New Documentary on Graff and Street Art Grrlz: “Street Heroines”

Because I’m a mother of a beautiful amazing brilliant small child, sometimes I miss the other stuff going on in life. But don’t get it twisted, I’m still down! 😉

Last night was one of those times, but luckily because Pau is painting at SUNY New Paltz this week (and on a panel today with me!), I got to experience the brilliance second hand.

Alexandra Henry screened her new documentary Street Heroines: “A FEATURE DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE COURAGE AND CREATIVITY OF FEMALE GRAFFITI AND STREET ARTISTS.”

Peep the trailer! Fall in love. Feel the energy around this movement to uplift women putting in the work. Donate Money.

Support Women in Street Art!

Know Your Herstory: CatFight Digital Zine

So I’m in the middle of writing a new chapter for Graffiti Grrlz: Performing Feminism in the Hip Hop Diaspora based on two old ones (from my dissertation) and I realized two things: 1) I’m writing about how performances of feminism circulate online and my blog has been woefully neglected (my bad! writing a book, teaching, and momming is incredibly time consuming) and 2) not enough people know about the e-zine (digital zine, digizine, or whatever you want to call it) CatFight: Female Graff Update!

In brief, CatFight was a labor of love for F. Lady in the Netherlands of Bitches in Control crew (BIC). Begun in 2005, F. Lady produced 9 spectacular issues that–except for #6–are still available as free downloadable PDFs.

To make your life easy, here are the links!

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From the Archives: An interview with hemispheric graffitera MISS163

[written Summer 2013]

No Somos “Mariposas,” Somos “MariPUSSY”: An Interview with Graffiti Art Activist MISS163 aka Sharon Lee De La Cruz.

Walking through the streets of New York City you are bound to note the graffiti-covered buildings, bridges, and tunnels. You may ask yourself “how,” but have you ever wondered: “why” or “who?” Approximately 28 years of aggressive Broken Window[1] policing has answered the “who and why” with a single, decidedly gendered and racialized, qualifying designation—vandal—effectively denying the art form and the art makers any kind of social legitimacy or political import. No matter, though. Hip Hop graffiti writers have never been that interested in obtaining permission or legitimacy from any kind of governing body. They write on walls for a wide variety of reasons including subcultural infamy, sociopolitical rebellion, and aesthetic expression. Since Hip Hop graffiti appeared on the streets of NYC in the late 1960s/early 1970s, writers have intermittently “flipped” their formerly criminal activity into an income-producing creative practice—exploiting consumer culture’s fetish for niche markets and the gallery system’s taste for the raw energy of the “exotic,” the “other,” the criminal. Some writers have also utilized graffiti art’s quasi-fashionable/quasi-criminal, always public and communicative character for social and political purposes. MISS163 aka Sharon Lee De La Cruz is one such graffitera (female graffiti artist). Currently stretching the boundaries of legal mural artist vs illegal graffiti “bomber,” and capitalist vs radical feminist activist, she exemplifies how contemporary graffiteras are successfully navigating conventional limitations, answering the question of “who” is behind the writing on the wall with a resounding “why.”

MISS163 was born in 1987, raised on 163rd street and Hoe Avenue in the Bronx, and started tagging in 2004. She earned her BFA from The Cooper Union (2008) and was awarded a one-year Fulbright to study experimental filmmaking and mural making in Lima, Peru (2008­-2009). In Lima, she advanced from tagging to more intricate pieces and mural painting as a founding member of Maripussy Crew—an international, all-female, feminist, Latina and Latin American graffiti collective. As a hemispheric radical feminist artist, MISS163 focuses her artistic activist energies on women’s issues and youth development in the Bronx and in Lima. Currently, she is an after-school Program Director for ACTION (Activists Coming to Inform Our Neighborhood) and WOMEN (Where Our Minds Empower Needs) at The Point Community Development Corporation in the Bronx. In February 2012, she was awarded a “Woman Warrior Award” from Project Reach and the NY Daily News quoted MISS163 stating, “You don’t have to leave your community to live in a better one” (Whitehead, 2012). That same year, she became a Calvin Klein Brand Ambassador designed a four-part assortment of “graffiti glam” make-up under the name CK1 Street Edition (News 12 Bronx, 2013). Described by Vanity Fair reporter Lynden Volpe as a collection with a “girly yet edgy vibe,” the lipstick, nail strips, nail polish, and eye shadow feature the literally brilliant color-palette MISS163 uses in her graffiti art (Volpe 2013). With names like Vandalize, Sketched, Painted, Tagged, and Punked, MISS163’s set exposes and explores the aesthetic lines between the grimy and the beautiful. Starting in Fall 2013, she will begin her Master’s research on temporality and permanence in graffiti art in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU.

At 26, MISS163 continues to make quite an impact in both of her chosen communities. She is the epitome of a millennial digital activist. Skillfully managing a dynamic online presence on most, if not all, social media outlets, the public can find her on: Tumblr; YouTube; Facebook; Twitter (@Miss163); Instagram; Myspace; Flickr; Vimeo; and, of course, her own website. Her digital presence amplifies her local community work. We sat down in Pop’s of Brooklyn in Manhattan to discuss her social justice work, her experiences living in Peru, the gender and sexuality politics in graffiti subculture, her role as mentor and leader to the other women in Maripussy, her struggles as a self-identified pansexual AfroLatina, and her solo exhibition at bOb bar & gallery: Wild Thing.

