[Readers!! All 6 of you! I swear I have not abandoned you. Shiro’s show went up (see previous post), I spent almost 2 weeks in Florida getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, and then before I knew it the semester started and all of a sudden I realized…oh, my blog. I now have a fantastic intern who is going to keep me on point by helping transcribe my interviews! So, I sort of promise to be better. Hah.]
Who? Free, Rio de Janeiro’s first pixadora
Where? Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
When? August 2010
Ah, Rio. I miss Rio. If you have not been to Rio, go to Rio…it’s not a place you want to live without seeing. While I was in Rio, over two years ago now [*sigh], my host—graffitera Anarkia Boladona—made sure that I met Rio’s first pixadora. Pixa-what? Pixadora. A pixador/a is a person who risks life and limb, seriously, to paint “pixação.” Pixação [pee-sha-sow, sort of] is a type of “graffiti” particular to Brazil, which originated in São Paulo. Often requiring the pixador/a to scale a large building a la Spiderman (a part of the challenge common in contemporary pixador/a practice), pixação is characterized by a kind of raw, hieroglyphic, one-dimensional, barely legible aesthetic…and is crazy dangerous.
[Side note: while I was in Rio I also met Gustavo Coelho, a filmmaker responsible for the creation of a documentary on the specifically Brazilian art form. He is a lovely person—go see his film if it ever comes your way! For now, click all these hyperlinks and get informed!]
With Anarkia translating, Free and I sat on the floor of her apartment and dished about age, feminism, art, gender, and history.
JESS: Hi Free!Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me. Okay, so first if you could just tell me your name, how long you were writing for…and, are you still active?
FREE: I started in ‘85, and sometimes I still do pixação, like last weekend, haha.
JESS: How/why did you start?
FREE: Like a joke, to have fun. The public phone has lots of pieces on it. It always has lots of pieces on it, even today it has lots of pieces on it.
JESS: And you were one of the first girls to do it?
FREE: Yes. There weren’t any girls before me to do it.
JESS: So, I just want to hear a little bit of the history of it, since you’re one of the first women and you’ve watched the form develop.
FREE: Me and my friends would begin at like 10:00PM. We go to the street, sometimes walking, from different place to place, sometimes by bus. It began like a joke and then it got to be like a competition with the boys, and then I wanted just to burn them in the walls.
JESS: And what did the guys say about it?
FREE: They all liked it at first because they saw the name but they didn’t know that it was a girl until they’re told “Oh it’s a girl.” Then, a new girl came and I wasn’t the only one.
JESS: There was another girl?
FREE: Yes, it was good to have another one because we went to the meeting, the tagger’s meeting, and everyone asked us to make our tags in their books, so it was fun.
JESS: Yes, that’s what I was going to ask—when the other girl came, did you start to go out together?
FREE: No, I never put my name with the other girl because it was like a competition. I thought it would be great because there was another girl, but then things changed. The fight was not about me and the other girl. It was the other boys that did it; they would say “Ah, the other girl is putting up more names than you.”
JESS: Oh, so instigating the competition between you two. And do you think that it made you both do more work? Because that can actually be a positive thing, as long as you’re not fighting. Because if you’re more competitive with each other, then you’re both putting your name up more.
FREE: Of course.
JESS: And I wanted to ask, how old were you when you started?
FREE: 16 or 17.
JESS: And you’re still doing pixação occasionally? I mean, you said you did it last weekend, haha.
FREE: Let me explain to you about this because what’s happening in Rio is people started in the ‘‘80s, and then they stopped it in the ‘90s. Then the ‘90s was a new generation of pixadores, and then the 2000s was a new generation of pixadores. But in 2006 or 7, because of the internet, people began to find each other online and the oldest was from pixadores of the ‘‘80s and people began meeting and having parties, and they began saying to each other “Oh, do you remember that guy or this guy from the ‘‘80s?” And then they began meeting with just the older people and made like a crew of just people from the generation ‘‘80s. And in this way they find all the old pixadores.
JESS: Because of the internet?!
FREE: Yes, and I stopped during these years but because of all the old friends meeting again, I came back again.
JESS: So can you talk about that?
FREE: How crazy, how crazy was it. Three years ago when I was coming from work, I was on the bus and on the wall there was a name [piquierno?]. It’s a pixador from the’ ‘80s and it said “For Free.” And I said, Oh I think it’s for me, Free! And another day, I got on the same bus and I saw it and I said Oh it’s for me! And then I began looking at walls and I realized that the people from the ‘80s generation were writing again. And then I noticed that they were writing “G8” with the name and I said, Oh I think G8 is the eighties generation! And then I found them on Orkut, which is like Facebook, it’s very popular in Brazil. And that’s how I found my old friends.
