Graffiti on Steel, storefront security door, April 2020, NY.

Humans communicate with symbols.  The most popular are words, numbers, and images.  Here you see a photograph of an art form known as graffiti, or street art.  It consists of a cartoon-like character—perhaps a shark (?); a forbidden word—sometimes referred to as the F-word; and a name repeated countless times by humans around the world—Covid-19.  

Humans also communicate by exchanging goods and services.  One of the most common places to make this exchange is in a store, where we trade the local currency for food, clothing, tools, etc.  Most people get this currency in exchange for a skill or service they provide.

The surface on which this fine work of art was painted was a steel door meant to lock out criminals after closing time.  Each morning, residents could hear the clatter and clack of one barrier after another being raised to welcome customers.  That sound, and many others of an awakening city had been silent for weeks when this graffiti artist took a spray can and rendered variations of the same image on security doors throughout a Queens neighborhood.  If we were art critics we might call it The FUCK Covid-19 Series

Graffiti is just as forbidden as the F-word and just as ubiquitous.  It is labeled as criminal mischief and a reward not to exceed $500.00 is offered for information leading to the apprehension of the mischief-maker.  To my knowledge, no laws have yet been passed against the use of the F-word, but it can lead to bleeps.

The FUCK Covid-19 artist reminds us that words, numbers and images are not the only symbols that communicate the reality in which we are living.  Things can become symbols too.   However, they might be hard to recognize until someone points them out.  That’s what artists do. 

Eventually the owners returned, opened their shops, and washed off the graffiti.  However, while The FUCK Covid-19 Series was on display, it was viewed repeatedly by the residents of the neighborhood.  I can’t speak for the other viewers, but I found them to be a refreshing relief from the tiresome reminders to wash my hands and cover my face.  

Today, almost a year later, many Covid-19 barriers have not been lifted, and I fear that new ones are being constructed.  As I notice each one of them, I smile and superimpose the ghostly image of the cartoon shark and its naughty message.  

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