The Exhibition

Graffiti Zines of the 1990s

Though people have been leaving their mark on walls for as long as they’ve used tools, it’s the subway writing of 1970s and ’80s New York that defined modern graffiti: a letter-based artform using markers and aerosol paint with the aim of being seen by as many people as possible.

By the mid-1990s, NYC’s administration had removed most “bombed” trains from service and imposed harsh penalties for graffiti. But writers weren’t discouraged, and they found other ways to “get up.”

Leaning into new technologies, like photocopiers and the personal computer, writers began printing small-run zines that reached audiences far beyond their own cities. Independent graffiti publications became highly coveted, and writers from around the world mailed in submissions for a chance to see their work in print.

At a time when mainstream society was dismissive at best and punishing at worst, graffiti magazines created a community for writers and an avenue for practitioners to become documentarians of their own culture. These publications served as regional field reports, and they are the analog precursor of today’s global writing community.