- Tanvi Kumar
Confessions of a New Yorker
My roommate and I were on our way to Forte Greene Park, feeling the warmth of the sun and a brush of cool breeze on our necks. It was the perfect day for a picnic. Along the row of two-story houses was a brick wall with wooden windows. On this mundane structure, I found a black-and-white painted illustration of a woman holding a skeleton (with the artist's Instagram handle). It felt like a revelation, a confession of some existential thought about confronting death or mulling over it. It displayed an intertwining of opposites - a a skull in one half, its reflection alive with flesh. With the woman’s face turned away from us, only visible to a skeleton we couldn’t confront, it truly seemed like a secret moment hidden in the shadows.
While encountering graffitied surfaces is very much part of the New York City experience as a pedestrian, I usually didn’t stop to decipher these messages. Since that encounter, however, I not only started spending more than the standard 30 seconds looking at these notations but also started documenting them to study how artistic expression plays an integral part in the vernacular of the city. I aimed to capture the idea of reclaiming the space around us through human intervention on inanimate surfaces and their subsequent degradation with time.
The nature of these anonymous confessions allows the city dwellers to reveal their secrets, share their thoughts, and sometimes even have a conversation for everyone to see, transforming the entirety of New York City into a community canvas. In a fast-paced city where every individual is often indifferent to their surroundings or other people, the anonymous inscriptions bring the community together. These intentional moments of communication describe the events and relationships of the city’s occupants.
These graffiti expressions allow for a reach to the masses, with a promise of solace and respite from the fear of exposure that usually accompanies a confession. As images unaccompanied with an explanation are open to multiple interpretations, these confessions remain secretive while being revelatory, confidential while being on display - truly undercover.
Furthermore, these interactions are captured through the lived experience of inanimate surfaces and traces left behind from these confessions, situating them in a specific time and space. It’s a continuum, and the line may undulate, but it never fully leaves the surface, even as it withers away. And with the erosion of material, these messages become more and more illegible, remaining faithful to their secretive nature.
Photos by Tanvi Kumar