Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

'The Red Line D.C.' documentary contextualizes fading Metro graffiti

June 6, 2012 - 10:31 AM
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(Photo: flickr/eyspahn)

The Red Line D.C. documentary has developed slowly for more than a year now. Little clips have emerged every few months, and the broader mission of the documentary seemed like a necessary one. The film, which will ultimately comprise two parts of 20 minutes apiece, asks the question — how should we make sense and understand the graffiti that countless D.C. Metro commuters see along their Red Line commutes at stations like Brookland, Rhode Island Avenue, and the newly renamed NoMa? But as the film is unveiled for broader release and fundraising now, the timing couldn't be more appropriate. In 2012, Washington, D.C. has begun scrubbing the graffiti along the Red Line, and the documentary now serves as an important way to capture the history of this public art and the ways, for better and worse, it's been a part of our lives.

"I believe the change up is an obvious result of gentrification and increased interest in that space on the part of developers," filmmaker Saaret Yoseph told me by email when I asked about the graffiti removal observed in the last half year. "The complete removal of graffiti at the Rhode Island rooftop had me particularly floored because I know how popular and recognizable that spot was on the Red Line. Though I try not to qualify or make snap judgments about these changes, I think the lack of color will give us a little less to look at during our daily ride."

Greater Greater Washington noted the removal twice earlier this year, first in February to remark on the removal of the "Obama Hates Borf" graffiti near Takoma and then in May, the buffing of the warehouses around Rhode Island Avenue. Blogger John Muller calls the graffiti "a shadow of its former self" and cites the hundreds of thousands of dollars that the Department of Public Works spends on graffiti removal as well as a business owner who calls the work "ugly" and "vandalism."

In 10 years, will anyone in D.C. see graffiti along the Red Line? Perhaps the only memorial for the work will come in the form of old photos, articles, and films like Yoseph's. Her interviews have sought to capture the full range of the street art and its implications for commuters, businesses, the city, and the graffiti artists themselves. The Red Line D.C. is planning multiple events this June to screen the documentary and celebrate its completion and fundraising for the $5,000 or so needed for art design, materials, dvds, and so on. The D.C. Humanities Council helped fund the filming with a $1,500 grant. There will be an outdoor sneak peek of the film as part of the NoMa Summer Screen series on June 27 at Loree Field around sundown. Meanwhile, Yoseph herself has certainly begun to notice the changes to her Red Line commute, but these changes include new graffiti as well as the removal of old.

"I have definitely been noticing the more erratic ebb and flow of graffiti over the past few weeks and months," Yoseph said. "My Red Line commute usually stops at Brookland, but the change in aesthetics is unavoidable there as well. [But] I noticed two new pieces, one reading 'My Bad' at Brookland station."

She suspects this is the work of younger graffiti artists but doesn't know.

Yoseph explained the goals of her film work to professors at Georgetown University this spring. She completed the project as part of her graduate studies in the communication, culture, and technology program there. 

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