Street Art or Graffiti in Ledroit Park?

by Prince Of Petworth May 11, 2011 at 11:00 am 76 Comments

“Dear PoP,

Saw these on my way to work yesterday morning while biking through LeDroit Park. The mattress may be gone – a trash truck was just off to the right of the image. That’s near 4th and V St, NW. The second is just north of 5th and U St, NW on a north-facing alley wall. Do you think either counts as (guerrilla) art? Or is it just graffiti, albeit of a non-tagging kind?”

What do you guys think – guerrilla art or graffiti?

  • dude in yo face

    I like the first, and I bet it is still there as removing it would require effort by the Sanitation Dept. – not likely.

    The second is just stupid, art or not. The artist is clearly “too stupid to just be…”

    • PetHeights

      The second is actually making a very poignant statement. As a black female I have heard this comment all too often in my life. It’s insulting and it sends a message about the reality of our supposed “colorblind society”.

      Just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t make it stupid. Your criticism is not a valid critique, and sounds rather unintelligent.

      • TaylorStreetMan

        Sincere question: are you hearing this from white people, black people, or both?

        • PetHeights

          Unfortunately, I have heard it from both black and white people. I have also heard it from middle eastern, asian, and latino people. I’ve heard this comment since childhood, and many of my friends have experienced it also.

          I don’t believe that those making the statement mean it as an insult. However, their intent does not make it any less offensive. People making the statement actually believe it to be a compliment. My personal theory is that making this kind of statement reflects a subconscious belief that being “just black” is not attractive, and therefore an attractive black person’s features must be the result of a bi-racial identity.

          There are many different kinds of people in every community that hold this belief and aren’t even aware that they feel that way until it is brought to their attention. That is exactly why I loved the 2nd graffiti/art piece so much. It inspires us think and talk about these things so we can learn and grow as people. :-)

      • chicken good

        perhaps you’re reading too much into the statement…the sign is….in fact…black. we need to not get worked up over the small things people.

        • PetHeights

          No one is offended by what the graffiti says, not is anyone “getting worked up” over it. The graffiti is referencing and offensive statement that is familiar to those with an African American identity. I do find it interesting when people choose to label something “small” just because they are not familiar with it, or feel indifferent towards it. I don’t think that is necessary. Everyone has a right to express their opinion in a respectful way, regardless of how small it seems to others.

      • pietr

        someone defaced private property. its vandalism.

  • anon

    The first one is fine, but blah.

    The second one is the much better of the two, because it’s thought-provoking. On one hand, it’s troubling because it implies that black people aren’t pretty. On the other, it’s making a statement that the wall would prettier if it were a cheerier color. I’m not sure which point the artist is trying to make.

    There is irony, of course, that the graffiti (which defaces other people’s property in Ledroit) comes from black kids, and this particular graffiti may be found offensive by many of them. It’s the Golden Rule, kids.

    • jp

      probably double meaning — “it’s making a statement that the wall”

  • hillhound528

    The second one is thought provoking and definitely “art”. That “stupid” phrase is something that black women have been hearing for decades.

    • steve


    • PetHeights


  • Anon

    I think a black person made the second and a white person made the first.

    The second one is emphasizing that there is more to “just being black” and that things are more complex than that.

    At least thats the way I read it.

    The first one is just some white kid’s attempt at being edgy and urban. He’s probably from california, as I’ve never heard “so fucking stoked” uttered by anyone who’s not from the west coast.

  • chadwicksaid

    the second one reminds me of a recent phrase that was spray painted at the base of the Connecticut St bridge (or maybe calvert) on the left side of the road right before you enter the beach drive zoo tunnel. same style letters too… i can’t quite remember what it says… but they were going for something thought provoking, but it’s just lame and defaces great stonework.

    • textdoc

      Agreed. Just because it’s thought-provoking doesn’t negate that it’s defacing someone else’s property (or public property).

      • I agree textdoc –

        This is just plain and simple graffiti, like a dog marking his territory, unless the building owner approved it – then the second pic is art the first is just trash.

        I don’t get why there is such a facination with promoting this type of activity in blogs and such. There really is no debate here. It is destructive crimminal behaviour.

        This post and the comments have given the crimminal a stage to brag on.

        Like I have said before, small crimes are ok with this community. How sad.

    • “Those who sacrific their liberty for security deserve neither.” . . . or something to that effect.

  • Lala

    Anon- are you’re suggesting only black kids could have done this? B/c I find that a bit offensive.

    • Anon

      No, I’m suggesting that I think a black person did the second one. But go ahead and work hard at being offended.

    • Jeff

      I witnessed the second one being painted, and it was a magenta kid. Get your colors straight.