JP: In Hip Hop graffiti subculture, everyone has an alter ego—a kind of stage name referred to as a “tag name,” under which they practice their art form. Tag names tend to refer to something personal like a favorite color, nickname, or the place one was raised. How did you choose yours?

MISS163: My name is Sharon De La Cruz, aka MISS163, aka uno seis tres (one, six, three), aka Charo—that’s what my family calls me. I started painting “Charo” at 18 years old, but that was small tags here and there until I realized “if my momma sees this on a wall, it ain’t gonna be too cute,” haha. I was raised on 163rd street and Hoe Avenue, so I changed it to 163. I wanted to be old school so I crowned myself “Miss 163”.

JP: So after painting sola (alone) for a couple of years, while you were getting your BFA, you spent some time in Peru on a Fulbright and that’s where you founded Maripussy?

MISS163: At Cooper, I took a course on Urban Experience in Latin America and it was based on the history of Mexico and Peru, and focused on the psychology of urban planning. I knew I wanted to travel to Latin America after school and my homeboy told me to check out this thing called a Fulbright. I applied thinking that I wasn’t gonna get it. Turns out, I was wrong.

JP: Can you briefly explain your project?

MISS163: I was doing experimental filmmaking with high school kids. Originally, I wanted to do stop-motion graffiti, but my advisor “advised” me not to do that; haha. I understood why. The Fulbright is the US Government, so they want nothing that has to do with illegality. I kind of masked the project and said “we will do movie projections.” We were basically experimenting with late-night humor, like Jay Leno style. It was really hard to get the students involved. They were natural at it, but they learned that it was bad. I even had teachers that were concerned about what I was teaching. In Peru, people disappeared after using humor against the government. Silly little me wanted to do that, but it was something that was frowned upon. It was very interesting. I learned so much from those kids!

JP: And it was in your first trip to Peru, during your Fulbright year, that you met the other ladies of your now-international graffiti crew right?

MISS163: Yes. While I was in Lima, I met up with tons of local artists and we started painting walls. It was great. That’s where I met Nemiye. She’s the one that does all these crazy Q’s. It’s just so interesting that we grew up in two totally different hemispheres, but the politics of growing up as a Latina are so similar…it’s also disgusting. The first time we painted together was in March 2009 for International Women’s Day. That’s when we knew that we had to keep painting with each other because the chemistry was flawless. We had the same humor, politics, and view on life. Being a crew was a joke at first, and then I told them my story about what my mother called my vagina, which is mariposa (butterfly). And then our friend said, “You should call yourself ‘Las Mariposas’.” The four of us—Mishap, Bronik, Nemiye, and myselfhat mariposa wasn’t strong enough. We wanted a PUNCH. So I asked, “What about MariPUSSY crew?” Maripussy is a super feminist collective, and with our graffiti we tell stories about the effects of patriarchy in relationship to women’s health. We were originally based in Lima, but now we’re also in Paris (Nemiye), Barcelona (Bronik), and New York (yours truly). There are seven of us now: six graffiteras (Mishap, Nemiye, Perez, Monica Miros, Biarck, and myself) and one rapper (Blue). I was so happy to find a group of women to whom I didn’t have to explain everything. I didn’t have to explain sexism or racism. I didn’t have to explain how oppression affects how we love, live, and make art. Before then, my dream of being a part of a sorority, or a women’s crew, seemed like it was far-gone. I always dreamt of having what I call “sister friends”—this unbroken bond between women. But it never happened because I went to art school with no sorority clubs. I didn’t have any friends who wrote [graffiti], nonetheless any women. And if I knew about women writers, they were older; there wasn’t anyone in my age bracket. So I knew graffiteras who were geographically close, but for whatever reason they were either inaccessible or it felt less natural to form a crew. Especially because I didn’t learn how to paint walls in the US, most of my murals were in Peru and that’s where I learned narrative and colors on a large scale. In Peru, I finally found women my age and they had vagina politics.

JP: It’s interesting that you keep pointing to the similarities in the “vagina politics” that you’ve experienced in the US and that they’ve experienced in Peru. What are “vagina politics” anyway?

MISS163: When we came together and shared our stories, they were similar despite happening in two different hemispheres. I lived in both places and I spoke with a lot of women, and it’s the same fundamental concept of being a “woman,” particularly a graffiti artist, in a patriarchal world. We call it “vagina politics” because as a result of having vaginas we’ve gotten to this…place. When I talk about this “place,” I mean we’ve become who we are because we’ve self-reflected about our experiences. We listened to our gut feelings about sexism and feminism. We understand that the stereotypes of women being emotional and crazy came from a sexist place. We’ve listened to ourselves. We’ve paid attention to what was going on around us, and we chose this thing called graffiti painting in order to express ourselves. To explore and flesh out our ideas about vagina politics, while opening the conversation up to complete strangers. We feel it is important to continue to initiate these conversations beyond our crew—and that’s what’s so fun, and ironic, about art! Once you create it, it no longer needs you to continue to carry out your intention.

JP: And the intention of forming Maripussy was to build a support system of like-minded women artists. Doing so reminds you that you’re not alone. It’s much more productive to have a network, right?

