Who the f!*$ is Basil?

Like a lot of things in Malta, the graffiti is contained… contained mainly to underpasses and skate parks. The island is not awash with colourful murals, insightful snippets, and entreaties to vote this way or that. And like so many other things, its absence here underscores its presence in , say, Budapest, or Subotica, or Belgrade.

I quite like graffiti and the liberal concept of the external walls of our built environment providing a ready-made canvas for urban artists. Admittedly, just as paper will take any print, walls will take any paint, and a lot of what is written should have been left in the spraycan. Declarations of undying love and affection alongside racist and derogatory comments have no place on our public walls – but colourful murals, invocations of hope, morsels of wisdom… by all means.

Somewhere in Malta there’s someone with some large stencils and a spray can. They sign themselves off as Basil and write not just on walls, but on pavements, like this one, beside the Church of our Lady of Mount Carmel in Balluta. It gives little in the way of clues as to Basil’s identity. Sadly, the minds of many generations have been destroyed by madness. I wonder what, if anything, can be read into its proximity to the Catholic church.

Closer to the university, Basil strikes again. A little more personal this time. And again, I have to wonder if Basil just happened by one day with the spraycan and stencils and decided to pick on this particular wall, or if its location, right by the University, says more about the message than the message itself? Now some might argue that the artistic merit in these messages is minimal, if it exists at all. How hard is it to use a stencil. But then how difficult was it for Marcel Duchamp to put a urinal in a room and call it a fountain and thereby make it art.

Right now, I can’t get the Smokie song out of my head – Living next door to Alice – Basil, Basil, who the f*&! is Basil?

7 replies
  1. Mary
    Mary says:

    Now, there’s a question. Born in London to a Hungarian father and a British mother and yet ‘catalogued’ as Irish-Hungarian… Reminds me of 9/12 in the States when everyone was no longer Irish-American or quarter this and three-quarters that, but all American. Interesting how we portray ourselves.

  2. Jane
    Jane says:

    Underneath “censorship offends me” you can see something else has been painted over. If my memory serves me well (I live in the area) the wall previously said “Free Palestine.” I always took Basil’s work on that wall as a reaction to whoever scrubbed out that message.

    Also, I’m not sure if you didn’t realise or just didn’t mention, but the graffiti in Ballutta is a quote from the poem “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg. I recently walked past that spot in Ballutta and someone has added “and lust” to the end of the quote. I guess they didn’t realise it was a poem, but still it’s sort of fascinating when people add to graffiti with their own thoughts – speaks to the impermanent and interactive nature of street art.

    • Mary
      Mary says:

      Hi Jane… I didn’t realise that it was a quote from Ginsberg – thanks for sharing. I saw some graffiti here in Budapest once that you could actually ‘edit’ by using different photo angles and come away with two completely different meanings – Something like – Toursist go home make us happy. You could photo the whole thing, or just the words – Tourists go home happy. I think that so much can be learned from this street art – it’s a shame more attention isn’t paid to it.


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