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Seminar's profile of graffiti, tattoo subcultures proves eye-opening

There are some interesting similarities between graffiti and tattoos that are undeniable: both can be interpreted as art and both identify subcultures.

And just like inked people want others to see their tattoos, graffiti artists want their work to be seen.

The connection between graffiti and tattoos was one of the topics addressed during an anti-graffiti training workshop held Wednesday at Buffalo State College. About 60 people, including police and community leaders, attended the seminar. The federally funded program was sponsored by the West Side Youth Violence Prevention Coalition and focused on neighborhoods in the 14213 ZIP code.

Diana Martin, a block club leader, said she was surprised at the "quality" of the graffiti shared with the audience.

"If you could channel that talent into more creative efforts, it could be very valuable," the Greenwood Place resident said. "They're searching for some kind of recognition."

Many taggers consider themselves artists, but the markings they leave behind on buildings, bridges and dumpsters are anything but works of art, said Sam Lunetta, an instructor for the daylong program and director of the Regional Anti-Graffiti Task Force.

"We need to educate, train and enforce. Those are the three keys," Lunetta said in the Bulger Communication Center of Buffalo State. The seminar Wednesday focused on the first aspect.

"We're here to educate the public, parents, teachers on what to look for to understand better," Lunetta said.

He talked about how mainstream tagging has become. These days, it is represented in fashions, video games and extreme games.

There's a video game that shows taggers marking buildings. When one writes over existing graffiti, a fistfight breaks out.

The terminology associated with taggers is complex. "Throw-up," for instance, means outlines added to letters. "Pieces" is a term to describe complex, multicolored "masterpieces." If someone lines through another tagger's work, that is called "slash" and is a deep insult.

A "toy" is a rookie or novice tagger, while a respected tagger is called "fresh."

Specific symbols also are associated with taggers. Numbers often represent date of birth. There is a character that resembles a star that is an Asian symbol for big, Lunetta said. And a halo usually means the perpetrator has not been arrested yet.

"Fascinating," said Richard Martin, who attended the workshop with his wife, Diana. "I never realized there was this culture."

Paul Annetts, a specialist with the state Department of Corrections, discussed tattoos as they relate to gang involvement and prison life.

Gang members use ink to identify themselves, to intimidate and to show loyalty to their crew, he said.

Members of one gang, in particular, tattoo themselves with dog paws and five-pointed stars. Another prefers a six-pointed star, while a relatively new group making its way to the East Coast uses Mayan numbers.

Buffalo Police Officer Earl Perrin was on hand to discuss gang awareness. And representatives from Buffalo City Hall discussed with participants how to report and remove graffiti.


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