Photo Essay: Poems in the stalls

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Sara Suhl/Staff

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The public restroom stall: a paradoxical space that exists with the explicit purpose of providing privacy yet is public in both nature and name. Used and shared by all, these chambers provide an otherwise unattainable amount of privacy on a college campus with almost 40,000 students. Perhaps this is why people, free from the crush of humanity and alone for a few brief moments, feel the need to make a mark and even in semisolitude connect with others through the use of latrinalia. Whether you consider it vandalism or art, the act of writing on the walls of these dark, enclosed spaces is nothing new: From cave paintings to limericks in Old English boghouses, people have always enjoyed some good bathroom reading material.

 

In a world of What’s Goodly, Yik Yak and Reddit, the bathroom wall serves as the original anonymous message board — reflecting the ideas, thoughts and questions of those it houses. Here at UC Berkeley, whether they be political movements or bowel movements, people are adamant about their beliefs.

Everyone uses the bathroom. This least common denominator puts us all on equal footing — or rather, squatting — in representation and allows for an otherwise unprecedented cross section of the population to be heard, united by their urge to urinate. The stall knows no race, age or socioeconomic status — anyone can contribute to this collective narrative. You only need opinions and a pen.

Just as public thought evolves, so too do lavatory inscriptions. These modern-day cave paintings, while eclipsed by apps and websites, still maintain relevancy as a mode of private yet public form of self-expression. Messages, once freshly inked, are crossed out, written over and erased by time or the janitorial staff, evolving to reflect the changing sentiments of the campus. But if you look carefully, you can see faint marks of faded words and almost hear the echoes of those who flushed before.

In between the different categories of pictures:

Political

UC Berkeley is a campus known for its history of debate and activism. So, it should only be fitting that this political voice extends to the restrooms. These heated conversations cover topics ranging from the Black Lives Matter movement to veganism to gender roles, bringing up important controversial issues that will get more viewership — or at least more attention — than any papering on Sproul Plaza.

As it turns out, even poop can be political.

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Confessional

Using the bathroom is an inherently vulnerable act — a nakedness marked by the privacy that is implied to be necessary. Perhaps because of this and the anonymity these cubicles provide, people feel free to share information they may not otherwise disclose to hundreds of passing, or pissing, strangers.

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Advertising

There’s no better advertising space than the wall where everyone spends at least some time looking, so groups find this place a useful one on which to recruit.

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Religion

Some posts are religious.

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Inspirational

For a few brief minutes, we share an intimate space that houses those who have peed before us and those who have yet to pee. Permanently marking this space means you are a part of a larger community that while never convening, still supports one another. There exists camaraderie in the illegal act of “defacing” a place that is inherently meant to be sterile.

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Women

Restrooms are, in a way, the physical manifestation of the gender binary. While not all messages are related to gender, there is an inherent gendered conversation that occurs, as social norms dictate patrons’ use of the room aligning with their sex.

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Department

While English majors in Wheeler discuss “Night Vale,”

Evans Hall’s mathematicians equate their field with art.

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Art

Graffiti art is a longstanding tradition, glorified by iconic artists such as Keith Haring. The restroom serves as yet another canvas for those seeking to share their art with the public in a medium outside a museum.

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Contact Sara Suhl at [email protected]