I have a Google Alert set up so I know when anything with the terms “Female graffiti writers” appears on the Internet. As you might expect, it’s not that active but it does populate something every now and again. Today, it notified me about an article posted a few days ago on The Independent: “In search of a female Banksy: Aiko and Faith47 take on a male-dominated street art world.”
Now, I don’t generally make it a habit to have public “ugly feelings” about problematic media stories with really good intentions (especially when they are centered on those who are often marginalized). I guess I live by “all press is good press” because at the very least, even with bad press, conversations are sparked. But from the moment I read the title of Daisy Wyatt’s piece, my pulse quickened.
I’m not going to go into the semantics of “graffiti writer” versus “street artist,” because that is not only controversial, but also highly subjective—there’s a lot at stake socially in relation to street credentials and respect for bombers, not to mention the financial stakes of who gets paid to do what where and when. Miss17 and I get into a debate about these stakes almost daily, and my favorite role is devil’s advocate. But, the distinctions and overlaps between these classifications are not my main concern. And don’t even get me started on her brief account of a “female” aesthetic. Because honestly, #icant.
What I want to know is: Why would an article highlighting women’s work in a male-dominated field write about them through men’s work?
I mean. Have we learned nothing from decades of works by feminist artists specifically responding to this??
I digress: I would usually hyperlink to something here, but THERE ARE SO MANY it’s almost impossible to choose. Check out my go-to from late ‘70s Linda Nochlin for a broader critique and peep the Guerilla Girls (for that reader out there who doesn’t know about their spectacular work.)
Because “‘male’ does not have to be present to exert its power” (thanks Trinh Minh-Ha circa 1989; 27) we already have to qualify these artists as “female” artists. I’m still figuring out ways to maneuver this necessity in my own writing. But the way the qualifications are made in this piece goes further, and cuts deeper. Aiko and Faith47 are presented only through their relationship with a specific male artist!! The insult goes beyond the title of the piece: “After collaborating with Banksy,” Wyatt writes, Aiko gained fame. Shouldn’t we be thinking critically about why that might be the case, if that’s actually the case (I argue, it is not)? How is “fame” defined here? I knew about her before that film, and so did others.
In the very first issue of COP Magazine (at that time “Crimes of Passion”), contributor Cameron McAuliffe asked readers to seriously consider how we engage street art and what we read into it before knowing anything about it; he asked a question that made us think about how gender biases exert themselves, specifically in relation to Banksy: “What makes this a man’s work?”…“is Banksy a woman?”…“Is there something we can find that is male or female about graffiti?”
Let’s get something straight here. Aiko and Faith47 ARE NOT “FEMALE BANKSY’S.” (Neither are Bambi or Princess Hijab). They are Aiko and Faith(F*ing)47…sorry for the expletive, but DAMN. These women don’t need to be lifted into the light of media attention by some dude who won’t even show his face (not that I expect all street artists to do so, but the point is Aiko and Faith47 aren’t manipulating desire through mystery). Ya know, perhaps the “light of media attention” metaphor doesn’t even work. In a lot of ways the way they are portrayed here leaves them in the shadows.
They made their own ground, have their own light. They move through the streets painting masterpieces as they go…without Exiting Through the damn Gift Shop.
Come on Daisy, do your homework! I appreciate that you had the impulse to write this piece, and interviewed Martha C and the artists themselves. But the end result seems like a transparent ploy to pick up on the “Banksy in NYC” hype.
These artists deserve better.