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!

Interview with JERK LA

I first came across the fierce wildstyle of Mexican-American graffitera Jerk LA in issue 3 of my favorite grrlz graf mag COP Magazine (buy them!). Months and months later, her work appeared on my Facebook news feed and so I started doing some casual digging (“like” her artist page: www.facebook.com/Jerk.LA213). I found that since she was “managing her mischief” like a BOSS (pardon the HP reference), Jerk’s prolificacy was featured in a 2002 LA Weekly article (a decade old, but highly suggested) by Stephen Lemons.

I messaged her requesting an interview quickly thereafter and it was game on!

For Jerk, the fundamental characteristics of graffiti subculture (i.e. anonymity and mystery) produce a unique kind of artistic cultural space—where (with the use of an androgynous tag name) her artistry can be judged without sexist presumptions about women’s artistry as less than men’s. No room for the offensive and ridiculous “good for a girl” rhetoric here. Below, she shares her experiences with, and navigation of, gang life in Los Angeles, CA, her perspective on neighborhood-based crews, and her determination to always push past her own aesthetic limitations.

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Tag and how you settled on the name:

I am JERK. I chose this name for a couple of reason. I liked playing with these letters the most and I did not to give away my gender. I think for the most part since we were all kids on the play ground we’ve all heard “you run like a girl or you this or that like a girl” since then I’ve quickly notice how much society embeds the notion that females are inferior. So because graffiti allows you to exist without a profile picture I choose JERK. The more I learned about the graffiti scene, the more I realized that to keep to myself would allow my graffiti to be judged on the same level as the rest without the “it’s good for a girl” assessment.

Occupation (9-5): 

I am not a bum; I have a career. I finished high school and later completed schooling for my career. I knew it was important to have a plan b; always. In general, I am a very quiet person, so I spent a lot of time watching and listening to what others were doing and learning from their mistakes. I grew up amongst gang members telling me not to be like them. Watching drugged out people that never left the neighborhoods and never did anything with their lives because they chose to give up control of their life…I mean who really makes a conscience choice to live like that? I think because I kept my eyes and ears open it allowed me not to fall into peer pressure so easily. I guess I’d rather just stand alone, then to follow the crowd.

Crews (If you rep a crew, what are the pros and cons and can you share a bit of the history):

I have represented a few crews in the past. I currently represent Can’t Be Stopped (CBS) crew. CBS has been around since the 80’s and is out of Hollywood. This crew has represented graffiti illegally, but is known more for really pushing can control and creativity, competitiveness amongst each other to produce competed concepts for their legal murals.

I would say every crew essentially starts out with childhood friends and from that you have individuals who are going through the growing up process together. So the dynamic of the crews change throughout time. There are changes in personalities, everyone questions and or comes to the conclusions of what graffiti means to them and what they feel is important to be known for in the graffiti scene. Sometimes everyone moves forward together and sometimes crew members need their space. Every crew offers different things—it’s just about who you get along with the best or if they have what you’re looking for…or sometimes, a crew will scout you out because you have something to offer the graffiti scene.

How would you describe your style?

I wouldn’t really know how to describe my style because I am always trying new things. I like to play with letters a lot. I often get bored doing the same letters or color schemes and composition. I’m sure my style will always look like mine, but I definitely try to change it up and push myself to do better than my last piece, almost as if am in a competition with myself.

Writing for how long and how did you get started?

I started writing as a very young teenager. It was almost a subconscious act. Graffiti is all around us, I grew up seeing graffiti but not thinking it was abnormal, from freeway spots to gang writing. I’ve always had an interest in art in general including fonts. In elementary I took a lot of free after school art classes taking drawing, print making, painting and I was even able to join a figure drawing workshop, which was not offered to everyone unless you fit the age group. So the creative spark was there. I actually started messing around with graffiti from really just walking around the LA River and picking up cans and just starting to tag. Once I started to get some sort of a grasp of what graffiti is, I just took to it naturally. I still make art—some is graffiti related others are not

Graffiti is often spoken about through and alongside the hip hop nation. Is this something you identify with?

Graffiti has long existed before the concept of hip hop formed. I think at the time when graffiti was forming most of the graffiti youth at the time listened to hip hop music so it was a natural unification. I think hip hop as a whole offers a sense of a culture but this is not something I really identify with.