MISS163: Especially in the game called painting or writing, it’s all about support. It’s dark and you’re alone and my instincts say: no, don’t go into the dark! Painting sometimes goes against my instincts, but I keep doing it. I call the women in Maripussy my sister-friends, and to me sister-friends are really important. They keep you grounded. Even though Maripussy isn’t always with me physically, they can still say to me: “Sharon, you’re not painting!” And I’m like, “How do you know?!” We share all our stuff on the internet, so if nothing new has been posted someone like Mishap will know that I haven’t been painting. I also know that people depend on me in this weird way—we need to keep our name alive. I have a tattoo on my chest that says Maripussy. I don’t want another little Sharon growing up saying she doesn’t have a mentor or a network. I take feminist community building very seriously, especially with young women.

JP: Your visibility is really important for young women looking for mentors, for established pathways into the subculture. How has your position as brand ambassador for CK1, and your community work with the Point, elevated your visibility and altered how you feel as a woman in a numerically male-dominated subculture?

MISS163: It’s overwhelming because I feel like I have to represent all women, which is ridiculous because every woman is different and those differences are complicated. BUT, it’s also sweet because I get to give a voice to a lot of women and I get to exercise my power in a sustainable, fruitful way. I can model what being a “voice” looks like, how to be comfortable in your own skin, and how to be fulfilled without compromising your politics. The politics are so intense. I don’t paint with certain people because of the politics. Feeling like you have to prove yourself because you are a woman is not fun. I transform the negative energy, in regards to proving yourself, and turn that into “proving” how conscious, creative, and inspiring women can be. Yes, every time I hold a spray can I am “proving” something on an artistic level and as a woman. I have many limitations, but I refuse to let my gender be one of them. You just gotta keep doing it.

JP: Does that sense of having to prove yourself as a woman in a “man’s world” subside when you paint with Maripussy?

MISS163: When I paint with Maripussy it is fun. I feel like I’m on clouds. We’ve come to the point now, where we don’t have to talk about a piece—we just paint it out. We’re always dancing and laughing. We joke throughout the whole thing because we’re chillin with our girls.

JP: After meeting with two all-female crews in Chile, I started thinking about the production of feminist community by graffiteras who do not identify as “feminist.” I never would have written that chapter if I’d focused on New York City, or the States in general for that matter. All-female crews seem to be the social-subcultural norm in Latin America, whereas in the States they are few and far between. Initially, I thought it had something to do with the kind of “gray space” of legality that some Latin American writers work within—with more visibility on the street as you paint, you might be more likely to paint together, etc. Is graffiti art in Lima quasi-legal, like in Santiago and Rio?

MISS163: Yea, it depends. Walls are less idolized because of the money it takes to keep them up. So if a landlord can get a free “paint” job then why not? Graffiti artists take advantage of the situation and find more creative ways to send a visual political message. In Peru, I can’t just paint a “pro-choice” wall because it is a very conservative place, but I can mask it with characters and the use of colors. It challenges you to become a better artist, I think. My boyfriend pointed this out and I thought it was really interesting. He asked: “Why do the girls in Hip Hop in Peru look so masculine?” I didn’t realize until he pointed it out, but I was like: “Well, because that’s Hip Hop.” I feel like there’s less room to play with being girly and hardcore. You just gotta be hardcore. One of my Maripussy friends is in Bogota now with her girlfriend.

JP: Isn’t it interesting that we went from the “masculinity in Hip Hop” to the Maripussy crew member who is a lesbian? The subconscious word association “masculine woman=lesbian” is frequently uttered, regardless of the speaker’s politics. And is a really great example of why graffiteras tend to keep their sexuality to themselves. They might come out to me, but they don’t want to feed into the heterosexist rumor mill that uses their sexuality against their subcultural credibility (i.e. women writers are “dykes” or “whores”).

MISS163: I consider myself pansexual. If you’re attractive, you’re attractive. Our fascination with gender is corrupt. We are more focused on the gender of folks, than the partnership that they are building. Not only are we fighting because we’re women and feminists, but also how and who we love. Those things are

JP: One of the reasons I started writing about gender politics in graffiti was because of the notion that graffiti transcends all systems of identity-based oppression. Since graffiti is an anonymous act (mostly), the idea is that anyone can do graffiti. But the thing is: you can do it, but will you be supported or mentored in any way that enables you to keep doing it?

MISS163: The guys who showed me how to paint a mural were actually three of the high school boys I was teaching in Lima. I was showing them that I could draw and I did graffiti and they were like: “You wanna paint a wall?” I was like, “YEAH”! Imagine. These young men had more privilege to go out and seek these walls and show me this life! year old me was like, “Wow. Okay, this is crazy.” To be in certain parts of Lima to paint a wall, I had to be accompanied by three high school boys.

JP: You said that your graffiti takes a specifically feminist stance to illustrate particular narratives regarding vagina politics; how do you incorporate the politics of race and colorism into those narratives?

MISS163: The last piece I painted on my first visit to Peru was about “Doña Papa.” Doña Papa is basically what Aunt Jemima is in the U.S; but instead of syrup, she sells candy. She’s a slave woman with the hair wrap and all of that. I painted her vomiting all the candies. Mishap said “all these Black guys and girls are going wild over your piece.” They loved it because Doña Papa was finally doing something—she was the actor, not the acted upon. That’s when I learned how to mess with politics in another country. I like to twist pop culture images so they tell a more complex story.

