Report from Graf Grrlz on the Rise, Week 1

In my last entry, I mentioned I’d be working with a program for girls here in Miami called Women on the Rise! The program itself works with various organizations over the summer, but as of last Tuesday I’ve been spending my days at the Carrolton School of the Sacred Heart with a program called Honey Shine [inspiring young girls aged 8-18 to shine]. I’ve had the best time meeting and co-teaching with Fabienne Rousseau , Dinorah de Jesús Rodríguez , Nereida Garcia Ferraz , Lupe [sorry Lupe I can’t find your website!], Dr. Jillian Hernandez Bernal, and the program’s director Anya Wallace—all artists in their own right.

Each day we meet with 5 groups for about 60 minutes each and it turns out that the cliché “kids say the darndest things” is spot on. Before this week, I had never worked with kids. I was never a babysitter (aside from watching my little sister), I never did any kind of summer camp, and I am hardly around little ones in my everyday life. So, no one is more shocked than I am at HOW MUCH I LOVE TEACHING little girls!

I mean, wow. For someone who is absolutely fascinated by how people think and what they think about—someone like ME—being exposed to such unbridled, “filterless” energy (specifically in relation to the “writing on the wall”) is the most absolute form of intellectual stimulation.  

This week I worked with a little less than 60 girls from 2nd to 11th grade. We began each session (no matter if it was session 1 or 2) with a standard WoTR! icebreaker called “Just because”  where they are given 4 sentences to fill out about perceptions/stereotypes. Some of my favorites:

“Just because…I am blackDoesn’t Mean I…will be a slaveMy name is XAnd I am…proud.”  

“Just because…I am a cheerleader. Doesn’t Mean I…am dumb. My name is X. And I am…smart.”

The responses to these vary from serious to funny, from profound to nonsensical and I believe the WoTR! Facebook page documents some of the great ones. Definitely check them out.

After the icebreaker we get into the lessons. The first time I meet a group is Session 1: the history lesson and tag name creation where they come up with 3 tags: 1 for themselves, 1 for a friend sitting on the left and 1 for a friend on their right.

First, I ask them to tell me “what graffiti is.” Here are some answers I jotted down with favorites bolded:

  • Wall art
  • A lot of colors
  • Writing and drawing on someone else’s property
  • Writing in a fancy way
  • Vandalism
  • Art that represents something like feelings or goals
  • Gangs
  • Imagination
  • Colorful art on a wall
  • Spray paint on walls
  • Flowers and people on walls
  • Art on buildings
  • Words, people, houses and stereos painted on walls
  • Some kinda art
  • A bunch of lines
  • Someone’s insight
  • Something you cant read
  • Something expressive
  • Something that tells a story
  • Art that’s popping out
  • The future
  • A puzzle
  • 3d letters
  • beautiful
  • crazy lines
  • swirls
  • layers
  • illusions
  • awkward letters
  • boxed letters
  • something personal
  • connected letters
  • bubble letters
  • a history
  • when you write everywhere
  • to go all over the stuff

Then, I ask them to tell me “where graffiti is”:

  • Walls
  • Buses
  • Churches
  • Abandoned buildings
  • Stop signs
  • Trains
  • Closed down stores
  • Sidewalks
  • Skyscrapers
  • Billboards
  • Tables, schools and stores
  • Canvas and bridges
  • Everywhere
  • houses

Then, I ask them to tell me “who does graffiti”:

  • Crazy people
  • professional artists
  • thugs
  • dreamers
  • people in the ghetto
  • criminals
  • citizens
  • anybody
  • rule breakers
  • rebels
  • young people
  • women
  • vandals
  • artists
  • talented people
  • gangsters
  • art teachers

Then, I ask them to tell me “why do they do graffiti”:

  • to show their point
  • to show off their art and feelings
  • they can’t help it
  • cause they have something to say
  • to make a difference in their community
  • cause they are just CRAZY over drawing!

And finally, I ask if they know how long people have been writing on walls and we move into a brief history of writing beginning with cave paintings. Yesterday, one girl responded to my “when” question with total confidence: “40,000 years!!!” I was literally like: WHOA! She had sat through my class on Wednesday and recalled, with absolute clarity the entire lesson. She blew me away, so I let her co-teach the history.

After they learn the history it is time to make their own tags. Some of them drew their names in styles I haven’t yet showed them. Call me impressed. These girls are naturals.

In session 2, they practice their tags on trains and learn about gender politics in graffiti: sexualization, marginalization, and tokenization. They are sponges…well, most of them and I can say with certainty that most of them understood why being a token is complicated,  why being marginalized from history is as one of the girls said “unfair,” and how being sexualized might make “the girls stop painting.” I wish I had recorded our conversations so that I could recall the intensity and insightfulness of their interactions. Alas.

While we chatted, they drew.

And once again, without any prompting about the particulars of blackbook culture, they began sharing their piece of paper to gather one another’s tags.

Here is a slideshow from Week 1:

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I can’t wait to see what next week brings!

2 comments

  1. Hi Jessica,

    It’s lemel_p off twitter. Would love to drop you a line about my research on female sneaker aficionadas.

    Best, Lemara

    Lemara Lindsay-Prince American Studies MRes

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