Graffiti and Gangs in L.A.


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“Perhaps the least hysterical exploration into the life of urban street gangs in the US to date.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Go for it and cop it too.  No regrets.”

“Phillips is an acutely perceptive and deeply intuitive observer of Southern California’s urban scene, and she writes with urgency and clarity about a world that is otherwise barred to most of us.” —Los Angeles Times.

“This masterful, scholarly work humanizes gang members without glorifying their violence.”  —Library Journal.

Anthropologist Susan Phillips enters the lives of the African-American and Chicano gang members to write a comprehensive guide to their symbolic and visual expression. She not only decodes the graffiti—explaining how, for instance, gang boundaries are visually delimited and how “memorial” graffiti functions—but she also places it in the context of the changing urban landscapes within the city. Graffiti, she argues, is inextricably linked to political change, to race, and to art, and she demonstrates how those connections are played out in contemporary L.A. Wallbangin’ is, on this level, an iconography of street imagery. But it is also a very personal narrative about entering the world of L.A. street gangs—a world of pride, enemies, affirmation, and humanity where gang members use graffiti to redefine their social and political position in society.

To many outsiders, graffiti is cryptic, senseless scribbling. But Phillips explains it as an ingenious and creative solution to the disenfranchisement felt by those who produce it. With personal narratives, provocative photography, and contemporary voices, Wallbangin’ unlocks the mysteries behind street-level ideologies and their visual manifestations.


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