JP: You’re working on a series for your solo show at bOb bar & gallery, right?

MISS163: Yes. I’ve been researching how women of color are used as community-organizing tools and I’m basing the series on Ruby Bridges as “Max” from Where The Wild Things Are. Bridges is the perfect example of why being Black and a woman is political from the start. Imagine: you’re seven years old, and you’re brought in as a political tool. Her parents were approached by the NAACP because she got the highest GPA in her all-Black elementary school and once the government ordered integration she was chosen. The NAACP specifically chose young Black girls. They could not be boys because little Black boys grow up to be educated Black men and that ain’t flyin’. But because she was a young female, the perception of her femininity as fragile, inferior, and most importantly less threatening positioned her as the perfect transitional subject in a larger movement for equality and integration. Her story is mind-blowing. I’m getting goose bumps just talking about it. Using women so strategically…and I think that’s a larger metaphor. Have you read Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by Melissa Harris-Perry? That book is killer. It’s about carrying, not only your race, but your sex, on your back. I think Bridges is a perfect example of this. Putting the two together in this way makes too much sense to me.

JP: Obviously your Wild Things series critiques a particular moment in history, but, do you think that it “makes too much sense to you” because you identify with the difficulties of race and gender politics in a particular way?

MISS163: Oh yea, totally. In New York, I’m Dominican. In Florida, I was half-Black and half-white. Then, when I went to Peru, I was gringa (white girl). Then I was “chinch,” which is Black in Peru. It’s like, “Okay…whatever you see.” When I’m in the States I tell people I’m Afro-Latina, but when I go to Peru that doesn’t mean anything. I told one of my girls that I was Afro-Latina and she laughed at me. I was like, “what are you laughing at?” I’m not Latina to her. My parents are from the Caribbean and they speak Spanish, but that doesn’t make me Latina to her. My brother makes a lot of racist remarks about Black women, and I’m like: “Hey I’m your sister!” But he sees me as Dominican and Puerto Rican.

JP: Your work communicates an ethic of resistance in regards to a variety of social messages while being attentive to aesthetics, to style. I see no separation between your art and your activism, but rather a kind of reproductive feedback loop.

MISS163: Graffiti is consciousness; it is the visualization of “thinkers” and “questioners.” For example, making sure that there is a “Female Flava”[2] wall, a wall dedicated to women in The South Bronx. Making sure that you create spaces to tell a story that has been marginalized and normalized simultaneously. We want to create art that questions social conditions, that celebrates women and generates fruitful discussion. Both my graffiti art and my activism are about organizing and energizing women.

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References

News 12 Bronx. 2013. “Bronx Graffiti Artist Sharon De La Cruz Teams up with Calvin Klein for Street Edition Cosmetics Line,” April 16. (http://bronx.news12.com/news/bronx-graffiti-artist-sharon-de-la-cruz-teams-up-with-calvin-klein-for-street-edition-cosmetics-line-1.5083018), accessed on June 6, 2013.

Volpe, Lynden. 2013. “CK One Goes Street for Spring.” Vanity Fair Blogs, March 11. (http://www.vanityfair.com/online/beauty/2013/03/CK-One-Goes-Street-for-Spring), accessed on June 6, 2013.

Whitehead, Kim. 2012. “Sharon De La Cruz, Artist and Activist from The POINT, Honored for Community Work in the Bronx.” NY Daily News, February 23. (www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx/sharon-de-la-cruz-artist-activist-point-honored-community-work-bronx-article-1.1026377), accessed on June 6, 2013.

WYSK. 2013. “Women Talk: 10 Questions With Miss 163, Art Meets Activism -WYSK.” (http://www.womenyoushouldknow.net/women-talk-10-questions-with-miss-163-art-meets-activism/), accessed on June 6, 2013.

[1] Graffiti’s eradication has been a central component of “Broken Windows” policing since Glazer’s 1979 Public Interest article and expanded by Kelling and Wilson’s 1982 eponymous piece in The Atlantic Monthly. In 1985, the NYC Transit Authority hired Kelling to consult on the implementation of Broken Windows theory.

[2] Female Flava is an annual South Bronx event organized by De La Cruz that focuses on women. The 2013 theme is “No Means No, An End to Violence Against Women.” See http://www.facebook.com/events/526315694099978/?fref=ts.

The Real Revolutionary Potential Of Banksy Identifying As A Woman…Is Not That They’d “Be” A Woman.

On October 31st, HBO premiered the documentary Banksy Does New York. Similar to the kerfuffle over Banksy’s identity after the premiere of Exit Through the Gift Shop, this past week has seen “a revived interest” in knowing—once and for all?—just who they* really are (because “obviously” the identity of a public figure should be knowable, visible, and fixed). This time, however, the focus has largely been on determining Banksy’s gender:

ArtNetNews asked: Could Banksy Be a Woman?

New York Magazine provoked: People Dare to Imagine That Banksy, Like God, Is a Woman

The Gothamist announced: Extra, Extra: Is Banksy A Woman?

Wait. What? Let’s REWIND.

