Who? Solitas, Doce Brillos Crew
Where? Santiago, Chile
When? August 2010
I met up with the lovely Solitas at her apartment in Santiago. I began with the usual “please tell me your tagname and when you got started,” to which she responded “I began experimenting with painting in 1999 and I take breaks only when it is necessary to prioritize caring for my daughter.” Just as we begin, her cellphone rings to the tune of “Big Poppa” and we are off to pick up her daughter.
Sitting at a restaurant a couple of hours later, after ordering some fried Chilean cuisine deliciousness, we continue our conversation:
Jess: Can you tell me about yourself, how you got started, what it’s like being a mother and a writer at the same time?
Solitas: I started painting graffiti with my friends—we love hip hop; my friends are rappers “pero la mujer no puede”…“she can’t paint graffiti.” I was the only woman in the crew. I got pregnant in the same summer I started seriously painting, so from 2001–2003 I didn’t go out. I went to college for Sociology for those three years, but didn’t finish because I had to go to work to support myself and contribute to my family. Being a mom, a student, and a writer was just too much. I struggled against the idea that mothers have to “stay in the house” and cook and work and watch the kids…it is true that there is no time. We have responsibilities! There is no time! It’s difficult to do it all, but when you love something you have to make time for it. So in 2004, I made a come back. Painting graffiti is a necessary activity to keep me happy and fulfilled. For me, painting graffiti takes away the hard times. I use it to express and expel my frustrations. My graffiti used to be very aggressive, but now I am much more relaxed and trying to live a calm life inside a chaotic city. Everything is too fast and I don’t like it, I like more of a Bob Marley style.
Jess: Did someone say that you shouldn’t write, or that mothers shouldn’t write graffiti, directly to you? Or…?
Solitas [with a look of exasperation]: Everybody thinks that! I became very critical about my position [as a woman], I was always thinking about women and about the discrimination we encounter just because we are women. I paint to fight the resistance against girls doing graffiti. Everybody says women can’t paint graffiti and I say NO—there are other women in other places who feel the same as I do.
Jess: So that was in the early 2000’s, do you think that ideas about women writers are the same now?
Solitas: No, in this moment, I think that now it’s more inclusive and seen as a cool thing that women paint.
Jess: Why did that change?
Solitas: Ok, I think the fact of multiplication has changed ideas about women painting graffiti. Because more and more girls started painting, the boys are used to it now. Still today, here in Chile anyway, the men don’t consider us real competition. I am always fighting with those people, painting again and again. My characters are not angry, but the act itself is of resistance. Now is a relaxed time in my life. Before I was painting just letters—wildstyle with arrows and more puntas, but over time I’ve changed. I started painting characters…as a graffiti writer and a person I feel like I’ve grown. From letters to characters to 3D…my main motivation is to compete with the men on all levels. They say I’m prolific.
Jess: Tell me about your crew, it has men and women right?
Solitas: Doce Brillos is a young crew, 3 years old [now 5] with 12 members (hence, Doce). There are women and men, and the ideology that brings us together is anarchy against the system. The men in my crew have a real respect for women. There is no difference; it is very equal in my crew. But, in reality life is not equal. I think that a woman has to be a guerrera! A fighter! A warrior! Women are always fighting—she is going to work, she is taking care of kids, she has to do all of these things. Many things at the same time! And that is why I consider myself a fighter. I fight for equality. I fight the government! I fight for a better place to live. I fight for environmental issues. I fight for a mountain of things!
Jess: After all you have said about your struggles as a woman, I wonder if you consider yourself a feminist?
Solitas: Am I just a feminist? No, but I think men and women are equal. I think that feminism says that women are better than men.
Jess: So how would you define feminism?
Solitas: The definition of feminism is complicated. I think that when we talk about feminism we have to think about it in relation to machismo. My mother in law is a feminist. Strong women are raising my daughter. I am a political person. I went to school for sociology. My father is a communist, and so I was raised as a leftist. My mother is neutral. I am always thinking about social equality, but when I was teenager I was a little crazy and didn’t really focus on it. When I started painting it was inside of me, but I didn’t paint for that reason.
Jess: Chile has two bad ass all female crews [Crazis and Turronas]. What are your thoughts on women-only crews?
Solitas: When I look around I see a mixed world, a mixed life. In my life, I seek equality…rights, opportunities and I do not like the divisions. I do not like the idea of crews just for women or just for men only. At the same time, I seek equality, I seek liberty…I want a liberated system and for each person to be who he or she is, according to their needs. I respect each of the writers in the world and I value what the all female crews and the work they do. I send a big kiss to both crews!
Jess: Going back to how your graffiti career got started…do you think that your love for hip hop culture has anything to do with your identity? I mean, what is hip hop to you? What does it do for you?
Solitas: Hip hop is protest. Hip hop is a way to comment on the wrong things in the world. It is bboys and mcs, djs and graffiti writers. I think it has a lost a little of the fight that was in it. I grew up listening to Public Enemy. Hip hop is a weapon. A strong weapon. And I think that people have forgotten what hip hop is about. Hip hop is to speak against the system! So to do that is not good hip hop. I think 50 Cent is hip hop for many people but for me, no. I think that our collective, our hip hop group, is combative. It’s a battle. When I was painting alone or with my husband, the graffiti was more simple, more color, and more beautiful. But when I am painting with my crew the graffiti changes. I will do a sketch and generally the image is against the system—it has a battle message. The machine is broken. My graffiti is a way of breaking the chains of oppression. The message, the image is strong. Painting with my crew transforms my message. For me, the collective, the crew is power. There is power in community and collectivity. And we are more critical towards other graffiti crews. We do not work with the government and the government funds productions for other crews. We can’t critique the government if we are working for them! Everybody does what they want. If you don’t critique them then there is no problem. They don’t criticize the government and so it doesn’t matter to them, but I do!
Jess: Do you have a message for aspiring writers out there?
Solitas: My message is: if you want to, you can! There are many difficulties in life. You can say “oh, I have problems with this and that and I don’t have time and I don’t have money, but if you really want to do something then make it happen. Nothing else matters. Try to be happy. Try to be happy without money, without work, without Nike sneakers. Come back to the natural way of life!
*Much like Alma, Solitas and I have about the same level of language fluency (opposite of course: hers, Spanish, mine, English), so this interview was conducted in some kinda Spanglish.