So here is the first of many archived interviews I will post in no particular order…maybe alphabetical? 😉
Where? La Chimba Hostel, Santiago, Chile (go there, best hostel ever)
When? August 2010
Jess: Thanks for meeting me Alma! Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you got started?
Alma: I have been a graffitera since 2005, before that I didn’t paint graffiti (only tags) but in 2005 I painted for the first time with Shape. Graffiti caught my attention. I paint dark-skinned women. At one time I considered doing only letters, but I realize that I have a lot to learn. I have a little old lady I always paint with necklaces. I am just starting. I have to learn how to perfect the letters and characters. I am self-taught.
Jess: You didn’t mention a crew, does that mean you paint alone?
Alma: I don’t have a crew. I don’t like it. I’d rather be free to paint with whomever I want. I like to engage in whatever I want to do. I’d rather be solo so I can paint with anybody.
Jess: I was wondering why you were not part of Crazis or Turronas. There seems to be a community of women writers here.
Alma: There are very few women who paint, like 15-20 maximum. We are good friends. But the two big crews, Crazis and Turronas, they are all women. The rest paint alone. Turronas and Crazis are super good and important. They are real tight as a crew too cause they are all really good friends. And that is wonderful! They are real good at and motivated in what they do. Crazis and Turronas in particular have different styles and represent a diversity of styles and gender perspectives as well. Each individual writer in each crew has her own personality, her own reasons for painting, and her own perspectives but they all know how to paint. Both crews also have female members of the old school graffiti scene. I’ve had the opportunity to paint with a couple of crew members separately, but never with the whole crew. I really like the existence of 100% female crew, but I do not know if it is translating into greater participation. I mean, groups of men are still more in number. It will take more time for the crews of women to become equal with men. I also think it would be positive for women to participate in all-male crews in terms of generating greater gender equality. Actually that might be more inclusive than the crew of only girls, but I sympathize more for the latter, I like the idea of female power.
Jess: I know that Shape (Crazis) is a b-girl, so were you part of the Santiago hip hop scene as well?
Alma: I like hip hop, but I wasn’t a participant in the movement. I was a spectator. I have friends that are rappers. I liked painting! Graffiti really called to me. I noticed there weren’t many women. Graffiti and hip hop in Chile was always for men, a thing they do, b-boying, rapping, graffiti—for the boys, for the men. But another aspect of it, it is difficult—it takes physicality, force, speed, aggressiveness. This is why men don’t want to bring the women. Men have basically taken over graffiti. They think they are stronger, can climb a ladder faster, and carry more things. Women can do those things equally, but differently. We are always going to be different when we are rapping, painting, or dancing. I always felt like rap and breakdancing were out of reach for me, something difficult. I represent rap and graffiti. I like other things but rap is what moves me. Graffiti is an expression, an art. My graffiti is never a political or social thing, but it is about the transformation of things. Transforming the city, transforming as a person. Now that I am not in college and have a career, I can’t paint as much as I’d like to. You aren’t supposed to do graffiti because of the system, like the law, but there is nobody that can tell me where or when or why, I just do it. It is a personal process. I paints murals about 5 times a year. Bombing happens everyday, anytime. But graffiti productions are different. I don’t have a lot of experience with productions, but I want to dedicate myself to it. I hope that one day I have more time to do graffiti because it is relaxing and pleasurable. I get real frustrated with wanting to do it more, but then the frustration motivates me. When I paint graffiti it is something like a dream. I feel free when I paint graffiti. Especially when someone comes up to me and says I can’t do that. In those moments, I feel like the other person just doesn’t understand. I can’t understand why there are regulations I feel so happy that I can do different things. I have a routine, but I can escape the routine to do other things.
Jess: Do you think you are treated differently as a woman?
Alma: It depends if it is dangerous on the legality and the type of graffiti. If you are painting as a woman people don’t arrest you as much as men, they give you a chance whereas a man will get arrested. They don’t bother me. When I am painting and a police officer comes up they say it is beautiful. Some of the police are a little harder on graf writers than regular ones—state police versus regular police. There are degrees of legality depending on which space you are painting. You have to know how to handle yourself with them.
Jess: I see. So, just to go back for a second, you think graffiti is part of hip hop culture?
Alma: I can recognize hip hop in the movement. I can dance to it, I can paint to it. I do not get tired of it, I am always in love with it. I hope that hip hop doesn’t go away. Alma: Hip hop is charming. Like falling in love. Hip hop is a love and a way of life. Hip hop is a style of clothing and a persona. I’m in love with hip hop.
Jess: Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Alma: Yes I am feminist. Because I think that women, as a group or as individuals, have overcome those things that women are not supposed to do. I feel liberated now. This is a historical time for women. I feel as though we won because we are equal to men now. I am a feminist because I can do things as a woman. We are the same, but different. Today women can live by themselves and be alone and do the things men can do. We can have a family without having a man. We have major opportunities today. Men were created from a woman, so they too have this type of woman in their lives—whether it is their mother or grandmother. There is a lot of machismo, but the mother and the grandmother made him that way because they raised them that way. Today we can do a lot of things, we can travel, we can be a mother, we can have responsibilities. We have overcome a lot of things. We don’t need men, there is a limit to what we need men for. We have more autonomy.
Jess: So how would you define feminism?
Alma: My idea is that in today’s world we have equal opportunities as men. I don’t want to be a man, but I want those opportunities! I accept men for their weaknesses and their strengths. At times it is complicated. You have to appreciate and value the opportunities we have because of feminism. We can vote. We can work. We can’t be criticized because we can do the things that men can do today. The characteristics of a woman or a man, our sexuality. Homosexuals and transsexuals are born that way. A man could be a feminist, he could be feminine. A woman could want to be a man too. I do not discriminate. The big problem is that we live in a society where that isn’t accepted. I understand it, but society doesn’t.
Jess: Do you have a message for aspiring writers out there?
Alma: The message I have for women is to just go for it. Like throwing yourself in a pool even if you can’t swim. I made many twists and turns before I started, but after I dedicated myself to it, it was monumental. There is no bad in it, just go for it. Motivate yourself and paint. To do it is to learn. If you can paint with graffiti with another woman that’s ideal because then you can share ideas and styles. You can learn how to do it together.
*Alma and I have about the same level of language fluency (opposite of course: hers, Spanish, mine, English), so the interview was conducted in some kinda Spanglish and edited to keep her voice in tact to the best of my ability.