Last year, I posted a mini-rant in response to an article that called Faith47 and Aiko the “female Banksys.” The last time I checked, the general consensus was that Banksy was a gender normative white British dude (no one seems to care who they sleep with), an icon and standard-bearer for street artists. But then, on November 4th, this happened and sparked the various responses listed above. Capps’ article, Why Banksy Is (Probably) a Woman, was retweeted and shared all over my social media life, so (with a sigh) I gave it a gander. Now I tend to have a cranky, less than generous attitude about the street artist everyone loves (to hate?), but this shift has piqued my interest.** And with over 47,000 “shares”…it is safe to assume I am not alone.

Aside from the In search of a female Banksy article I just mentioned, there is at least one more recent article that I can recall (without doing any hard searching) that shares a similar argumentative thrust to displace the “boy” who currently represents the “boys club”-ness of street art and graffiti cultures (“10 Women Street Artists Who Are Better Than Banksy” By Priscilla Frank from this past September).

Where is this desire for Banksy to be a woman (or a team of artists directed by a woman) come from? And more importantly, how is the claim being made and what are the stakes of making it?

And I get it. I mean, as a feminist scholar—who has dedicated years to reading, thinking, and writing about graffiti writers who identify as women in a male-dominated subculture (I call them graff grrlz)—of COURSE it would be neat if Banksy identified as a woman, mainly because it would reveal the insidious and vast sexist and gender biased assumptions stimulating the (art) world’s notions about whose work is “great” enough to be chipped out of the side of a building and sold for millions of dollars.

But that’s just the “surface” potential. The real revolutionary potential of Banksy identifying as a woman would occur if it somehow undid or unmade the conventional Western gender binary grounding the narrative (Banksy is either a man/or a woman) and instead inspired a conversation about the way aesthetics, gender performance, and representation in anonymous street art trouble everything we think we know about subjectivity.

Alas.

Whether or not the claim is “true” or not is of no concern to me; I like the Onion’s take, personally. And if you want to read some quick critiques of the Capps piece, just read the 115+ comments, some of which actually engage productively. I honestly don’t care who Banksy is…what bugs me is the possibility that people are reading the headline and then getting on board with the argument because it seems like the “feminist” or at best politically correct thing to do (oh how times have changed!) without questioning the frame of the argument.

And we can’t have that. I can’t have that. So, without further ado, I’d like to share a few brief thoughts (as brief as I could get them for a blog post):

On aesthetics:

Capps: “Part of what makes Banksy’s work so popular is that it doesn’t operate much like street art at all. […] Fairey and Invader started with the same strategy: to project themselves into public spaces by broadcasting themselves all over it.”

Munro: “It’s also worth noting that Banksy’s work occupies a strange cross section of fine art and street art, and it seems conceivable that such a unique position could be created by a woman, since women experience art, the world, and the art world in a dramatically different way than men do.”

The aesthetic of repetitive self-representation is a kind of sociopolitical practice of resistance rooted in Hip Hop graffiti art. Since contemporary street art is an undeniable direct descendant of Hip Hop graffiti, this aesthetic is most definitely an aspect of street artist’s work—it just looks different because the thing painted is not a name or a familiar character per se, but a way of painting that makes the artist “identifiable” to other street artists so that they can be given their street cred. Sure, we don’t see the word “Banksy” over and over again, but this does not mean that Banksy does not operate much like street art “at all,” what it means is that Banksy is not a graffiti writer…which we knew. What we also know about street art as a genre (similar to graffiti art), is that any writing/painting/pasting/chalking/knitting on public surfaces has been and continues to exploit and suffer from a love/hate relationship with the fine art world depending on what is in fashion at the time. Yes, women experience the art world in a dramatically different fashion than men do, but this line of argumentation about purpose and aesthetic tells us more about street art as a genre that has grown in distinction from graffiti art than it does about Banksy in terms of gender identity.

On gender performance:

Capps: “That ambition to control a public space through this sort of redundant branding, to make the street your own, is a masculine one—and it’s shared by the overwhelming majority of street artists. In the theater of the public square, graffiti is cousin to cat-calling—which Slate’s Dee Locket smartly explains as the constant effort by men to “create the illusion of dominance in shared public spaces,” specifically by claiming women’s private spaces as their own. Naturally, street art is at best delightful and at worst a nuisance, whereas cat-calling is an intolerable social problem and a legitimate threat to women’s safety. So any comparison between the two only goes so far.”

Davis: “Including images of women and not making every work a self-aggrandizing billboard? Yeah, no way Banksy is a dude.”

The characteristics or goals of masculinity are here defined as: having ambition, seeking control of public space, having a desire for ownership, self-aggrandizement, and claiming space. Supposedly, Banksy does not espouse these traits in their work…and so the logic goes: no masculinity, no man (must be woman?). But really, these traits and desires are not regulated to particular bodies (gender is NOT the property of a particular sex, Butler reminds!). Performing control or ambition might make you “masculine” in one context but it certainly does not have anything to do with how you identify sex or gender wise in another context—it’s a performance, it has a temporality, a fluidity, a specificity that should be appreciated. The bottom line here: if you are an artist doing work on the street you HAVE TO perform those characteristics. It’s a prerequisite of the job. It is also one of the enticements bringing people into the subculture: the chance to broadcast yourself in a world where you are ever invisible. [Oh and beyond saying graffiti IS ABSOLUTELY NOT A “COUSIN” TO CATCALLING, I’m not even going to attend to that bit. Capps himself says “any comparison only goes so far”…it actually doesn’t go anywhere to begin with.]

