By Sharon Savunthararajah

“Graffiti artists are writers, just like how scientists are artists,” says street artist and designer Javid Jah, to the kids at Youth Inside Opera who are learning about graffiti for the first time.

In the graffiti culture, an artist is known as a writer. One reason he tells them this is that writers are perceived to have a greater sense of respect for their craft than graffiti artists. But by comparing the two art forms, writing and graffiti, Jah reminds us that graffiti isn’t vandalism and exhibitionism. There’s a story behind it.

To be a great artist you have to understand the science of the media you’re using. To be a great scientist you have to be creative about what problems you want to try and solve. Graffiti artists have to be creative about their problem-solving as well. Art and science may seem different, but they are two sides of the same coin: both are creative processes. For someone who started off in street art and is now a designer, he can see that you don’t have to know how to draw, in particular, to be an artist. Art can take many forms.

“Opera will change over time.” Tapestry will help it enter into other arenas because performance at a large stage – expressing vocal, story and visual experience – encapsulates the multidimensional and interdisciplinary approach that artists need to be successful. Jah holds this truth in his own career as he tries to incorporate a range of techniques. He describes his process, like Tapestry’s, as a “series of experiments in multidisciplinary platforms.”

Growing up in Toronto, Jah felt that there were few choices for artists: he could work in a bar and go home and paint, or he could find a community gig. From his perspective, there’s a social aspect to making murals. The community center he was with was a proactive social enterprise which found ways to fund their own programs, instead of relying on grants. As a result, Under the Radar was born, which was something from which he benefited. For musicians, illustrators, and graffiti artists, it was a way for underground artists to develop income at a community level.

He believes it is important that we recognize the strengths the young people of our community possess. We have to listen to what they want to accomplish and we must support them in a creative fun-filled way. We need people to generate excitement and interest so that we can fuel these young people to move ahead in their paths.

Sharon Savunthararajah is an undergraduate marketing student at Ryerson University at the Ted Rogers School of Management and studies Digital Media at OCAD University. She currently provides pro-bono marketing consulting services within her community and constantly looks for ways to experiment with media.