Coming from a rural high school of 900 students, I grew up with the insistent graffiti culture that exists not only on the school bricks outside but also the bathroom stalls of many, if not all, of our school restrooms. Messages and illustrations scattered the dented metal of these stalls with graphic sexual imagery and school-wide gossip. This phenomenon of bathroom stall writings can be found throughout public restrooms across Canada and the world at large, but in coming to Abu Dhabi, I found it strange that this culture of written graffiti was rare — that is, at least until I found Sama Tower’s dirty little secret.
Although these writings aren’t smeared across dented stalls, they foster the same rebellious and artistic nature in a more secretive location. Many have found what has been coined as NYU Abu Dhabi’s “bathroom stall,” but few have actually spent much time talking about it. Tucked between the fifth and sixth floor, students can find a wide range of messages and images written and painted on the walls, but unlike my previous high school’s slanders, graphic sexual imagery or crude humor, I was delighted to find something much deeper. Used as a concrete canvas of sorts, this small corner of Sama Tower is scattered with poetry, art and stories of heartache, struggle and beauty in a place one would never expect to look.
In a political framework and institution where acts of rebellion are difficult to maneuver publicly, I believe that many have felt the yearning for a space to express their sentiments and creations outside the structural framework of NYUAD, and so the wall was born. Complementing the already-online Facebook group known as Criticism is Welcome, the wall is available for students to post anonymous messages to their peers and welcome open criticism. Many writers have taken to this call.
More than just words, students have taken to visual artistry as well. Ranging from dining primates to headless wanderers, the “bathroom stall” has seen many prominent images come and go with each additional layer of white paint. But with the constant need to paint over such images by Sama staff, some have asked the question if it’s too much, or if the art itself is inherently disrespectful. Personally, I believe the images and words continue to be a surprising and compelling underground culture of an already highly innovative and creative institution. One student wrote, “This is the beginning of something beautiful,” and I agree. Although some have expressed both written and verbal concern for this wall’s existence with our move to Saadiyat, I believe the bathroom stall of NYUAD will continue to exist no matter where we go. I look forward to seeing where it pops up next.
The wall says it best:
“No matter how much I think I can’t, I’m going to because that’s just who I am.”
Lucas Olscamp is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com.