More on gender:

Capps: “The savvy manipulation of media to make viral art, to make art about virality, makes Banksy an innovator breaking out of a familiar form. In contemporary art today, that’s a feminine trait: The best selfie artists are women, for example. So are the artists leading the Post-Internet art world.”

Now this one is interesting because I myself have written about the use of, and liberatory potential in, the internet for contemporary graffiti artists who identify as women in a male-dominated subculture. The big difference is that I do not see the “savvy manipulation” of media as a “feminine” (by which Capps means female) trait…I see it as a generational shift within graffiti and street art culture that responds to the hypercriminalization of art in public spaces, the self-produced media-happy social context, and the existent and perpetual need to “get up.”

On representation:

Capps: “Banksy’s work is different. Girls and women figure into Banksy’s stenciled figures, for starters, something that isn’t true of 99 percent of street art. Banksy’s work has always done more than project “Banksy” ad nauseum. […] Banksy’s graffiti understands and predicates a relationship between the viewer and the street, something that graffiti that merely shouts the artist’s name or icon over and over (and over and over) doesn’t do. […] Maybe it gives Banksy too much credit to say that her work shows a greater capacity for imagining being in someone else’s shoes. (It’s true of her themes of social justice, but it’s also formally true in the way her work anticipates interaction with the viewer.)”

Monroe: ‘Girls and women appear in many of Banksy’s stencils, which is atypical for street art (especially given that Banksy’s women aren’t presented in a sexualized manner).”

Above, on aesthetics, I contextualized the use of repetition but I didn’t write anything about the character of that repetition: it is a form of call and response, rooted in Afro-Caribbean diasporic cultural practice. Other artists, ideally, respond to the “shouting over and over”…over and over “ad nauseum” on purpose. The “difference” cited here is dependent upon not only a blind ignorance to the specifics of street art aesthetics and politics, but also to the sexist notion that “feminine” artists (by which he means women artists, again) are more empathetic and so their art is always for others—and that’s a positive attribute, right? (*side eye*) So, Banksy is not a man because they have the capacity for compassion? Claiming public space in an ambitious fashion (the charge made above by Capps) is not diametrically opposed to doing it for “good” reasons, reasons that have repercussions for a larger social justice purpose. A little education about the history of graffiti art will clear all of that up. I recently tweeted a teaser about a chapter, “Ways of Being Seen: Gender and/in the Writing on the Wall,” that I have forthcoming in the Routledge Handbook of Graffiti and Street Art…that’d be a good place to start reading.

Speaking of a little education, in terms of how women and girls figure into the artwork: I have to wonder how much street art and graffiti the authors have actually seen? The underlying assumption here is that since women and girls figure into the work and are not hypersexualized, a woman must have painted them. Men would never ever care to represent girls and women in a nonsexual way…I know quite a few artists who would be rightfully offended by that statement. Not only is this a gross misrepresentation, but it also ironically pigeonholes women street artists to a kind of subject matter singularity: “women only paint women in appropriate ways and they do so for the betterment of the world, always.” Trust me when I tell you that street artists who identify as women paint everything and anything, just as street artists who identify as men do, including female characters—hypersexual or not!

A final note: IF the goal is to shift the conversation about art in the streets away from male bodies so as to make room for the women and LGBTQ artists commonly left out of the headlines, we need not rely on empty “girl power” rhetoric that ultimately depends on conventional heteropatriarchal ideologies. In other words, even if Banksy is “a woman,” I doubt they’d appreciate being “outed” as such because their oeuvre is somehow essentially “feminine” (sensitive to social and political issues, compassionate, nonsexual) and perceived as wholly “different” from the genre of street art, which is “normally” masculine (too ambitious, self centered, and domineering).

Besides, why waste our time obsessing over who Banksy is or isn’t when we could instead be focusing our attentions on The Women Tagging and Painting the Streets of Bogotá?

*I’m just going to use the gender-neutral pronouns they/them/their to refer to Banksy.

**When your research is on graffiti, more often than not friends/family/colleagues/strangers relate to that research by offering a story/opinion about Banksy. And, considering how many more street artists there are in this world doing AMAZING things, I am just SO over Banksy as icon. See? Cranky.

Support Few and Far at Art Basel!!!

Art Basel is America’s largest art fair which happens during the first week of December each year in Miami, Florida, gathering thousands from around the world to view the spectacle.

Few & Far needs your help to make this happen!!

Each year we have gone out and painted, each time with a larger and more prominent wall than before. Thousands of people from all over the world see these walls and its an amazing way for each of us to grow as artists and collectively show the world what we are about:  A crew of women mural painters from around the world. This is our largest wall to date, 30′ tall and over 90′ wide.

This year, as always, we are mainly paying out of pocket for our flights and accommodations for this giant project, the time we spend painting is voluntary, but we have accounted for that… what we now have to come up with is the huge cost of materials, the paint, rollers, ladders, lift rentals, porto potty rental (yes, we’ll need that too!)… and so we are asking our friends, businesses and communities to help sponsor us.. Thank you in advance to those that can give to this project. Few and Far loves you!

