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Graffiti Club Works to Change the Narrative of its Artform

By Max Sklaw

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From left to right, Theo Fleig, Sebastian Johnson, and Nina Smith practice graffiti in the wood shop.

Sophia Whyte

Every school year brings with it a new set of students, teachers, and classes. New challenges for students to engage with in their schedules, new opportunities for teachers to be able to perfect their craft, and last but not least, new ideas that students bring to the table for the betterment of the school.

Every school year brings with it a new set of students, teachers, and classes. New challenges for students to engage with in their schedules, new opportunities for teachers to be able to perfect their craft, and last but not least, new ideas that students bring to the table for the betterment of the school.

One of the ways that students are able to better their school is by creating clubs that unify classmates by a common hobby, interest, or identity. The ever-growing list of clubs that students can join as they foster a diverse space of community is tethered together by all aspects of their personalities.

Through these clubs, students can grow the parts of ourselves that are sometimes obscured from the rest of the world, and in turn these places become safe spaces for them to learn about themselves as young adults. One such place that has only been introduced this year is Graffiti Club. Founded by Hannah Cornejo and Sage Hirsch, seniors in Academic Choice (AC), the club meets Fridays at lunch in the wood shop.

“There is so much graffiti everywhere you look when you walk down the street. People see it as this blight in the neighborhood, but in reality it’s a community-based art form that brings people together and for a very long time has been disrespected. That’s why we created this club,” said Hirsch, “[We’re] trying to make a space where we can work in peace doing the thing we love.”

In walking into the space, it’s easy to see why all the members love the club as much as they do; every member is enthralled in the art piece they are currently working on, or the new technique that Hirsch is teaching.

On Friday, January 17, the technique that he was teaching was how to use wheat paste, an environmentally-friendly adhesive used to fasten stencils to a wall so that the artist can add their design relatively quickly without adding more to their carbon footprint than what is necessary.

The environmental impact of graffiti is one of the issues the club has been grappling with. Because of the aerosol cans that are used in the process of graffiti, volatile organic compounds are released into the air where they then can damage the ozone layer. According to Hirsch, although there are a few notable downsides to using spray paint, there are also many positives. “During the last few months, at the climate [marches] and before, people were using spray cans to get their designs out there in an incredibly fast way. Spray paint can be used to spread the message that we are trying to send through the protesting,” Hirsch said.

When founding the club, Cornejo and Hirsch wanted to create a space where street art could thrive in a school environment in a way that would be accessible to everyone. It is plain to see the ways that the club has achieved this goal. Rose Pedemonte, a senior in AC and a club member said, “I really like the revolutionary ideas that Hannah and Sage are bringing to the club. Much of what they are rebelling against is the art world and the limitations that have been assigned by these people.” This sentiment is expressed more strongly in many Berkeley High School (BHS) art classes, where students feel they are not able to express themselves fully for fear of a bad grade or a teacher’s wrath. This is in sharp contrast to people’s experiences in art classes as younger kids, when many are told that art is a form of self-expression, and thus has no rules. Graffiti, and by extension this club, is a way for people to show the world the art they truly want and deserve to show. It is free of the “do’s-and-don’t’s” assigned by people they have never met, as well as judgement from “more successful” artists.

The founders hope that, in the future, the club will have a bigger presence in the school, both within the student body and physically within the buildings. They are hoping to be able to paint murals in the school, sending the message that graffiti is here to stay.

Disclaimer: Hannah Cornejo is a writer for the Jacket.

One of the ways that students are able to better their school is by creating clubs that unify classmates by a common hobby, interest, or identity. The ever-growing list of clubs that students can join as they foster a diverse space of community is tethered together by all aspects of their personalities.

Through these clubs, students can grow the parts of ourselves that are sometimes obscured from the rest of the world, and in turn these places become safe spaces for them to learn about themselves as young adults. One such place that has only been introduced this year is Graffiti Club. Founded by Hannah Cornejo and Sage Hirsch, seniors in Academic Choice (AC), the club meets Fridays at lunch in the wood shop.

“There is so much graffiti everywhere you look when you walk down the street. People see it as this blight in the neighborhood, but in reality it’s a community-based art form that brings people together and for a very long time has been disrespected. That’s why we created this club,” said Hirsch, “[We’re] trying to make a space where we can work in peace doing the thing we love.”

In walking into the space, it’s easy to see why all the members love the club as much as they do; every member is enthralled in the art piece they are currently working on, or the new technique that Hirsch is teaching.

On Friday, January 17, the technique that he was teaching was how to use wheat paste, an environmentally-friendly adhesive used to fasten stencils to a wall so that the artist can add their design relatively quickly without adding more to their carbon footprint than what is necessary.

The environmental impact of graffiti is one of the issues the club has been grappling with. Because of the aerosol cans that are used in the process of graffiti, volatile organic compounds are released into the air where they then can damage the ozone layer. According to Hirsch, although there are a few notable downsides to using spray paint, there are also many positives. “During the last few months, at the climate [marches] and before, people were using spray cans to get their designs out there in an incredibly fast way. Spray paint can be used to spread the message that we are trying to send through the protesting,” Hirsch said.

When founding the club, Cornejo and Hirsch wanted to create a space where street art could thrive in a school environment in a way that would be accessible to everyone. It is plain to see the ways that the club has achieved this goal. Rose Pedemonte, a senior in AC and a club member said, “I really like the revolutionary ideas that Hannah and Sage are bringing to the club. Much of what they are rebelling against is the art world and the limitations that have been assigned by these people.” This sentiment is expressed more strongly in many Berkeley High School (BHS) art classes, where students feel they are not able to express themselves fully for fear of a bad grade or a teacher’s wrath. This is in sharp contrast to people’s experiences in art classes as younger kids, when many are told that art is a form of self-expression, and thus has no rules. Graffiti, and by extension this club, is a way for people to show the world the art they truly want and deserve to show. It is free of the “do’s-and-don’t’s” assigned by people they have never met, as well as judgement from “more successful” artists.

The founders hope that, in the future, the club will have a bigger presence in the school, both within the student body and physically within the buildings. They are hoping to be able to paint murals in the school, sending the message that graffiti is here to stay.

Disclaimer: Hannah Cornejo is a writer for the Jacket.

© 1912 - 2020 Berkeley High Jacket

Cached February 27th, 2020 8:50:05 AM PST

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From left to right, Theo Fleig, Sebastian Johnson, and Nina Smith practice graffiti in the wood shop.

Image by Sophia Whyte

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