Top: Pixie of Girls on Top Crew, “My Thuggy Pony,” Bronx, NY, 2013; Middle: ClawMoney, Dona, Lady Pink, and Miss17, “Bitches n’ Stitches,” Tucson, AZ, 2004; Bottom: Solitas, Santiago, Chile, 2014 (courtesy of the artist).
Short abstract: The first academic study on women’s participation within Hip Hop graffiti art subculture, Graffiti Grrlz: Performing Feminism in the Hip Hop Diaspora is an interdisciplinary transnational feminist ethnography that examines how “graffiti grrlz” negotiate their place within a heterosexist male-dominated subculture.
Hip Hop graffiti art is characterized by the repetitive production of a tag name in order to communicate presence. Grounded in AfroCaribbean diasporic aesthetics such as call and response, self-naming, and polyrhythmic composition, graffiti proclaims: “I am here!” Since Hip Hop graffiti art emerged in the late 1960s, scholars, practitioners, and spectators have engaged the subculture as a “boys club” with a lens focused on cismale masculine performances of identity, community, and rebellion—effectively rendering graffiti “grrlz” nonexistent.
Graffiti Grrlz: Performing Feminism in the Hip Hop Diaspora is the first study on women’s participation within graffiti subculture. A transnational ethnography grounded in the stories of 100+ women in 23 countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and United States), Graffiti Grrlz examines the strategies grrlz utilize to elevate their status within a cisheterosexist male-dominated subculture. Deeming their strategies “performances of feminism,” I demonstrate how they remodel Hip Hop masculinity into “feminist masculinity”; cultivate an affective digital network across linguistic and geopolitical borders; strategically deploy alternative femininities to transform subcultural precarity; build transnational “feminist” community without feminist identity; and resist erasure by constituting herstories via digital archiving. Graffiti Grrlz provokes readers to reimagine graffiti subculture alongside transnational feminist movement, postulating a new way of seeing feminism and feminist movement—one that privileges the subcultural over the mainstream, the transnational over the Eurocentric, and the deviant over the respectable.
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Since the dawn of Hip Hop graffiti writing on the streets of Philadelphia and New York City in the late 1960s, writers have anonymously inscribed their tag names on trains, buildings, and bridges. Passersby are left to imagine who the author might be, and, despite the artists’ anonymity, graffiti subculture is seen as a “boys club,” where the presence of the graffiti girl is almost unimaginable. In Graffiti Grrlz, Jessica Nydia Pabón-Colón interrupts this stereotype and introduces us to the world of women graffiti artists.
Drawing on the lives of over 100 women in 23 countries, Pabón-Colón argues that graffiti art is an unrecognized but crucial space for the performance of feminism. She demonstrates how it builds communities of artists, reconceptualizes the Hip Hop masculinity of these spaces, and rejects notions of “girl power.” Graffiti Grrlz also unpacks the digital side of Hip Hop graffiti subculture and considers how it widens the presence of the woman graffiti artist and broadens her networks, which leads to the formation of all-girl graffiti crews or the organization of all-girl painting sessions.
A rich and engaging look at women artists in a male-dominated subculture, Graffiti Grrlz reconsiders the intersections of feminism, hip hop, and youth performance and establishes graffiti art as a game that anyone can play.
In Graffiti Grrlz: Performing Feminism in the Hip Hop Diaspora, Jessica Nydia Pabón-Colón argues that women and girls who write graffiti activate a visual call-and-response in hip hop culture as a refusal to be silenced by heterosexism and heteropatriarchy across the globe.
—Jenell Rae Navarro, TDR: The Drama Review, Spring 2020 (read full review here)
Graffiti Grrlz will change the way we think about women’s involvement in Hip Hop culture and the way we think about feminist movements. Graffiti Grrlzgives us a part of the story we didn’t know we were waiting for and we didn’t know how much we needed. Powerful stuff, the prose takes shape like a fly graffiti backdrop and paints a picture that perfectly captures the work these women put in. Graffiti Grrlz is groundbreaking and game-changing scholarship that answers the question, where my grrlz at, with a powerful and provocative right here. This is a must read for anyone interested in Hip Hop Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies.
—Gwendolyn D. Pough, Author of Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere
Vibrant, complex, and totally engaging, Graffiti Grrlz recovers women’s presence in graffiti subcultures around the globe. In this ambitious and passionate book, Jessica Pabón-Colón amplifies the resistant and creative practices of women graffiti artists and masterfully highlights their important contributions to contemporary feminism. In doing so, she transforms and expands our ideas about the meaning of graffiti and of feminist political action.
—Jessica Taft, Author of Rebel Girls: Youth Activism and Social Change Across the Americas
The graffiti grrlz featured here know how to throw up fresh ways of re-imagining feminism, urban belonging, and world-making practices. Through bright ethnographic accounts of graffiti’s gendered politics and global reach, Pabón-Colón takes down assumed notions of hip-hop culture by passing the mic to a new generation of feminist graffiti artists engaged in writing and speaking on their own terms.
—Juana María Rodríguez, Author of Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures, and Other Latina Longings
In her groundbreaking book, women’s, gender, and sexuality studies professor, Dr. Jessica Nydia Pabón-Colón, explores how the graffiti subculture has been coded as male…Her dedication to detail and thoroughly researching is evident throughout the book. She explores over 100 women artists in 23 countries and makes a compelling case that graffiti subculture is a place where feminists come into their own.
Throughout Graffiti Grrlz, the author convincingly advances both feminism and graffiti as positive and vital social and political forces. Pabón-Colón’s work is a rich tribute to the grrls whose voices are too often silenced and a gift to all of us who love graffiti, perhaps the most significant art movement of our time.
There hasn’t been any significant interrogation into the gender politics of the art form or culture [of graffiti] until now. Jessica Nydia Pabón-Colón has presented her work in Graffiti Grrlz in a way that is thoughtful and thorough as she asks important questions about how women navigate the world of graffiti. Anyone with an interest in the art form and the culture should do themselves a favor and read this book.
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