Piret Voolaid (Estonian Literary Museum)

How to Attract Schoolchildren to Collect Folklore: The Example of the Database of Graffiti

Keywords: collecting of contemporary folklore, data collecting, graffiti, paremic graffiti, street art

In Estonia the creation and digitisation of electronic databases of folkloric archival material began in the late 1990s. Lately, Estonian folklorists have created a number of digital genre typological databases of archival collections, for example, of Estonian folktales and legends, riddles, proverbs, sayings, local heritage, folk calendar, songs, etc.

The paper provides an overview of an internet-based genre typological database (http://www.folklore.ee/Graffiti), one of the results of a joint Estonian-Polish project “Creativity and Tradition in Cultural Communication”, which lasted from 2010 to 2012. The database includes approximately 700 units of paremic graffiti. The documental photos were taken beginning in January 2011, mainly in the public space of the city of Tartu, Estonia, but also elsewhere in Estonia and abroad.

The paper (1) outlines the concept of paremic graffiti and (2) introduces the basic structure of the database and its underlying principles, giving examples of how an academic database must take into consideration the specific nature of a genre and support the analysis.

Paremic graffiti is defined as graffiti in which, in order to convey his or her message, the author has made use of proverbial generalizing sayings (including classic proverbs and their modifications or so-called anti-proverbs) as well as aphoristic quotes and humorous and juicy expressive catchphrases, slogans, and clichés. The recorded graffiti texts allow us to identify syntactic formula patterns which refer to the existence of the paremic element. The paremic nature is defined by the syntactic formulae of the graffiti texts as well as the purpose of – similarly to traditional folk wisdom – giving meaning to everyday experience. Paremic graffiti is characterized by topics like society, politics, criticism of the ruling authorities, ideology and religion, lifestyle, school, sex, alcohol, drugs, and private matters. A paremic text in graffiti often involves and supports elements of pop-culture and helps to fill the human, philosophical, socio-political, self-expressive, and sometimes very aggressive and protest-minded aspirations of the author of the particular graffiti text. The aphoristic form and poetic style of expression so natural in paroemias – consonance, rhyme – allows for a creative approach and in the message-centred graffiti serves as a means to be used for announcing one’s truth, platforms, mindedness, and beliefs or will to influence the world.

The academic database of graffiti differs from internet blogs and albums because it is based on the needs of particular researchers. For example, the emphasis on the paremiological aspect can be highlighted in a database. In addition to this, the search engine enables to find graffiti by textual parameters, while the database contains metadata and folkloric typology. The database spreads graffiti via Internet, being involved in the reproduction of folklore and the creation of new cultural meanings.

Below, I outline the basic structure of the database and its underlying principles, giving examples of how an academic database must consider the specific nature of a genre.

  1. Ephemeral nature. Paremic graffiti disappears and changes quickly, making it difficult for the researcher to record the material, while marking graffiti as a dynamic context- and period-centred cultural phenomenon.
  2. Accumulating nature. It is important to reflect the open nature of a graffiti text – in the course of communication between different authors the meaning of a paremic text can be subject to change, therefore long-term observations are a prerequisite to revealing change in the meaning of any specific text (the database includes recordings of the same text from different moments in time).
  3. Socio-cultural nature. The collection and analysis of paremic graffiti should definitely apply context-centred methods which take into account the social context (i.e., who creates for whom, where, when, for what reason, what is the receiver’s cultural potential to interpret the graffiti text), and consider the connection that graffiti has with other domains and other forms of art.

In addition, I introduce an Android application that was created by undergraduate Airis Kruus in spring 2019. The application was made on the existing website and is suitable for both graffiti viewers and collectors. Those interested can view (the existing) graffiti and collectors can post graffiti in the graffiti location with a camera or at home, choosing pictures from the gallery. The application can be used as an important tool for both scientists in their research work and for schoolchildren in the educational programmes with the aim to attract them to the interpretation and collection of folklore.

Research for this presentation was supported by the Centre of Excellence in Estonian Studies (CEES, TK 145, European Regional Development Fund) and is related to the research project “Narrative and belief aspects of folklore studies” (IUT 22-5, Estonian Research Council).