JESS: Yea, I write a lot about the internet and what it does for graffiti writers. When I started this work in 2001, I couldn’t find any girls. It was like impossible to find any girls anywhere. I mean I found some, but it was really hard. And when I started again, I saw that on the internet—sites like Facebook, Flickr, Myspace, Graffiti Girls, Ladies Graf—I mean it’s everywhere on the internet, it has exploded.
FREE: The first friend that I found on Orkut was a boy from my generation, and he invited me to go to a barbecue.
Jess: Did you meet the other girl that was painting when you were painting?
Free: No. There were the other girls, but they were not girls who were really really pixadores. They’re girls who do a few pieces around their place but they are not very important.
JESS: I was just wondering if you met up with the other girl because this is Rede Nami’s thing, you know, to reunite women and keep them together through their art. So that’s why I was wondering if the other woman came back.
FREE: Yea, well I’m single, I live alone, and I don’t have a husband to say, you know, “Oh don’t go out.” But the problem is that the other girls who don’t come along with the generation have other lives and a husband and children and they’re not thinking about it anymore.
JESS: And so there’s something about not being connected, or sort of structured your life in that way, that being single allows you to still do your work as an artist, whereas most of the time women have to choose between art and family?
FREE: It’s true. When a woman has a family it is very difficult to do these things because she’s like in jail. Like in a prison. And when she has a husband, and he goes to work in another country or in another state, the woman will stop working and go with the husband. But if it’s on the other side, if the woman has to go work in another state never will the husband go follow her.
JESS: Yea, so the power relationships differ. So I wonder how it feels to have that community, the generation ‘80s, back in touch. How do you feel about that?
FREE: Crazy, crazy. Incredible. Cause most of them are married, have sons, professions, and sometimes they asked the wife to go with them but other people are like old and they’re not doing it. And there are some boys that go and their wife doesn’t know that they do it, haha.
JESS: So it’s sort of like reliving youth. Something exciting.
FREE: Yes, exactly.
JESS: So when you did it last weekend was it like the same?
FREE: It was like pleasure.It’s a little bit about risk, because to do it is an adventure.
JESS: So have you come into any dangerous situations recently?
FREE: Yea.In the past, 3 times. The first time I was putting my name in the office of an important magazine that we had here, and the security guard got me and took the can and sprayed me with it.
JESS: So did you get arrested or did he just let you go?
FREE: I ran.
JESS: Oh ok, haha.
FREE: And the second time we’re putting tags, and we saw the police car, and we got the cans and put them in a place where they couldn’t see. And the police car came and said that we were using cans, and they were trying to find them and they were putting pressure on us and they said to me, “Oh, you’re a girl, what are you doing here? Why are you doing this?” And they said that they’d call my father and I’d go to jail, but they just let me go.
JESS: And they questioned why you were there because you were a girl and threatened to call your parents, but they didn’t ask the guys why they were there right?
FREE: No, just me. And then the third story, this one’s fun. I was with a group making tags, and we were in the street. And the guy was in front of me in the street, and the police came and they said to me, “What is this guy doing here with you?” And they said to the guy, “What are you doing with her? Get away from her leave her alone.” But I was with the guy making the tags.
JESS: So, in that instance being a woman worked in your favor?
FREE: The cops would never imagine that I would make tags or do something wrong. Sometimes I would go with a guy who wasn’t my boyfriend, but we would hold hands and pretend and the cops would never stop us because they wouldn’t think we were doing anything wrong, they would just think we were in love.
JESS: I want to ask how you settled on the name Free.
FREE: The meaning, to be free.
JESS: And so you were “Free” when you started? Because sometimes people go through different names.
FREE: I always put this name. When I began to put this name, it was also the same time I was beginning to work, and so I was getting some money and I felt like free, I’m free I’m beginning as pixadora.
JESS: And so you had a job and were making your own money and it was like financial freedom, a little bit, and doing the tags sort of expressed that for you? One of the things I ask people is, does what you paint represent part of your identity?
FREE: I am free, no one can put me in a box, no one can tell me who I am or what I have to do.
JESS: So, if you were to describe it, free from what? Do you still feel the same way? Does the name still apply?
FREE: At that time I lived with my Grandma and I felt free. And now I feel much more free. I have much more freedom because I live alone and I have my home.
JESS: From the little I know about pixação, it seems like it requires a lot of physical activity that might have been easier in ‘85 than it is now when you’re older.
FREE: Well the later generation made this up to do pixação up high. I’m not from that generation. But sometimes, I’d do the high things. Not so high, but the high things sometimes. And it’s not a problem because the boys always help, like the same with what Kaka says [kaka is another woman involved in Nami].
JESS: I think that’s fascinating.
FREE: A boy from another state has a blog, and he got in contact with me about the pixação on the clock that I showed you.And even though I never did it, he said “Oh you did it, you don’t remember, but you did it.” And he put it on his blog that I did it.
JESS: Do you have any pictures from before?