Does your graffiti take on a social message, or primarily is it about style—or both:

If you have longevity in graffiti you’ll find that it begins to evolve as you grow. So for me it’s really both in a way. To me, graffiti will always be about getting up but style is just as important to me as well. When it comes to social messages: sometimes there is one sometimes there is not. Usually I ask myself that when I am thinking about doing a graffiti mural. So it is never solely one meaning or the other.

How do you feel when you see your pieces up?

When is see my graffiti murals or just pieces I did at a yard I always think of what I could of done to make it better, or what I can do to the next one.

How do you feel when you are getting’ up? What emotions do you associate with the act?

There is rush of emotions all at the same time when getting up. There are a lot of elements to consider: late night, cops, gangsters, bums, quiet, lonely streets. With all those things you have the feeling of freedom, adrenalin, not knowing, nervousness, fear and fearlessness.

What does the word “community” mean to you in relation to graffiti culture:

To me community means people that you can relate too. I think this also means the acknowledgements from your peers or fellow graffiti writers in a way. For example, I (as well as many graffiti writers) mutually feel that if you have not covered the illegal part of graffiti you’re not really a graffiti writer.

What do you think is the historical significance of graffiti?

Graffiti has a life of its own, even if graffiti is or is not thought of as a legitimate art form it will always exist. Graffiti offers both sides of the fence: there is the guerilla punk rock side to it and then there is the reformed side of it. It was its way of dipping in and out of the art world. Just like there is a fine and hazy line between fine art and design I think those lines are debatable between fine art and graffiti. I think in my art work is where I sometimes find that challenging. Sometimes my work is graffiti influenced and sometimes not…and sometimes I marry them.

Do you think of yourself as a feminist?

No.

What is feminism to you?

The idea of feminism is like organizations that use their “flaw” as a crutch. Sure sometimes life is not fair. But if you want people to take you serious, you should state facts not emotional statements. If you are good at what you do, or are better than the next, then that should be the argument, to be treated equal.

What does resistance mean to you?

It means to object without reasonable doubt.

What are the characteristics, personalities, or traits that you associate with graffiti writers?

None, specifically because graffiti is for everyone.

What new trends or types of graffiti are you seeing?

Graffiti started in the streets as an illegal form; this is credited to paying your dues. This is the platform to graffiti. The trend now a day is to exploit graffiti without paying your dues. I don’t think there is a problem with people using spray paint as a medium in their style of art work but that does not make you a graffiti writer, or graffiti anything for that matter, just an artist.

How does graffiti fit into your past, present and future?

Graffiti was a fun pastime and a creative outlet and it really has not changed much today. Obviously as I get older I have to be more conscience of how I get up, there might be a time when I will stop getting up because the risk might not be worth getting the responsibilities compromised. I think when that time comes I will hopefully feel fulfilled with myself in that I have paid my dues in graffiti where I can just be ok with doing legal’s, so we’ll see. Alongside with graffiti I have always created art work as well and shown in various art shows that were not graffiti related art shows.

Tell me what you know about women in graffiti history?

In general not much is expected from women, because of the embedded ideas that women are inferior. A lot of times because there are few women in graffiti they are put under a microscope. If they are talented, or they are the bomber of the year, for the most part they are doubted and people—men and women alike—look to see if there is a male that the females’ work can be accredited to. When a female graffiti writer builds their longevity, consistency and is well rounded in graffiti they are given their respect and place in the graffiti scene. I do think that was one of the benefits of choosing the name JERK, because I got the credit and was taken seriously and by the time people found out I was a girl it was more like, oh. There was no “for a girl” reference at least to my knowledge.         

Is there a message you’d like to send to aspiring female graffiti writers?

Always strive to do better and never settle or assume you’re any good at what you do.

 

From the archives…TASH

Who? TASH

Where? NYC to Melbourne via email

When? October/November 2009

Never understatement the power of the Internet. Seriously. I contacted MC TASH WAAAAAAYYYY BACK in (like 2003) when my research was a baby thesis…and then found her again (after no contact for years) because of Facebook. When I emailed her, she was about to launch a new magazine,

”Hell Yeah Magazine is a full color magazine for anyone out there who’s into art, music, rabble rousing, fashion and everything in between.”