    • TaylorStreetMan

      Rather than reading into some supposed implied statement about black people, I’m surprised you didn’t take offense at this direct statement that black kids are in fact the taggers (from Anon, 11:23):

      “There is irony, of course, that the graffiti (which defaces other people’s property in Ledroit) comes from black kids”

      • Anonomous

        You’re right. White, Asian and Hispanic kids have been running amok and tagging buildings in LeDroit for years.

        • TaylorStreetMan

          Hey, I’m just pointing out how I found it odd that Lala took offense at an implied ‘offensive’ remark rather than an out-and-out offensive, unapologetic statement blaming all tagging on black people.

          Don’t shoot the messenger…

      • Lala

        I did, sorry I wasn’t clear.

        • TaylorStreetMan

          Thanks for clarifying. I wasn’t trying to take a shot at you, I just thought it was odd. Now I know. :-)

  • Greg

    You have to appreciate that the person who did the first one didnt want to do it in a permanent fashion.

    Both have excellent penmanship.

    • Anon

      I appreciate the punctuation of the second one.

      • MishiL


  • Ms. Pac-Man

    I like the second one–for its visual appeal and the way it tells so much about one woman’s experience in just a few words. However, if that was put on someone’s property without permission that is beyond not cool.

  • fz


    • TaylorStreetMan

      I’d like to commission this young “artist” to create a lovely masterpiece on the side of your car, all across the front of your house (assuming you own, which, given your disregard for other people’s property, I’m going to assume you don’t), and all over any and every piece of property you have.

  • CE

    First is dumb. Second is art.

    The counterpart to the simpler “Black is Beautiful” someone spray-painted in the temporary sidewalk cover outside the construction zone next to the Highland Park second-phase development. Makes me smile twice a day on my commute.

    • anon1

      If someone were to say/spraypaint “White is Beautiful” they would be accused of racism/hate speech.

      • alkebulan

        I truly understand what you are saying. However “Whites” have not been consistenly taught and conditioned that they were inferior, distorted, subhuman (3/5ths) and animals since the days their ancestors were forced to be chattel. Unfortunately it is still ingrained in the psyche of many African Americans and sadly will not dissapear any time soon. There is no excuse still for any double standard however.

  • TaylorStreetMan

    I don’t think the second one has anything at all to do with black people. It’s about the black *wall* being too pretty to be just black, so the societal leech/vandal/loser, er… I mean, “artist” added some color.

    • BP

      I believe Taylor’s interpretation is correct. It references the wall.

      But, either way, the individual should be caught and arrested!

      Paint today, a gun tomorrow. :)

      • PetHeights

        You guys only think it references the wall b/c you’ve never heard this statement made in everyday conversation referencing race, as many of us have. I do think that it could be a double entendre- which only makes it more impressive :)

        • TaylorStreetMan

          Fair enough. It may have a second meaning if read within the context of a different conversation.

        • Bitter Elitist

          + 1,000,000 *whooshes over their heads* ;)

        • Anon


        • TaylorStreetMan

          OK, I admit that it flew over my head, but maybe it’s because I don’t spend time with A-holes who talk to other people like that.

          I’d still like to know (PetHeights? Can you enlighten, please?) whether this kind of statement comes from white people, black people, or both.

          • Another guy named Chris

            Both! As a black man, I get the “You are very well-mannered/articulate/cultured for a black man” The “for a black man” is often implied depending on the relationship with the speaker. But I can always tell because of their slight embarrassment at the compliment.

            Blacks, Whites and all in between; ignorance knows no racial boundaries.

            I have also heard people talk about Black women similarly. I don’t happen to take offense because usually its just genuine ignorance/non-exposure.

  • Chris

    I took these photos yesterday. They’re about a block apart in an area with little graffiti otherwise. I assumed the same person did both.

    BTW, I went by this morning and both were gone. The wall has been painted over (back to black). The mattress was still there, but it’s been flipped to the ‘clean’ side.

  • grumpy


  • The quick removal might have something to do with this recent post on the Bloomingdale blog:


    Someone requested that folks take care to remove graffiti as quickly as possible.

  • Another guy named Chris

    Art is anything that affects your emotions, so yes the second one definitely is art, doubly proven by the many different interpretations mentioned here on PoP. It wasn’t very destructive, as it was painted on an already painted wall as opposed to bare brick or stone.

    Many artists use ambiguity to make us think….

    • textdoc

      “Not very destructive” because the wall was already painted?

      Presumably the wall was already painted because of previous graffiti. And thanks to the new graffiti — no matter how thought-provoking it might have been — someone had to go out and paint the wall again.

      • Another guy named Chris

        …hence the “not very” destructive, as opposed to high pressure washing and refinishing, centuries old masonry.

        I also wouldn’t presume that it was already painted black due to previous graffiti, since the wall behind the black one is painted red.

        • TaylorStreetMan

          And who’s going to have to pay to rent the pressure washer and go through all the hassle and time? it takes to clean this sh-t off?

