August 20th, 2005
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early guerilla art

In the 5th century B.C. graffiti poems were scratched onto the rock face of Sigiriya (Sri Lanka) –the rock fortress of a despot king. Short verses to the painted women in the frescoes which spoke of love in all its confusions and brokeness. Poems to mythological women who consumed and overcame mundane lives. The phrases saw breasts as perfect swans; eyes were long and clean as horizons. The anonymous poets returned again and again to the same metaphors.
When the government rounded up thousands of suspects during the insurgency of 1971, the Vidyalankara campus of the University of Ceylon was turned into a prison camp. The police weeded out the guilty, trying to break their spirit. When the university opened again the returning students found hundreds of poems written on walls, ceilings, and in hidden corners of the campus. quatrains and free verse about the struggle, tortures, the unbroken spirit, love of friends who had died for the cause. The students went around for days transcribing them into their notebooks before they were covered with whitewash and lye.

excerpted from “Running in the Family” by Michael Ondaatje (pg 84-85)

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