TASH has some really clever things to say about hip hop, feminism, resistance in (and revenge on) an oppressive male-dominated society. I hope you enjoy reading them as I did. Click here to peep her mag, Hellyeah!

What’s your tag and how did you come up with it? Tash- It had good letters and I couldn’t think of anything else at the time!

What’s your 9-5? Banker and Magazine Editor (www.hellyeahmag.com)

Crews? Bandit Queenz

Style preferred: Funky public lettering

Writing for how long and how did you get started? Been bombing since 91 and piecing since 93.

Graffiti is often spoken about through and alongside the hip hop nation. Do you feel like a member of the hip hop nation through your involvement with graffiti? Even though alot of writers now and in the past haven’t been into hip hop, I am a hip hop fanatic and I’ve released a hip hop album in 2000 and also DJ hip hop, funk, reggae and dancehall so yes, I’m definitely a b-girl, but not necessarily through writing.

Crews? Bandit Queenz

Style preferred: Funky public lettering

Do you think your graffiti reflects, represents or retools your identity in any way? How so? In a way it does as writing is generally a ‘boy’s sport’ and I’m an opinionated, alternative feminist so graffiti is a perfect, fun way to express this and myself.

Do you think of yourself as a feminist? If so, what does that mean for you? As I said before, but I’m not the old school 70s hairy armpit, man hating kind. I call myself a militant post-feminist. I embrace my femininity and sexuality; I don’t hate all men [only some but I hate some women too]. I think we should all be equal and go about doing a good job in anything reguardless of our gender, not be afraid to speak up and if I want to wear a short skirt and lipstick to feel sexy, then I will! The militant part is because graffiti is a militant form of self-expression as is my explicit rap and my loud, strong demeanor. In a way I’ve always thought me being dedicated to writing for so long is ‘revenge on a male dominated society’. You dis me, my styles and question why I’m writing, then I’m never gonna stop as revenge on your/society’s ideas.

Do you think of yourself as feminine, masculine, both, neither-something else entirely? looks-feminine dress sense-both personality-both

Is graffiti about resistance? If so, what are you resisting and how do you know when you are successful? I’m resisting the government, how society thinks women should act, conformity, the mainly sexist, dumb assholes in the Australian hip hop/graf scene, religion, fascism, the cops, corruption

Does your graffiti take on a message, or is it primarily about style and recognition-or both? Both. My message is that girls can be as dope/cool/hardcore as guys and I’m a role model to younger girls who love graffiti and/or coming up in the scene. To give self-esteem and convey ‘I am somebody!’ writing is great for that.

Interview with Free!

[Readers!! All 6 of you! I swear I have not abandoned you. Shiro’s show went up (see previous post), I spent almost 2 weeks in Florida getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, and then before I knew it the semester started and all of a sudden I realized…oh, my blog. I now have a fantastic intern who is going to keep me on point by helping transcribe my interviews! So, I sort of promise to be better. Hah.]

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Who? Free, Rio de Janeiro’s first pixadora

Where? Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

When? August 2010

Ah, Rio. I miss Rio. If you have not been to Rio, go to Rio…it’s not a place you want to live without seeing. While I was in Rio, over two years ago now [*sigh], my host—graffitera Anarkia Boladona—made sure that I met Rio’s first pixadora. Pixa-what? Pixadora. A pixador/a is a person who risks life and limb, seriously, to paint “pixação.” Pixação [pee-sha-sow, sort of] is a type of “graffiti” particular to Brazil, which originated in São Paulo. Often requiring the pixador/a to scale a large building a la Spiderman (a part of the challenge common in contemporary pixador/a practice), pixação is characterized by a kind of raw, hieroglyphic, one-dimensional, barely legible aesthetic…and is crazy dangerous.

[Side note: while I was in Rio I also met Gustavo Coelho, a filmmaker responsible for the creation of a documentary on the specifically Brazilian art form. He is a lovely person—go see his film if it ever comes your way! For now, click all these hyperlinks and get informed!]

With Anarkia translating, Free and I sat on the floor of her apartment and dished about age, feminism, art, gender, and history.

JESS: Hi Free!Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me. Okay, so first if you could just tell me your name, how long you were writing for…and, are you still active?

FREE: I started in ‘85, and sometimes I still do pixação, like last weekend, haha.

