Tuesday 18th June 2024,
Post-Soviet Graffiti

It’s Already Hot out Here! Wall-Chalking Heats up Political Tensions in Pakistan

English text chalked on a wall in Karachi. (Photo: ‘clean socks/flickr’)

Although northern Pakistan sits just outside the far edge of what could ever have been termed ‘Soviet’ – last month a compelling example of political graffiti manifested as dissident “wall-chalking” in response to Saudi Arabian influence in the region. If the article published in the Pakistan Daily Times titled “’Graffiti war’ hots up in Hangu, Kohat” can be trusted for its content, rather than its English, then wall-chalking seems to follow similar patterns to the kinds of graffiti we expect to confront this summer throughout Eastern/Central Europe and Russia – that is, politically minded and ‘hoted’ up.

The pattern includes the usage of graffiti in demarcating ethnic, religious (in this case ‘sectarian’), and political lines, to voice otherwise suppressed opinions, and to shock and outrage onlookers with the aim of polarizing groups – while also seeking solidarity with more sympathetic onlookers – with the worst cases of polarization involving the use of graffiti (or ‘symbols’) in the biblical fashion of old testament lambs blood.

The walls certainly do talk, and in Peshawar it seems they are speaking the language of regional politics.  Whether this is because “the US agents and devilish forces are opposing brotherly relations between the two Muslim countries by carrying out wall-chalking against the royal family,” as rationalized by a statement released by pro-Saudi group Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, or because local people are expressing contentious opinions in an otherwise closed public arena, is privy only to the wall-chalkers themselves. It is suggested in the article that in this particular case a pro-Iranian group was responsible for the chalking.

Newer expressions of society are interacting with the old, spatial kind as one-hundred three people now belong to the Pakistan-based Facebook group “we HATE wall-chalking,” who have taken the writing on the wall as a pretext to posting their own dissatisfactions on their own collective digital wall(s). Maybe they should just chalk that message in under the offending wall-chalk so a more coherent uni-medium public conversation could occur – but that would likely offend their techno-emancipatory sensibilities.

Whatever the case, someone should inform these dissenters of dissent that symbols and language on a wall remain free of an encoded IP address, in the case they want to voice an opinion contrary to the sensibilities of ‘the authorities’ without being tracked down whilst enjoying a quick game of Warcraft III.

It’s also fascinating that chalk occupies the space Westerners famously fill with the colourful vapour of spray cans. Whether spray paint is too expensive, has developed alongside other materials in graffiti circles and culture, or is simply far too ‘overt’ a material of expression is a simple question that a quick Google search simply does not satisfy.

The following is a video on Karachi wall-writing that answers this and other questions. Don’t mind the long, earth shattering intro:

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