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Starland Graffiti [Art Review]

Visual Communication - Temple University

Before I transferred to Temple, I lived for two years in Savannah, Georgia. On the south side of town, there is a neighborhood called the Starland District. While exploring there one day, I found this piece of graffiti written on the walls of the abandoned Starland Dairy building, once the neighborhood’s landmark business. The graffiti depicts one of the famous Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel’s musings:

“We must never be silent … whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

This piece of art is handwritten using black marker or paint in highly stylized, bold capital letters. The artist, who is unknown at this time, chose to utilize one of the corners of the building for this piece. The prominent words, “Never be silent,” take up almost half of one tiled wall. The rest of the quote continues on the adjacent wall. Though the piece is bold in character, it almost blends in with the rest of the atmosphere; the Starland Dairy building has become a playground for graffiti artists, with the walls, windows, and even the floors covered in spray-paint.

The Starland District of Savannah was a working class neighborhood back in the early 20th century. After the Great Depression, the neighborhood steadily declined into poverty. By the 1990s, mostly low-income people of color resided in the Starland District. In 2001, outside parties made plans to revitalize the area through the arts – or as the locals saw it, gentrification. Now the Starland District is known as a cool, fun place home to trendy shops, restaurants, and art galleries. The locals have been driven away due to high property costs and the influx of a richer demographic.

Taking the history of the neighborhood into consideration, this piece of graffiti, maybe created by a concerned local artist, can be seen as a tribute to the evicted residents of the Starland District. While the use of Weisel’s quote may be extreme when comparing the situation of the neighborhood to that of the Holocaust, the sentiment is similar. The low-income residents saw the decline of their community yet had little to no say in its proposed revival due to their social and financial standing. Without the money to keep their property, they became victims of displacement. The Starland Dairy building is one of the last structures in the area to be renovated in the name of progress. The Weisel graffiti, cast aside like the past, remains a quiet protest in a gentrified community.


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