Haverford Graffiti, VanDevender Wallpaper

by John Muse

On November 9th Sex Drive artist Nancy VanDevender asked Haverford students Ellen Freeman ’11 and Patrick Phelan ’11 to “gather some images: notes, scribbles, handwriting, personal ads, drawings, hand-drawn bathroom notes, sex graffiti, any hand-drawn or written words, etc.” 


Lisa Boughter
snooki want smush smush

VanDevender was to create—and did create—a large wallpaper design for inclusion in the show, and she wanted local materials and inspiration. So they gathered and uploaded Haverford graffiti. Lots of it. Photographer Lisa Boughter, following Ellen and Patrick’s lead, rephotographed their selections, focusing on what could be found in Magill Library and Stokes and establishing the wider context, the larger views and broader swaths.  Boughter writes, “I wanted to show this material under similar lighting conditions and as close to the point of view of one who would produce or encounter it as possible—to preserve its clandestine nature.”

VanDevender’s wallpaper design incorporates Haverford graffiti, weaving it among the portraits of celebrities and tiled scientific illustrations.  These indelicate carvings—some sweet, some vulgar, some affirmative, some banal—become delicate filigree, decorative but pointedly legible.  At Haverford, just as at every other institution where spaces aren’t exactly personal nor ever private, graffiti is background and “my” ground: it’s everywhere, literally part of the furniture, addressed to everyone and open to citation and erasure.  It says, “me” and “you” and “not theirs.”  VanDevender places this graffiti, epitome of the local, vernacular, idiotic, illicit, and, as Boughter says, “clandestine,” on the same plane as the faces of hyper-visible and contrite celebrities, so as if to say, here is where we live, here you’re not the only one at home, here is what we’re thinking.  She foregrounds this background and hides everything in plain sight.

In the gallery below, you will find interesting bits of Haverford graffiti as well as details from VanDevender’s design along with their sources.