the art of war

an interesting conversation was started on the flicker “chicago street art” pool last week about gang tags. and a guy chimed in on the conversation, his points were very well articulated, and intelligent. and i wanted to know more about why he dose what he dose. his flicker name is chicago cold war, and he photographs gang tags. 

isane orc

its a funny thing to interview someone about this subject. what is art? can gang activity be artistic? and if you think so, will people think your glorifying gangs and there activity? what will the response be to posting such a thing? whatever. ill see i guess. i do however think that this is something worth covering, and talking about. just cause the buff hits this stuff first dose not mean its not there. and even if you dont in any way think its art. it is to some. and its a reality that lives in almost every part of this city. like it or not. oh and please excuse the kind of silly title to this post. i got it in my head and thats all i could think of.

so, your not affiliated with these gangs, nor do you want to glorify actions taken by the gangs. what made you want to document the tags?

As you said I am not gang affiliated. I have friends and acquaintances that either gang bang or used to gang bang. I had a cousin who gangbanged and was murdered in prison. As far as the tags and pieces go; I think they are pure expressions of some of the most intense emotions humans are capable of. They reek of pride and hate…imagine the courage it takes to go to a neighborhood where you could get shot or beaten on sight based on where you are from and who you are affiliated with, just to paint in the alley or corner and basically tell them that they are weak and that you are better. It’s almost suicidal. I know some of the neighborhoods have changed with gentrification so it isnt as dangerous as it used to be, but these gang conflicts are still alive and well in Chicago. Look at our murder rate. We have kids getting shot in places like Logan Square and Wicker Park that are supposed to be “up and coming” (whatever the fuck that means), and they go under-reported. They might get a small blurb in the papers. No big deal, can’t let some long standing gang rivalries stand in the way of real estate development. That was kind of a ramble that deviated from your question but I think to summarize; whether they are marking their own territory or getting up in someone elses; theres a lot of emotion behind those symbols; and in a way they are true forms of art in terms of their intentions behind them and what is at stake. Aesthetically many are crappy but if I thought I was going to get shot at any moment while spray painting I would probably do a lot worse. 

On a personal note I get a rush finding these tags; especially if I am walking the alleys in areas that I know are dangerous. There is a part of it that is unexplainable and probably resides in my consciousness somewhere but I’m not going to go looking for it. It’s a hobby like anything else; one day I found it appealing so I went for it.

to you, what is the importance of having this collection of photos?

As far as importance; I don’t know if it is important. It’s important and interesting to me; I know there are a few people that think they are interesting or at least, they appreciate the translations I provide so they know more about who is in their neighborhood. It’s pretty crazy how so many people are moving their families into these areas yet couldn’t tell you the name of the gang nation that’s been operating there since the 1960’s or 70’s. Come on family guy and college girl; do a little bit of research and learn about your environment, even the aspects of it that you think are “icky”. In my mind it’s irresponsible to move to an area and not know what the risks are. I kind of laugh when I hear someone shocked or surprised when someone gets shot in their new hood, like it’s something new. It used to be way worse. 

m latin dis


is it hard to photograph this kind of subject and not feel in some way you are glorifying it? 

It may be slight glorification. To preserve something that will soon be removed is in itself glorification; you are saying that it’s memory should be here when other forces are saying that it should be gone. I accept that responsibility, but these kids out here shooting each other don’t need my flickr pics to inspire them to do what they do. They have been raised in that environment and already instilled with those values. A lot of them have suffered a lot because of these rivalries; they may have lost a parent, uncle, cousin, brother, best friend, etc. Maybe more than one either to prison or death. So these rivalries are deep seeded and it’s ignorant to dismiss those feelings as “stupid”. Put yourself in their positions; it’s so easy for an outsider to dismiss this side of life when they were never faced with the same choices. I know that many people have been raised in those kinds of environments and have been able to transcend and do other things; go to college, etc. and as much as they might hate gangs they will still tell you that it wasn’t easy for them. I myself did not grow up in an environment like that and I still had a hard time growing up; imagine how it is for these kids having to see people they know murdered in front of them and still have to figure themselves out. 

for those of us who dont understand the terminology, could you explain some of the terms you use when talking about a tag?

As far as specific terms; there are a lot of redundancies when I post notes to translate; but I can’t assume that someone is going to look at more than one pic so I try to be as specific as possible. We are in an interesting era with gangs b/c the old alliances of Folks & People are for the most part only relevent in prison; this is what I have been told by people who have been there and this is what I am seeing in the graffiti. There are a lot of Folks nations banging against other Folks nations and the same thing with People. For example the Pitchfork symbol drawn with the points facing up used to be universally a Folks symbol; but now it’s really only applicable to Disciple gang nations, as in MLDs, YLO Disciples, Satan Disciples, Gangster Disciples, Spanish Gangster Disciples. Maniac Campbell Boys still use it too. There may be one or two I missed. So you will see Folks mobs like the Insane Spanish Cobras or Gangster Two Six painting the pitchfork down as a way to disrespect a Disciple mob they are warring against. When I say “throw down, break” etc, that is how rival gang mobs disrespect each other. You can tell a lot about where you are at in the city based on which mobs a gang nation disrespects in it’s tags. That is just an example but if you have specific questions about other terms I use just let me know and I will try to explain. Also I have recently seperated the gangs into FOLKS & PEOPLE collections and for their specific pic sets I’ve listed their symbols, colors, and alliance.

harrison gents

and also there are so many symbols that have meaning. do you look at a wall and see more of a story, than just tags?

Absolutely. You can learn a lot of things. You can learn what streets or section that they are from. You can identify who they are at war with actively by how often they throw down or break certain symbols. You can learn names of the different mobs by who signs off on it; you can also learn who has died, either with an “R.I.P” or “ROTZ”. When a gang member writes a name and it says “Rots” or “Burns” after it, you know right away that that is a dead rival. Its a way to piss on someone’s grave. 


if there is anything else you would like to add?

Thanks for the opportunity to build on this and thanks to everyone on flickr that has shown an interest in these pics. If anyone wants to build more dont hesitate to contact me. If you think you might have a gang in your neighborhood but arent sure, send me the pics or ask me about the symbols and I’ll tell you what I know. I’ve had gang members hit me up and tell me where I can find their gang’s tags (good lookin out) and also interestingly enough the tags of their rivals. Finally; there is a guy on here who is an old school GL who has a more “artistic” collection than mine and a lot more southside pics. He is a good dude who used to live that life; but he doesnt really tag or label his pics. You can check him out atwww.flickr.com/photos/18031338@N07/



One thought on “the art of war

  1. Mainstream America has little understanding of the tribal wars raging in it’s inner cities.
    However misguided the banger on the corner selling drugs is, gangs fill some deep-seated social/cultural need for people who have other wise been abandoned by the dominate society as a whole.
    Sunni vs Shī‘ah in Iraq.
    Folks vs Peoples in Chicago.
    Comes down to poverty and education. Poor people feeling squeezed and fighting each other over the left over scraps.
    Ghetto Anthropology 101

    Posted by MR.THOR | October 21, 2009, 9:20 am

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