FewandFarWomen.com

Visit their GoFundMe page: 2412465_1414022029.1271http://www.gofundme.com/fewandfarartbasel

Go See City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection

About 3 weeks ago I was back in New York City for a handful of days, thoroughly enjoying the dark skies, slushy snow, and freezing wind. What can I say? I’m a winter baby. I had a short list of critical TO DO’s for my visit: 1. eat any and all Latin American food (things like tostones y arroz con habichuela don’t exist here in Abu Dhabi, neither do proper burritos); 2. eat all the pizza you can get your hands on; 3. eat a burger smothered in dill pickles; 4. stock up on all the things you take for granted (like unscented soap for sensitive skin); 5. walk through the village; 6. visit 5pointz and witness the disgraceful remains of the whitewashing; and finally, go see City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection. My priorities revolved around food and graffiti…but, considering where I was and what I do, that probably makes a lot of sense.

I didn’t know it, but I have been waiting for something like City as Canvas for almost four years.

I first learned about Wong—the East Village Chinese American artist/advocate/collector who died from AIDS related causes in 1999—in 2009. The Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University hosted a panel discussion and organized an exhibition highlighting the cultural context of 80s and 90s NYC within which Wong and his friends lived and worked called Art, Archives, and Activism: Martin Wong’s Downtown Crossings. The exhibition was created with works drawn from the Fales library, memorabilia from friends (like Lee, Charlie Ahearn), Semaphore Gallery, and PPOW Gallery. Sitting on the panel, Lady Pink and Hugo Martinez described him and his commitment to their work and graffiti subculture in the 80s/90s culture wars and amidst yet another push for NYC’s “urban renewal.” I remember thinking how his apartment must have been an extraordinary place, an intimate, precious, and unique vault of moments in NYC graffiti’s early history. I wanted to see it ALL.

The works in City as Canvas are also from the 80s, but the 70s are present as well. Turns out, in 1993/1994 Wong donated the “treasure trove” that was his apartment to the City Museum; he had been collecting since 1982. Viewers can watch clips of Wong talking to friends on the phone about his decision; there is also a short video (by Ahearn) of writers like Lee and Daze talking about Wong, looking at the memorabilia, and explaining the context of the work. Described by Felicia Lee in the New York Times, as the “remnants of the schism between the outlaw art form and mainstream institutions,” on view are: blackbooks—so many blackbooks—encased in glass just asking to be thumbed through (that part is a tad torturous); giant pieces of scrap plywood painted by Futura 2000 and Zephyr; a bust of Jesus altered by LAII’s markings; a too cool wooden grid of tags collected by Wicked Gary; framed Martha Cooper originals, including the infamous Dondi photo; a video of painted trains passing by; and spray-painted jean jackets (this photoblog has a nice bit of images). For certain writers, you can see the original piece that you’ve only seen in books. You can also see really early sketches and works on canvas, where space, color, line, depth, and medium were being tested and innovated. It’s impossible to process everything at once. I gotta go back.

   New York Magazine’s “Approval Matrix” placed City as Canvas right at the intersection of highbrow, lowbrow, brilliant, and despicable (technically in the highbrow and brilliant square)—a fitting spot for a show on graffiti art in a city that has always had a love/hate, consume/reject, celebrate/criminalize bipolar relationship with the movement.

Basically, my message here is simple: IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET, GO. You have until August. You can purchase the exhibition book at the museum gift shop along with all kinds of goodies, like this mug that I simply had to have.

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Support the important cultural work this show is doing for graffiti subculture, the writers, the aficionados, and the advocates. If you have not been to a museum since high school, or think all museums are places of “high art” snobbery…take thee to this exhibition. This is your history NYC; part of a movement born on your streets that speaks to those beyond those streets and thrives in cities around the world. Like Wong, we must recognize the worth in a genre of art making labeled criminal or aesthetically displeasing. In a capitalist world drowning in the proper, the conventional, the luxurious, and the mainstream (pop culture), we must support the despicable, the alternative, and the lowbrow popular cultures—the cultures of the people.

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Femme Fierce: Leake Street All Female Take Over

My timing in terms of availability for travel this Spring is–to say the least–utterly tragic. First, I missed hanging out with the street artists in Cairo during Phase 2 of the WOW campaign. And now, to add insult to injury I will be missing a mega-event for female graffiti artists in London on March 8th…International Women’s Day. #ouch Since I can’t be everywhere all the time, I AM DEPENDING ON YOU! GO to this event if you can! Support these fierce femmes! Love on some street art and graffiti! And raise money for breast cancer awareness. You really can’t go wrong here.

Details:

Earth Tone Arts and Street Art Agency proudly present

Femme Fierce  at Cre8 Gallery

An All Female Street Art Extravaganza

Exhibiting at: Cre8 Gallery, 80 Eastway, Hackney Wick, London E9 5JH 7th March to 14th March 2014 Diary of Events:

Exhibition Opening Party – Friday 7th March 2014 –  6pm to 10pm Exhibition open daily 12pm to 7pm till Friday 14th March 2014 Femme Fierce Leake St Takeover – Saturday 8th March – 6pm to 10pm Hoxton to the Wick Street Art Tours – Sunday 9th March – 11am and 2pm Femme Fierce Graffiti Workshop – Sunday 9th March – 12pm – 3pm “Women on Walls” Film Premiere – Sunday 9th March – 4pm – 7pm

Live Group Mural & Closing Party – Friday 14th March – 6pm to 10pm Contact Earth Tone Arts for more information, bookings and interviews.

e. info@earthtonearts.com w. http://www.earthtonearts.com m. 07983442876 / 07534799079

You are cordially invited to the highly anticipated street art extravaganza Femme Fierce featuring some of the very best UK female street artists.