          You gonna write that check, Chris? Take time off work? Or spend your weekend cleaning this up and having to paint over it only to have it happen again because people tolerate (and even celebrate) it as art?

          • Small crimes are ok with our community. We need to accept it Taylor.

          • Another guy named Chris


            You are asking too many ridiculous rhetorical questions sir.

            Please have a seat and take a Valium, he did not take your job.

            Yes, it will cost someone time and money to clean it but that doesn’t change the fact that it is art. Look up the definition, nowhere does it say, “*unless it is on a medium that doesn’t belong to you”.

          • TaylorStreetMan

            My complaints about time-and-money/pain-in-the-ass are in reference to your “not very destructive” argument or the “it’s no big deal” attitude, not whether it qualifies as art.

            Frankly, I don’t care if it fits your definition of art. It’s vandalism, plain and simple.

    • TaylorStreetMan

      If someone kicked me in my nads, that would certainly affect my emotions and make me think, but I wouldn’t call it art… although some on here might think it justified! :-)

      ‘Art’ ends at the destruction or harm of someone else’s property or person. The fact that it’s “easily” (in quotes because it’s expensive and a pain in the ass to have to go out there and paint over this junk) fixed is irrelevant, IMHO.

      • Another guy named Chris

        Who gave you the authority to define art?

        And yes, this is also graffiti and vandalism, but where in the definition of ‘art’ are these forms of expression excluded?

        • The law…

        • TaylorStreetMan

          FTW: Funny, because my comment was in response to YOUR DEFINITION OF ART:

          “Art is anything that affects your emotions, so yes the second one definitely is art”

          The irony is absolutely dripping off this one.

          • Another guy named Chris

            I never attempted to explicitly define art, was just making a loose connection to explain why I considered it an artistic expression. This is what we have dictionaries for.

            However, I do know that art does not exist solely within the confines of the law.

          • TaylorStreetMan

            That is actually a very good point.

            I also can’t guarantee that my response to this kind of “art” being applied to the side of my house would exist within the confines of the law. Let’s just leave it at that.

    • Anon

      “Art is anything that affects your emotions”

      Ok, cool and also “illegal destruction of property is anything that damages something that you do not own, whether it has been painted or not.”


      • Another guy named Chris

        Actually if you want to be a douche, “anything that damages something that you do not own” is not “illegal destruction of property.”

        Think harder.

        • Anon

          Uh, yeah it is. You dont have the right to damage someone’s property. It is illegal. Stop defending criminals.

          • Another guy named Chris

            You are not thinking, just typing.

            If I kick a kitten, is that illegal destruction of property? No.

            I never defended the vandalism or said they had the right to do it, I just called it what it is; art.

          • Wrong again Chris. Let me catch you kicking my kitten.

            I can assure you that is destruction of my property.

          • Another guy named Chris

            or animal cruelty.

    • Anonymous

      What’s your address? I want to share with you some art?

  • Ledroit Resident

    I live around the corner from that mattress and it has been there for a long time. It used to block the entrance to our alley. I couldn’t care less about the “art” on it but it would be great if whoever left it there took responsibility for their property and got rid of it.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, I second that. That’s my house it’s leaning on — I think the former mattress, which was also mysteriously ‘left’ – is officially gone. This seems to be a new one as of last week. Called DC sanitation on Friday – perhaps I’ll tweet this to them and guilt them more.

  • KR

    I think I saw the first one outside Buckingham Palace the day after William and Kate’s wedding.

  • PG

    Maybe the first one was done by bed bugs.

  • Anonymous

    For the second one, I choose option C: vandalism.

    The only person who can definitively tell you whether or not it’s graffiti is the owner of the building, who either approved it or woke up today to find some sh*t has spray-painted his building. Given that it’s already been removed, I’m taking that as a good sign that it wasn’t a welcome addition to the building and assuming the rest of us can officially call it graffiti.

  • Anonymous

    i would think all of you would at least love the proper grammar and penmanship.

  • Anonymous

    the question of art vs vandalism or art vs grafitti is not the accurate conversation at all. you may as well ask is it European or Blue?

    vandalism is not the opposite of art. graffiti is not the opposite of art.

    one is allowed to think that something is art, vandalism and graffiti, all at the same time.

    • Your brain must suffer trying so hard to disagree… it was a simple question with a complex inference I guess.

      Clearly you missed it.

    • Another guy named Chris

      Yeah I missed it too.

  • ethan

    i live in ledroit (about 1.5 blocks away from this) and someone tagged the side of my house a couple weeks ago. i went on the dc.gov site and requested graffitti removal. it was gone in less than 3 days. total amount of my time required was less than five minutes. granted, i did say that it was on public property, but the work was done from a vacant lot, which is almost public property.


Subscribe to our mailing list