Graffiti and street art are two art forms common to our contemporary times. However, we can say that the roots of graffiti and street artists' motivation may lay in ancient times. That is because the need to express feelings through shapes and symbols on walls exist ever since the first men on Earth. These contemporary, as well as ancient artworks may differ on surfaces, materials and periods, but there is more in common between them than we may notice at first sight. There are even experts who consider cave drawings as a form of ‘ancient graffiti’. This article explores the cave paintings of Aruba as an example to explain what these art forms have in common.
Mysterious and multiple meanings
The paintings and engravings found in caves and shelters – also known as cave art – date back to the Ice Age, somewhere between 200.000 and 7.000 years ago. The majority of these images depict large wild animals, such as mammoths, bisons, horses and deers. Moreover, hand prints and abstract symbols were also common representations. As for their main purposes, experts concluded that these images had symbolic or religious functions and sometimes both simultaneously. Their exact meaning though still remains unknown.
History shows that representations with religious purposes are likely associated with rituals. For our ancestors, image making was a sacred act. On the northern part of Aruba, the famous Fontein Cave indicates some hints of this interesting behavior. Drawings in reddish brown color on the cave’s ceiling and other artifacts reveal that the native Caiquetio Indians of the Arawak tribe once performed tribal rituals in this location. These indigenous people are the first known inhabitants of the island. Their paintings suggest that they may have come to Aruba after fleeing attacks from the Carib Indians, indigenous people that inhabits the north of South America.
Visual records of humankind’s history
As seen in Aruba, cave paintings around the whole world provide a real sense of history. For instance, the first register of symbolic thinking – the capacity to use symbols – in humans cannot be seen in skeletons because fossil records don’t expose complex neurological changes. In this case, researchers could only trace this cognitive achievement through cave paintings.
Humans’ natural need to communicate messages and abstract ideas on walls is obviously the main connection between contemporary graffiti, street art and ancient cave drawings. Another interesting connection is that these three artforms often reveal the context surrouding their maker. When we consider how much these remote symbols tell us about the development of our species, as well as our ancient history, we can start to look at contemporary art forms on the city walls with different eyes. Similarly to cave art, graffiti and street art are a genuine way to preserve contemporary society’s history, which can give clues of our times to future generations. Therefore, we truly value the documentation and analysis os these art forms.
Originally published on Street Art Today Blog on April 24, 2019.