JESS: How/why did you start?

FREE: Like a joke, to have fun. The public phone has lots of pieces on it. It always has lots of pieces on it, even today it has lots of pieces on it.

JESS: And you were one of the first girls to do it?

FREE: Yes. There weren’t any girls before me to do it.

JESS: So, I just want to hear a little bit of the history of it, since you’re one of the first women and you’ve watched the form develop.

FREE: Me and my friends would begin at like 10:00PM. We go to the street, sometimes walking, from different place to place, sometimes by bus. It began like a joke and then it got to be like a competition with the boys, and then I wanted just to burn them in the walls.

JESS: And what did the guys say about it?

FREE: They all liked it at first because they saw the name but they didn’t know that it was a girl until they’re told “Oh it’s a girl.” Then, a new girl came and I wasn’t the only one.

JESS: There was another girl?

FREE: Yes, it was good to have another one because we went to the meeting, the tagger’s meeting, and everyone asked us to make our tags in their books, so it was fun.

JESS: Yes, that’s what I was going to ask—when the other girl came, did you start to go out together?

FREE: No, I never put my name with the other girl because it was like a competition. I thought it would be great because there was another girl, but then things changed. The fight was not about me and the other girl. It was the other boys that did it; they would say “Ah, the other girl is putting up more names than you.”

JESS: Oh, so instigating the competition between you two. And do you think that it made you both do more work? Because that can actually be a positive thing, as long as you’re not fighting. Because if you’re more competitive with each other, then you’re both putting your name up more.

FREE: Of course.

JESS: And I wanted to ask, how old were you when you started?

FREE: 16 or 17.

JESS: And you’re still doing pixação occasionally? I mean, you said you did it last weekend, haha.

FREE: Let me explain to you about this because what’s happening in Rio is people started in the ‘‘80s, and then they stopped it in the ‘90s. Then the ‘90s was a new generation of pixadores, and then the 2000s was a new generation of pixadores. But in 2006 or 7, because of the internet, people began to find each other online and the oldest was from pixadores of the ‘‘80s and people began meeting and having parties, and they began saying to each other “Oh, do you remember that guy or this guy from the ‘‘80s?” And then they began meeting with just the older people and made like a crew of just people from the generation ‘‘80s. And in this way they find all the old pixadores.

JESS: Because of the internet?!

FREE: Yes, and I stopped during these years but because of all the old friends meeting again, I came back again.

JESS: So can you talk about that?

FREE: How crazy, how crazy was it. Three years ago when I was coming from work, I was on the bus and on the wall there was a name [piquierno?].  It’s a pixador from the’ ‘80s and it said “For Free.” And I said, Oh I think it’s for me, Free! And another day, I got on the same bus and I saw it and I said Oh it’s for me! And then I began looking at walls and I realized that the people from the ‘80s generation were writing again. And then I noticed that they were writing “G8” with the name and I said, Oh I think G8 is the eighties generation! And then I found them on Orkut, which is like Facebook, it’s very popular in Brazil. And that’s how I found my old friends.

JESS: Yea, I write a lot about the internet and what it does for graffiti writers. When I started this work in 2001, I couldn’t find any girls. It was like impossible to find any girls anywhere. I mean I found some, but it was really hard. And when I started again, I saw that on the internet—sites like Facebook, Flickr, Myspace, Graffiti Girls, Ladies Graf—I mean it’s everywhere on the internet, it has exploded.

FREE: The first friend that I found on Orkut was a boy from my generation, and he invited me to go to a barbecue.

Jess: Did you meet the other girl that was painting when you were painting?

Free: No. There were the other girls, but they were not girls who were really really pixadores. They’re girls who do a few pieces around their place but they are not very important.

JESS: I was just wondering if you met up with the other girl because this is Rede Nami’s thing, you know, to reunite women and keep them together through their art. So that’s why I was wondering if the other woman came back.

FREE: Yea, well I’m single, I live alone, and I don’t have a husband to say, you know, “Oh don’t go out.” But the problem is that the other girls who don’t come along with the generation have other lives and a husband and children and they’re not thinking about it anymore.

JESS: And so there’s something about not being connected, or sort of structured your life in that way, that being single allows you to still do your work as an artist, whereas most of the time women have to choose between art and family?

