Ciara is another one of SOAN’s recipients of the AHSS summer research project grants. With her funding, Ciara returned to Los Angeles for the summer, and has designed a fascinating oral history project that explores aspects of her own neighborhood and its history. As the faculty advisor of her project, I asked Ciara to provide our departmental audience with a bit of detail about her emerging project. Here’s what he had to say!
My research doesn’t propose a singular research question, but instead is a collection of ex-graffiti gang members remnants and a set of interviews making up an oral history of their time in the gangs in the 1990s. When gathered, I will correlate all their individual yet analogous recollections to analyze what graffiti meant to them, and assess their perspectives during this time, with particular attention to the dichotomy between art and vandalism, which captures the social realities of the graffiti writers in urban environments. Altogether, this research will explore a multitude of different topics and social themes, such as poverty and violence, and will investigate these artists’ experiences along social, cultural, and political lines. East Los Angeles is a marginalized urban community in which residents began establishing territories and reconfiguring urban space well before the 1990s. But because of tensions, largely defined by the racial and ethnic segregation, and coupled with a deep distrust of the police and ongoing violence, gangs rose in prominence in this period. Graffiti served as a way for members of this urban community to mark turf and establish territory.
I have been in contact with subjects that are now working as muralists or as established graffiti artists. They have detached themselves from any involvement in any graffiti gang activity for the past twenty years, and as I have commenced this project, these artists have brought me to the places in the neighborhood that are important locations from their yesteryears: I’ve been at the walls they’ve tagged, into their houses, and via ethnographic methods, I’ve been trying to blend into the scene, so that I might deploy participant observation to gather as much evidence as possible in addition to the interviews I’m conducting for the oral history.
Ciara, that sounds so interesting, and we’re looking forward to hearing more. We’ll catch up with you again in a few months as your project nears completion!