Why the writing’s on the wall for Quito’s errant graffiti artists
A team of language activists in Ecuador is working nights to correct bad spelling
They describe themselves as “anonymous heroes, dedicated to correcting graffiti.”
All in their 30s, they are a small team made up of two graphic artists and one environmental lawyer – and all three of them cringe every time they see a spelling or grammar mistake on the streets of Quito.
Given that graffiti is prohibited in the Ecuadorean capital, they work by night, using red spray paint to make their corrections and a stencil to leave their own mark: Acción Ortográfica Quito (or, Quito Spell-checker Action).
Anyone caught writing graffiti or defacing public property in Ecuador can be sentenced to a week in jail
They began their spell-checking work last November in the Floresta district, a neighborhood in the city’s north side where they frequently hang out. Then they moved to other neighborhoods, looking for grammar mistakes and misspellings on wall writings. They have since lost count of the number of corrections they have made.
“People started taking photos of our work to post it on Twitter,” says one of the “anonymous heroes.”
“This was just a hobby for us, like playing around with urban art. For us, it is so ironic to be correcting something that is considered anarchy, as graffiti is.”
Anyone caught writing graffiti or defacing public property can be sentenced to a week in jail and ordered to pay the costs of repairing the damage. But the activists question how they can be accused of vandalism when something has already been vandalized.
Many people around the globe, including grammar teachers, have sent them messages to congratulate them for their work, explains the self-appointed street spell-checker.
But what surprised them was that people in Spain began taking their work seriously.
“They treat us as if we were part of the Spanish Royal Academy,” he jokes.
Now that the men have captured media attention, they want to promote a global campaign for the correct use of Spanish.
Their most daring action to date has been correcting President Rafael Correa’s tweets
“I didn’t know this was happening,” says a surprised Susana Cordero, who is the director of the Ecuadorean Language Academy (AEL). She adds that their commitment is “awesome.”
In Ecuador, according to Cordero, grammar mistakes in Spanish are not only found on the walls across the country but also in advertisements. “There are many errors of this sort, such as the tradition of using many capital letters or not using correct punctuation. I don’t know if this is done on purpose, but it has become a plague,” she says.
The activists from Quito Spell-checker Action have their jobs cut out for them. They now are asking for people to report graffiti mistakes so that they can correct them.
The team is also working the social networks. Their most daring action to date has been correcting President Rafael Correa’s tweets, in which he often leaves out accents.
But with so many political divisions in Ecuador today, the three are not trying to stir up any trouble. “We want people to take our corrections in the spirit of fun.”