FREE: It’s true. When a woman has a family it is very difficult to do these things because she’s like in jail. Like in a prison. And when she has a husband, and he goes to work in another country or in another state, the woman will stop working and go with the husband. But if it’s on the other side, if the woman has to go work in another state never will the husband go follow her.

JESS:  Yea, so the power relationships differ. So I wonder how it feels to have that community, the generation ‘80s, back in touch. How do you feel about that?

FREE: Crazy, crazy. Incredible. Cause most of them are married, have sons, professions, and sometimes they asked the wife to go with them but other people are like old and they’re not doing it. And there are some boys that go and their wife doesn’t know that they do it, haha.

JESS: So it’s sort of like reliving youth. Something exciting.

FREE: Yes, exactly.

JESS: So when you did it last weekend was it like the same?

FREE: It was like pleasure.It’s a little bit about risk, because to do it is an adventure.

JESS: So have you come into any dangerous situations recently?

FREE: Yea.In the past, 3 times. The first time I was putting my name in the office of an important magazine that we had here, and the security guard got me and took the can and sprayed me with it.

JESS: So did you get arrested or did he just let you go?

FREE: I ran.

JESS: Oh ok, haha.

FREE: And the second time we’re putting tags, and we saw the police car, and we got the cans and put them in a place where they couldn’t see. And the police car came and said that we were using cans, and they were trying to find them and they were putting pressure on us and they said to me, “Oh, you’re a girl, what are you doing here? Why are you doing this?” And they said that they’d call my father and I’d go to jail, but they just let me go.

JESS: And they questioned why you were there because you were a girl and threatened to call your parents, but they didn’t ask the guys why they were there right?

FREE: No, just me. And then the third story, this one’s fun. I was with a group making tags, and we were in the street. And the guy was in front of me in the street, and the police came and they said to me, “What is this guy doing here with you?” And they said to the guy, “What are you doing with her? Get away from her leave her alone.” But I was with the guy making the tags.

JESS: So, in that instance being a woman worked in your favor?

FREE: The cops would never imagine that I would make tags or do something wrong. Sometimes I would go with a guy who wasn’t my boyfriend, but we would hold hands and pretend and the cops would never stop us because they wouldn’t think we were doing anything wrong, they would just think we were in love.

JESS: I want to ask how you settled on the name Free.

FREE: The meaning, to be free.

JESS: And so you were “Free” when you started? Because sometimes people go through different names.

FREE: I always put this name. When I began to put this name, it was also the same time I was beginning to work, and so I was getting some money and I felt like free, I’m free I’m beginning as pixadora.

JESS: And so you had a job and were making your own money and it was like financial freedom, a little bit, and doing the tags sort of expressed that for you? One of the things I ask people is, does what you paint represent part of your identity?

FREE: I am free, no one can put me in a box, no one can tell me who I am or what I have to do.

JESS: So, if you were to describe it, free from what? Do you still feel the same way? Does the name still apply?

FREE: At that time I lived with my Grandma and I felt free. And now I feel much more free. I have much more freedom because I live alone and I have my home.

JESS: From the little I know about pixação, it seems like it requires a lot of physical activity that might have been easier in ‘85 than it is now when you’re older.

FREE: Well the later generation made this up to do pixação up high. I’m not from that generation. But sometimes, I’d do the high things. Not so high, but the high things sometimes. And it’s not a problem because the boys always help, like the same with what Kaka says [kaka is another woman involved in Nami].

JESS: I think that’s fascinating.

FREE: A boy from another state has a blog, and he got in contact with me about the pixação on the clock that I showed you.And even though I never did it, he said “Oh you did it, you don’t remember, but you did it.” And he put it on his blog that I did it.

JESS: Do you have any pictures from before?

FREE: I have pictures that people have taken in that time, old pictures. If you want I can send them to you.

JESS: Yes, please. [I never received the pictures; sad face; but she did tag my book]

FREE: When did graffiti begin in the New York [thinking]…in the late ‘60s and ‘70s? And the oldest girl we have here is from the ‘80s. People think that graffiti is a new thing here, but it begins with pixação. Graffiti here comes from pixação.

JESS: I have two questions, the first is… I want to ask you about Hip-Hop. Because graffiti comes from Hip-Hop and I’m wondering if ‘80s Hip-Hop was here around that time.