FREE: I have pictures that people have taken in that time, old pictures. If you want I can send them to you.
JESS: Yes, please. [I never received the pictures; sad face; but she did tag my book]
FREE: When did graffiti begin in the New York [thinking]…in the late ‘60s and ‘70s? And the oldest girl we have here is from the ‘80s. People think that graffiti is a new thing here, but it begins with pixação. Graffiti here comes from pixação.
JESS: I have two questions, the first is… I want to ask you about Hip-Hop. Because graffiti comes from Hip-Hop and I’m wondering if ‘80s Hip-Hop was here around that time.
FREE: Well, pixação is not graffiti. The graffiti just came here in São Paolo around the eighties and nineties.
JESS: Right, but I’m just thinking about the sound.
FREE: My generation doesn’t listen to Hip-Hop. We listen to a kind of rock, not Rock and Roll, but a kind of rock that was really really as big as funk is today. At that time it was Brazilian rock. All the pixadores would listen to this rock, not Hip-Hop.
JESS: And then what happened in the nineties when everybody stopped?
FREE: I stopped because I got a boyfriend, and I began to work harder and I didn’t have more time to do it.
JESS: That’s interesting, because it is sort of about having a leisure time. What do you think the historical significance of pixação is?
FREE: For u,s it’s a way to express ourselves to the society.
JESS: I’m just wondering, because a lot of the girls that I talk to, no matter what kind of urban art they do, they’re doing it in the public space.
FREE: Well, here in Brazil graffiti is urban art, it’s art. But pixação here is not a kind of art for people.
JESS: So you don’t think that pixação is art?
FREE: I do think it is art.
JESS: Yea, well that’s what I think. So, I think it’s a way to feel free, like you said, it’s a way to make your mark and to tell society “I’m here.” That’s what art is supposed to do.
FREE: Sometimes they do some political expressions.
JESS: Well that leads me to my next question, do you think of yourself as a feminist?
FREE: Of course.
JESS: And what is feminism to you?
FREE: It’s to have your position in the society, to have your own position.
JESS: What kind of position?
FREE: To choose to be feminist is to have your profession, to study, to do your things, to do what you like to do and to not stop doing your things because of the men.
JESS: I didn’t ask the other girls this, but since you’re not a graffiti writer what do you think of graffiti? Do you like it?
FREE: I like it, and sometimes I ask my friend who writes graffiti if I can go one day to see the process.
JESS: On a side note, I think you should come on Saturday [there was a group jam scheduled in Lapa] because the young girls who are just starting out would like to meet you because they see you as an important figure.
FREE: The people that know me and my history know that I’m important to São Paolo.On the internet, often people send messages to me that it’s my friend and that they want to meet me.
JESS: A little famous, huh? haha.
FREE: Haha,I can’t imagine because it was such a long time ago and people remember me. And sometimes people come to my home and say “Oh I never put my name with you and I want to do it, I have to do it.” And I say, why? I’m not important people.
JESS: Well I think for the fact that you’re still doing it, it’s important for girls. Because it sends a certain kind of message. Just because you grow up doesn’t mean that you have to stop doing what makes you feel good. Because when you talk about it…you have a big smile and it brings you joy, and pleasure, and good memories. And so if that’s what makes you happy, it’s important to let women know that you shouldn’t let the forces of society tell you that, “Oh, you should do this,” if it doesn’t make you happy.
FREE: Some people think that it’s like madness, and I’m crazy. But you know, I’m not a very big reference because some people don’t remember me because I’m so old. But people who really know about pixação know how important I am. But for the new girls, it’s like nothing.
JESS: But I know for me, when I learn about women who did extraordinary things in the past, different things, things that women aren’t supposed to do, it makes me feel like I should do extraordinary things. It’s inspiring.
FREE: I have a friend that I’m the godmother of her son, and she made pixação in the past, and he was looking at my name and all the new names and saw that I was beginning again, and he was like “What are you doing? You’re time was in the past, you don’t have to be doing this.”
JESS: And what did you say?
FREE: It’s something that I can’t stop. Haha, I can’t stop doing it. And last week when I made the pixação it was me and my nephew, and we were in the car going to the states where no one from Rio will see it, and we just stopped the car and I put it in the road because I can’t stop it, I can’t resist putting my name on the wall.
JESS: I love it. And what is the message you want to send to aspiring female writers?
FREE: It’s to get your freedom, to be independent. And you must be patient to do whatever you want to do, and then you have to do it. I also have a job at the university, I’m a lawyer.
JESS: You’re a lawyer? Haha!
FREE: Yes, for the university.
JESS: Haha, I love it. Because society doesn’t think that, when they think about who’s making pixação and graffiti? They don’t think, OH!, a lawyer.
FREE: Neither do the police, haha.
**Just want to give props to my fantastic intern Eileen Quaranto for transcribing this interview! Woot!!**