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The Painted Words of an Illiterate Man

Kuwait lacks graffiti. I like graffiti—good graffiti. Not bubbly words and goofiness. But something someone put time into. Heart-felt, painful expressions of urban plight. Joyous exuberance etched in windows. Political exclamations pasted to walls. Coded communications glued on billboards. Even inside jokes stenciled on street signs. In Kuwait, though, all I got is a bad speller who was happy on his birthday.

During a long walk today, I realized this lack of wall-side scribbling. At first I noticed a number of stencils. It turned out they were for official use—noting utilities or something. The Arabic threw me off. But they did have an aesthetic quality to them.

Then I saw discrete red lettering on the sides of buildings. Surely this was some sort of cipher. Nope. Turns out it was a numbering system for newspaper stands.

Only after a good search, did I find a bus stop, tagged in big bold letters. It read:

7 December 2010
A day of celebration
A day of anniversary
A day of Ahmed

“He is…um, you say, ah…illiterate?” my translator said.

OK, sure. But he does have a sense of composition. His lines of text reflect the square shape of the wall, but are raised and offset, resembling a soft diamond. The posted bills over it add depth, and the vomit makes it truly gritty.

I’m reaching. It is bubby silliness.

Tomorrow I’m off to Dubai for the weekend. I wonder if I’ll find any serious tagging there.

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