Can you imagine a female ruled planet where street art defines the rules and what we call reality? Femme Fierce will provoke the thought of a female planet that is governed by art… a world where you will find everything from the earthly, surreal to otherworldly.

This seven day event is a celebration of female street art in the run up to International Women’s Day and incorporates Femme Fierce: The All Female Street Art Group Show, which will feature  street artists Amara Por Dios, Artista,  Ashes 57, Box Head, Girls on Top (GOT) Crew, Thieu and Zina.

Although each of the ladies are established artists in their own right, in a predominately male influenced scene they have pulled together their creative yin energy to deliver a series of street art inspired events and will make herstory.

Femme Fierce will kick start with the exhibition opening party at Cre8 Gallery on March 7th. The following day (International Women’s Day), will see the Femme Fierce group show artists joined by over 100 International female graffiti writers and street artists from across the globe for the “Femme Fierce:  The All Leake Street  Tunnel TakeOver”  while raising much needed money for Breast Cancer Awareness and celebrating womanhood.

The diary of events also includes the world premiere of “Women On Walls”, a street art documentary by Danish filmmaker Cathrine Cort Koppel looking at the role of women as street artists and the incredible array of styles and diversity in their approach to painting.

In addition there will be graffiti workshops, street art tours and live painting events celebrating female street artist in the UK.

Femme Fierce Flyer Front

Femme Fierce Flyer Back

Notes on Street Art Night in Dubai

When you grow up in Boston and then live in New York City (or any number of urban centers where graff rules everything around you), you get spoiled. I sometimes forget that “street art,” in general, is not always part of everyone’s everyday experience. Heck, ART (in general) is not always part of everyone’s everyday experience. I won’t go so far as to say “art” is a new thing happening here in the UAE–that’s just ignorant–but I will say this: Street Art is a new happening. Those of us here to witness have the extremely unique opportunity to watch it develop: how, why, when, where, etc. (I’m sure I will write an essay or two about it when I have time to reflect.) So when The National announced that Maria Urrutia was organizing “Street Art Night” to “appeal to people who don’t normally go to galleries and museums and get them interested in art” and to “promote the cause of street art to the people and the authorities”…I literally jumped up and down.

Consider this: “The project hopes to one day persuade authorities to open up whole swaths of the industrial zone, including factories, labour camps and other buildings, for street artists to freely use as a canvas.”

In the wake of the whitewashing of 5Pointz, for me anyway, the idea that community organizers here in the Emirates are working to create spaces for street artists is particularly poignant. And fascinating. And curios. Street Art Night was an event that brought artists of all kinds together to foster appreciation and build a temporary community around a love for public arts. Alongside the Deep Crates Cartel (Dubai’s pre-eminent hip hop crew), there were kids painting at a pop up studio hosted by the jamjar, canvas artists using oil, acrylics, markers, and stencils…to paint on buses and temporary wooden boards. There were also b-boys breakin’ to the best of oldschool hip hop beats (a personal highlight of the evening). We had a great time and hope to see more events just like it! Here are some snapshots:

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Running into Steffi Bow At Quoz Day in Dubai

My fieldwork is wonderful because every moment is a possible encounter with a new work or a new artist. The streets are good like that, full of potential.

An NYUAD colleague and I loaded up a bus of students, faculty, and staff to go to Quoz, a day of art, design, music, and film in Dubai yesterday morning. Let’s just say things are happening, the art scene is bubbling up and public art is part of that bubbling. Quoz Day was truly spectacular, if you are in the area next year make it a priority.

After a yummy lunch at a cafe called The Lime Tree, we wondered into the Alkersal Avenue industrial art/auto area in Al Quoz and low and behold…Ironlak cans on the ground, giant board, scaffolding…and face masks. What? Live Painting! This wasn’t on the program. #happydance

That’s where I met Steffi Bow, a British expat now living and working in Dubai. As far as we know, she is the only girl doing aerosol art in the area so it was really nice to connect. Check out her Tumblr!

I basically sat there watching them paint for the rest of the day, but I did manage to pop in and out to see other shows, my favorites included (pasted from programme):

The Courtyard Gallery exhibition ‘Women in Art IX’, a celebration of female creativity in the UAE.

‘APPROACHING ENTROPY’ at GALLERY ISABELLE VAN DEN EYNDE. View entirely new works by Hassan Sharif, including meticulously rendered works on paper and assemblages of mass produced materials governed by chance and order.

NABIL NAHAS SOLO EXHIBITION at LAWRIE SHABIBI. Head to Lawrie Shabibi and experience a collection of sumptuous 3D paintings by Lebanese artist Nabil Nahas, from his series ‘Fractals’ and ‘Galactic’.

DANCE PERFORMANCE AND LECTURE at THE FRIDGE. Join The Fridge for a unique contemporary dance performance and lecture titled ‘I Laban You’ by Monica Antezana, inspired by a lighthearted curiosity for words.

The shows had just opened so definitely pop through!!