was a graphic description of my own sentiments. Honest, I didn’t write it
but wish I did !! It was much later I realized the immense importance of
imaging and its vast potential. Radiology was one of the best things I have
done in my life.
Although ablutions are a basic and mundane
function, lavatorialhumour has been in existence since time began. The public
toilets are a magnet for graffiti artists. The dim lights in the basement and
the relative seclusion perhaps help in its creation.I recall reading a hurriedly written script
on the wall “Pass anything but not wind”. All I could say
is “Easily said than done”.Amongst a gallery of graffiti in the
Oxford Circus public toilet their was a polite request “don’t overestimate your
ability, get closer to the urinal.” Gents toilets are a paradise for
dribblers. If I had the courage to replyIwould have said : “ I will have to swim to get there”.On the back of a toilet door was a gentle
reminder :“Your exhaust needs a silencer”
On a blank wall near London’s Kings Cross
station there was a forlorn script written in brilliant red “ Obama for President :Cameron
The word “phat” doesn’t mean what it
sounds. According to theMerriam-Webster
dictionary it is an adjective meaning ‘very attractive or appealing’.
Be that as it may,when I was walking in London’s China Town I
came across a plush notice “Tea Rooms”and then in small letters“A quiet place for a tea
and Phat”. I
was greatly enticed by what’s on offer and stepped in.It was most certainly quiet and the tea was
good but I didn’t have the urge for the Phat.
On a wall near the London’s Olympic stadium
was a sinister note:
“Get a free vasectomy – do the 100 Metre hurdles”
I appreciate enormously the subtle humour
of those wall-scribblerswho are said to
be on the margins of society.I have always been fascinated by these ‘Confucius’
“End of the world is nigh - beat the
rush and by your lottery ticket”.
“Life is a thief of time”
Old fishermen never die - they just
smell that way”
“Save fuel - Get cremated with a
“Today is yesterdays tomorrow”
“Keep death off the roads - Drive on
It is not a graffiti but Oscar Wilde who said
“I am so clever that sometimes I don't
understand a single word of what I am saying.”.Self
deprecation is an art form and is an important aspect of British humour. This
well thought out graffiti appeared at the very corner of a wall full of
multi-coloured scribbles – “Those who can write , write books.
Those who can’t- write graffiti”.
I hope I have whet your appetite for the
wisdom of graffiti. They certainly rule ok and have a world of their own.