From the Archives…SI

Who? Si Caramujo

Where? Lapa, Rio de Janeiro Brazil

When? August 2010

I get to meet some of the most incredible people, and Si is by far one of them. I remember feeling the peace in her presence instantly—it was infectious. And the Goddess she painted that day in Lapa was a perfect manifestation of her presence and of all the things we spoke about before the graffiti jam began. Si shares her insights on pregnancy and motherhood, feminism, the importance of celebrating indigenous aesthetics in her art, how she feels when she paints, sexuality, respect, and hip hop.

JESS: Can you tell me a little bit about how you started and how you came to have your name…how you started tagging, and just some basic info?

SI: I began graffiti when I was 15 but back then my name wasn’t Si. I started doing it alone on the train line doing throw-ups. Then I began to know the people and I found my name, Si, because it’s from my own name. Si, it’s simple. Not a simple name, but that I don’t need lots of stuff to live. My name is Si Caramujo. Caramujo is a snail. It has its own home and it likes to be by itself. I have all I need. The Caramujo is like me. Slow, not fast, but going. My style is not something wonderful or marvelous, but it’s my style and it’s a definite style.

JESS: Right, people can recognize it.

SI: It’s a dedicated style. You can see that a girl made it. It’s a feminine style.

JESS: And did you always paint so that people would know that a girl made it?

SI: Yes. I like painting Brazilian characters, like indigenous people and girls from the jungle. I paint with my soul.

JESS: So, how did you get into graffiti to begin with?

SI: It’s natural. I was born with this talent. When I was a kid I drew on the walls and stuff. I don’t want to say too much, but I began because I was hanging out with the girls doing graffiti and then I started.

JESS: So what year did you start graffiti?

SI: 2004

JESS: There’s something about that time, like 2001-2005 that all the girls that I’ve talked with…that’s when they’ve started.

SI: Because graffiti has just been in Rio for about 10 years.

JESS: So if graffiti in Rio has just been here for about ten years, then all the girls were there when it started. But not just two or three, there were a lot of girls on the forefront. So, do you think that you’re a feminist? And what is your definition of feminism?

SI: Yes, I’m a feminist. But our role to be a feminist should be in the streets doing graffiti when I go out alone, but at home I am like a mother—like the Virgin mother.

JESSL: I’m interested in that split, because it’s like being two people.

SI: At home I’m a traditional girl, but I’m different in the streets when I make graffiti. I’m a different kind of girl.

JESS: So how does it make you feel to do graffiti?

SI: I feel calm, relaxed. I like it.

JESS: So I want to know how it was when you were pregnant, because you’re still painting. So, did you stop?

SI: The three first months I didn’t paint because the baby was forming. But to be pregnant is not to be sick—I can do things. The baby cannot be all the time with the mother anyway, it’s not good for them. My husband helps me a lot with the baby when I go to make graffiti. We met in graffiti so he knows how hard it is.

JESS: Oh, so your husband still goes out and paints too and he’s supportive. That’s great.

SI: I have my own life, and I have to do my own things. We have to be a lot of woman to work and to paint and take care of the baby, but we can do it because women are marvelous and we can still take care of the baby. Woman can do more than men and we can make more things than men. It depends on the woman and the man. Some men are very poor at it.

JESS: We have a famous feminist quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that says: “A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.” So what does being a part of Rede Nami do for you?

SI: Well all the girls meet and get to know each other and we’re still doing graffiti.

JESS: So it keeps them going, it keeps the women painting. When you started, were you supported by the people around you? What was your experience starting out as a woman?

