Sometimes I get to be a part of a shift in history…hip hop history that is.
Yesterday was one of those days. Abby and I were invited to Davidson College in North Carolina to talk about graffiti, history, and the politics of gender, race, and sexuality. Before we began, I asked the audience to think about the multitude of implications when a subcultural history has been told, written, and understood as a “man’s” world, or a boys club. What, and who, has been lost or erased when the same figures are fetishized and the same images reproduced?
Not to sound dramatic, but yesterday we altered the gendered confines of the graffiti canon, of the history thus far told and archived, through the power of oral history. And we had a blast doing it.
We spoke of her biography, her experiences then and now as an African American woman in the graphic design field, her crews and mentors, and her family. Abby schooled everyone on style and letter development. We talked about paint, caps, and different techniques for producing different effects. We talked about feminism and misogynism. We talked about graffiti’s relationship to hip hop culture broadly, and what hip hop culture was like back in the 80s when it was just beginning. We talked about the gallery scene and the differences between graffiti on the street and in the museum. We talked about graffiti as a phenomenal yet understudied arts movement. The people in the audience were so gracious and asked wonderful questions.
I was absolutely geeked out. Here I was, sitting, listening, and talking to a writer who knows the history because she was there. I always geek out when that happens, it never gets old. I usually present alone, but after yesterday I think that’s a huge mistake. It is way more fun having a dialogue and letting the women speak for themselves when possible. I hope to have many more opportunities to bring the artists out in front of an audience to shine and tell their stories.
Here are a few flix of that very fun day at Davidson with one of the founding mothers of graffiti, Abby.