FREE: Well, pixação is not graffiti. The graffiti just came here in São Paolo around the eighties and nineties.

JESS: Right, but I’m just thinking about the sound.

FREE: My generation doesn’t listen to Hip-Hop. We listen to a kind of rock, not Rock and Roll, but a kind of rock that was really really as big as funk is today. At that time it was Brazilian rock. All the pixadores would listen to this rock, not Hip-Hop.

JESS: And then what happened in the nineties when everybody stopped?

FREE: I stopped because I got a boyfriend, and I began to work harder and I didn’t have more time to do it.

JESS: That’s interesting, because it is sort of about having a leisure time. What do you think the historical significance of pixação is?

FREE: For u,s it’s a way to express ourselves to the society.

JESS: I’m just wondering, because a lot of the girls that I talk to, no matter what kind of urban art they do, they’re doing it in the public space.

FREE: Well, here in Brazil graffiti is urban art, it’s art. But pixação here is not a kind of art for people.

JESS: So you don’t think that pixação is art?

FREE: I do think it is art.

JESS: Yea, well that’s what I think. So, I think it’s a way to feel free, like you said, it’s a way to make your mark and to tell society “I’m here.” That’s what art is supposed to do.

FREE: Sometimes they do some political expressions.

JESS: Well that leads me to my next question, do you think of yourself as a feminist?

FREE: Of course.

JESS: And what is feminism to you?

FREE: It’s to have your position in the society, to have your own position.

JESS: What kind of position?

FREE: To choose to be feminist is to have your profession, to study, to do your things, to do what you like to do and to not stop doing your things because of the men.

JESS: I didn’t ask the other girls this, but since you’re not a graffiti writer what do you think of graffiti? Do you like it?

FREE: I like it, and sometimes I ask my friend who writes graffiti if I can go one day to see the process.

JESS: On a side note, I think you should come on Saturday [there was a group jam scheduled in Lapa] because the young girls who are just starting out would like to meet you because they see you as an important figure.

FREE: The people that know me and my history know that I’m important to São Paolo.On the internet, often people send messages to me that it’s my friend and that they want to meet me.

JESS: A little famous, huh? haha.

FREE: Haha,I can’t imagine because it was such a long time ago and people remember me. And sometimes people come to my home and say “Oh I never put my name with you and I want to do it, I have to do it.” And I say, why? I’m not important people.

JESS: Well I think for the fact that you’re still doing it, it’s important for girls. Because it sends a certain kind of message. Just because you grow up doesn’t mean that you have to stop doing what makes you feel good. Because when you talk about it…you have a big smile and it brings you joy, and pleasure, and good memories. And so if that’s what makes you happy, it’s important to let women know that you shouldn’t let the forces of society tell you that, “Oh, you should do this,” if it doesn’t make you happy.

FREE: Some people think that it’s like madness, and I’m crazy. But you know, I’m not a very big reference because some people don’t remember me because I’m so old. But people who really know about pixação know how important I am. But for the new girls, it’s like nothing.

JESS: But I know for me, when I learn about women who did extraordinary things in the past, different things, things that women aren’t supposed to do, it makes me feel like I should do extraordinary things. It’s inspiring.

FREE: I have a friend that I’m the godmother of her son, and she made pixação in the past, and he was looking at my name and all the new names and saw that I was beginning again, and he was like “What are you doing? You’re time was in the past, you don’t have to be doing this.”

JESS: And what did you say?

FREE: It’s something that I can’t stop. Haha, I can’t stop doing it. And last week when I made the pixação it was me and my nephew, and we were in the car going to the states where no one from Rio will see it, and we just stopped the car and I put it in the road because I can’t stop it, I can’t resist putting my name on the wall.

JESS: I love it. And what is the message you want to send to aspiring female writers?

FREE: It’s to get your freedom, to be independent. And you must be patient to do whatever you want to do, and then you have to do it. I also have a job at the university, I’m a lawyer.

JESS: You’re a lawyer? Haha!

FREE: Yes, for the university.

JESS:  Haha, I love it. Because society doesn’t think that, when they think about who’s making pixação and graffiti? They don’t think, OH!, a lawyer.

FREE: Neither do the police, haha.

**Just want to give props to my fantastic intern Eileen Quaranto for transcribing this interview! Woot!!**