SI: The boys always respected me and asked me to come and supported me. Sometimes they just wanted to paint with boys, but they respected me. Sometimes I don’t do good things in the world and my husband says “Oh, you can do better.” But I didn’t start to paint because of this boy. I was a graffiti girl and I found him through painting. I got in the workshop and the teachers stopped the workshop to have fun and didn’t care about the student. I got revolted with this and began my own stuff in the street. I always knew my husband and I liked him, but we didn’t talk or anything. The other boys always asked to paint with me, but not because they wanted to paint with me, because they want to get with me. My husband called me to paint with me and I said, “If you are asking me to paint just to kiss me… just stop now.” And then he was like, oh, now I don’t know if I can ask her out! One time I was in a bus going to paint with a guy and he tried to kiss me and I was like ahh stop! Haha! In this way women lose because boys ask girls to paint just to have something with the girls. But I know how to earn my own respect.

JESS:  Do you have any stories about going out by yourself? Anything dangerous happening? Were you scared? How do you dress going out at night?

SI: I always go in the streets with clothes that don’t get too much attention and that cover my whole self. I never got into a dangerous situation because the police like me and my graffiti, haha. I have a nice face so people think that I’m innocent, haha. This is why my name is caramujo, because I just go along doing my thing.

JESS: Do you see a relationship between graffiti and hip-hop?

SI: Yea, it’s a part of my life. But I like tagging more. Because when you say hip-hop here it’s not like the movement, it’s the music. I know that it’s a movement, but when you say it here people just think you’re talking about rap and hip-hop music. My graffiti is part of one of the four elements of hip-hop, though.

JESS: Is there anything else you want to tell us, like a feminist message for girls who are interested in doing graffiti?

SI: Be happy and be what you are. Never go with the mind of the other people.

JESS: Great, thank you!

DSC03956 DSC03798 Si Goddess Lapa 2010 Si Goddess

digging through my archives…Solitas

Who? Solitas, Doce Brillos Crew

Where? Santiago, Chile

When? August 2010

I met up with the lovely Solitas at her apartment in Santiago. I began with the usual “please tell me your tagname and when you got started,” to which she responded “I began experimenting with painting in 1999 and I take breaks only when it is necessary to prioritize caring for my daughter.” Just as we begin, her cellphone rings to the tune of “Big Poppa” and we are off to pick up her daughter.

Sitting at a restaurant a couple of hours later, after ordering some fried Chilean cuisine deliciousness, we continue our conversation:

Jess: Can you tell me about yourself, how you got started, what it’s like being a mother and a writer at the same time?

Solitas: I started painting graffiti with my friends—we love hip hop; my friends are rappers “pero la mujer no puede”…“she can’t paint graffiti.” I was the only woman in the crew. I got pregnant in the same summer I started seriously painting, so from 2001­–2003 I didn’t go out. I went to college for Sociology for those three years, but didn’t finish because I had to go to work to support myself and contribute to my family. Being a mom, a student, and a writer was just too much. I struggled against the idea that mothers have to “stay in the house” and cook and work and watch the kids…it is true that there is no time. We have responsibilities! There is no time! It’s difficult to do it all, but when you love something you have to make time for it. So in 2004, I made a come back. Painting graffiti is a necessary activity to keep me happy and fulfilled. For me, painting graffiti takes away the hard times. I use it to express and expel my frustrations. My graffiti used to be very aggressive, but now I am much more relaxed and trying to live a calm life inside a chaotic city. Everything is too fast and I don’t like it, I like more of a Bob Marley style.

Jess: Did someone say that you shouldn’t write, or that mothers shouldn’t write graffiti, directly to you? Or…?

Solitas [with a look of exasperation]: Everybody thinks that! I became very critical about my position [as a woman], I was always thinking about women and about the discrimination we encounter just because we are women. I paint to fight the resistance against girls doing graffiti. Everybody says women can’t paint graffiti and I say NO—there are other women in other places who feel the same as I do.

Jess: So that was in the early 2000’s, do you think that ideas about women writers are the same now?

Solitas: No, in this moment, I think that now it’s more inclusive and seen as a cool thing that women paint.

Jess: Why did that change?

Solitas: Ok, I think the fact of multiplication has changed ideas about women painting graffiti. Because more and more girls started painting, the boys are used to it now. Still today, here in Chile anyway, the men don’t consider us real competition. I am always fighting with those people, painting again and again. My characters are not angry, but the act itself is of resistance. Now is a relaxed time in my life. Before I was painting just letters—wildstyle with arrows and more puntas, but over time I’ve changed. I started painting characters…as a graffiti writer and a person I feel like I’ve grown. From letters to characters to 3D…my main motivation is to compete with the men on all levels. They say I’m prolific.

Jess: Tell me about your crew, it has men and women right?

Solitas: Doce Brillos is a young crew, 3 years old [now 5] with 12 members (hence, Doce). There are women and men, and the ideology that brings us together is anarchy against the system. The men in my crew have a real respect for women. There is no difference; it is very equal in my crew. But, in reality life is not equal. I think that a woman has to be a guerrera! A fighter! A warrior! Women are always fighting—she is going to work, she is taking care of kids, she has to do all of these things.  Many things at the same time! And that is why I consider myself a fighter. I fight for equality. I fight the government! I fight for a better place to live. I fight for environmental issues. I fight for a mountain of things!

Jess: After all you have said about your struggles as a woman, I wonder if you consider yourself a feminist?

Solitas: Am I just a feminist? No, but I think men and women are equal. I think that feminism says that women are better than men.

Jess: So how would you define feminism?

Solitas: The definition of feminism is complicated. I think that when we talk about feminism we have to think about it in relation to machismo. My mother in law is a feminist. Strong women are raising my daughter. I am a political person. I went to school for sociology. My father is a communist, and so I was raised as a leftist. My mother is neutral. I am always thinking about social equality, but when I was teenager I was a little crazy and didn’t really focus on it. When I started painting it was inside of me, but I didn’t paint for that reason.

Jess: Chile has two bad ass all female crews [Crazis and Turronas]. What are your thoughts on women-only crews?

Solitas: When I look around I see a mixed world, a mixed life. In my life, I seek equality…rights, opportunities and I do not like the divisions. I do not like the idea of crews just for women or just for men only. At the same time, I seek equality, I seek liberty…I want a liberated system and for each person to be who he or she is, according to their needs. I respect each of the writers in the world and I value what the all female crews and the work they do. I send a big kiss to both crews!

Jess: Going back to how your graffiti career got started…do you think that your love for hip hop culture has anything to do with your identity? I mean, what is hip hop to you? What does it do for you?

Solitas: Hip hop is protest. Hip hop is a way to comment on the wrong things in the world. It is bboys and mcs, djs and graffiti writers. I think it has a lost a little of the fight that was in it. I grew up listening to Public Enemy. Hip hop is a weapon. A strong weapon. And I think that people have forgotten what hip hop is about. Hip hop is to speak against the system! So to do that is not good hip hop. I think 50 Cent is hip hop for many people but for me, no. I think that our collective, our hip hop group, is combative. It’s a battle. When I was painting alone or with my husband, the graffiti was more simple, more color, and more beautiful. But when I am painting with my crew the graffiti changes. I will do a sketch and generally the image is against the system—it has a battle message. The machine is broken. My graffiti is a way of breaking the chains of oppression. The message, the image is strong. Painting with my crew transforms my message. For me, the collective, the crew is power. There is power in community and collectivity. And we are more critical towards other graffiti crews. We do not work with the government and the government funds productions for other crews. We can’t critique the government if we are working for them! Everybody does what they want. If you don’t critique them then there is no problem. They don’t criticize the government and so it doesn’t matter to them, but I do!

Jess: Do you have a message for aspiring writers out there?

Solitas: My message is: if you want to, you can! There are many difficulties in life. You can say “oh, I have problems with this and that and I don’t have time and I don’t have money, but if you really want to do something then make it happen. Nothing else matters. Try to be happy. Try to be happy without money, without work, without Nike sneakers. Come back to the natural way of life!

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*Much like Alma, Solitas and I have about the same level of language fluency (opposite of course: hers, Spanish, mine, English), so this interview was conducted in some kinda Spanglish.