Guest Blogger Eileen Quaranto, responds to Couvrette

After I posted Katrine Couvrette’s guest blog about female graffiti artists in Montreal, I asked my former student/research assistant/curatorial intern Eileen Quaranto (yes she wears many many hats!) if she would be willing to write up a brief response. Knowing the content of her thesis (I was her advisor for an independent study on female graffiti writers), I thought it would make for an interesting contradistinction. And I wanted YOU to be in on the conversation. I find it productive and exciting that I am not alone in the endeavor to build a body of scholarship (at various levels) about female graffiti artists.

And, of course, I am so proud of Eileen.

Eileen and Jess at ClawMoney opening

Eileen and Jess at ClawMoney opening

Get it, girl!

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For my Undergraduate Senior Thesis in Art History at Stony Brook University I chose to focus on the sexualization of the female figure by female artists in graffiti and street art. I focused specifically on Toulouse artists Miss Van, Fafi, and Mademoiselle Kat simply for the sake of my thesis not exceeding the maximum forty-five page limit, but I have also looked at other female artists who are similarly working with sexualized female characters. From this perspective I have a few responses to Katrine Couvrette’s masters thesis in the hopes that all of us who are studying the work of female graffiti artists can continue building on one another’s ideas from the many and varied educational and cultural backgrounds and perspectives we have to offer.

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MRS

My first response is to Katrine Couvrette’s claim about female artists having to prove themselves masculine, which stems from Macdonald’s assertion that “female writers must work to prove they are not ‘women.’” (Macdonald 2002: 130). While I do agree with this claim in a certain sense—yes, female writers are often assumed to be male when their identity is not known, and yes they often must go above and beyond in order to prove themselves capable of such “masculine” activities as running from police, climbing fences and hitting tough spots—I would also argue that many female artists also deliberately set out to prove that they are women in terms of their chosen aesthetic elements or tag names. For example, MRS (a street bomber from the Bronx) includes a little bow on her fill-ins, which serves in part to notify the viewer that the writer is female.

missvan

Miss Van

missvan2

Miss Van

I would also argue that the choice to work with the female character as a constant element in one’s work is also a direct declaration of one’s “womanness,” as it acts as a pictorial depiction of one’s identity on the wall, and this identity then becomes inextricable from the idea of “female” as it is presented. In her Biography on her website, Miss Van states that early in her career her characters began as a depiction of her own identity, as an alternative to using a lettered tag name.

This leads into my next response, which is to the following claim: ”When female characters are painted by male writers they tend be portrayed as scantily dressed or not clothed at all, in a submissive posture to a male character (surrounding an authoritative male or in a sexual position), demure, voluptuous, or implying some level of sexual promiscuity, and generally in a passive manner. On the other hand, characters painted by female writers tend to be portrayed as strong, dynamic, active, and even authoritative in nature. They are mostly clothed, fashionable and generally chic.” Given the nature of my UG thesis, I think it is obvious I am going to argue that there are many female artists who paint figures of sexualized women, and that this is not just a technique used by male writers. Miss Van’s characters are almost always “scantily dressed,” and Shiro’s characters (“Mimi” characters) are certainly “voluptuous.” Fafi’s characters (“Fafinettes”) are usually very passive, although there is never a male figure present to which they submit–they generally look up at the viewer with wide eyes and assume a posture that expresses shyness or timidity. Furthermore, the work of all three of these women, in addition to the work of such artists as Mademoiselle Kat (also from Toulouse), Vinie (France), Szylk Wane (UK) and Toofly (US) can be said to “imply some level of sexual promiscuity.”

Shiro

Shiro

Fafi2

Fafi

Fafi

Fafi

Shiro2

Shiro

Mademoiselle Kat2

Mademoiselle Kat

Mademoiselle Kat

Mademoiselle Kat

While these artists do paint the female figure in ways that are typically ascribed to male writers as Couvrette argues, these artists also depart from the male writers’ techniques and take on new approaches that Couvrette rightly ascribes to the female artists. Shiro’s characters are “voluptuous,” but also “strong” and “authoritative.” Fafi’s characters are depicted as “passive,” but are also “fashionable and generally chic.” Vinie’s characters are often “scantily dressed” and “voluptuous” and yet “fashionable” and “chic” in terms of what clothing the character is wearing and her hairstyle. Of course there are also female artists who paint characters that are “strong, dynamic, active, and even authoritative in nature” without being sexualized: Alice Pasquini, a street artist from Rome, focuses on painting women who are “strong” and “independent…in a way that differs from the highly sexualized image of femininity that is typically seen in society,” according to her website. But for the women who are painting sexualized female figures that are also strong and autonomous, serving as figures in themselves rather than just surrounding an authoritative male, something is to be said. These women are seemingly reclaiming the sexualized female body so that it is no longer the object of the patriarchal male gaze. The sexualized female figure becomes the subject, rather than object, and the female artists creating these figures are the ones who determine how they are depicted and what effect they will ultimately have on the viewer.

From the Archives…EGR

Who? EGR

Where? NYC to Toronto via email

When? Forever ago…well, early 2009.

Toronto-based graffiti artist EGR caught my attention a long time ago. When I started my PhD program, and picked right back up interviewing writers, she was one of the first women I contacted. Even though we only had a brief email exchange, I’ve kept up with her work. Her characters captivate me, and let’s be real—I have a soft spot for fairies and other winged beings…so I can’t get enough of her aesthetic. EGR has a solo show at the Mark Christopher Gallery right now (!) called “We are Nature” so I thought I’d dig up her old interview. I meant to get this up sooner, but we had a Hurricane here in NYC and life got crazy for a bit…so here it is. If you are in the Toronto area in the next 7 days, you have exactly ONE WEEK left to see her show live and direct. [Click here to go to a recent interview about the show].

So here is a quickie, a flashback interview with the lovely and ambitious EGR…

What’s your tag and how did you come up with it? EGR- describes my ambition. Used to write Eager then abbreviated it.

What’s your 9-5? Artist/Illustrator/Muralist

Crews? Solo

How would you describe your style? EGRism

How long have you been writing and how did you get started? Since ’96. I got into it after a high school friend showed me his ‘work’ in my hometown along the train tracks. At the time I was experimenting with so many new artistic mediums, it seemed only natural. I was instantly hooked.

Graffiti is often spoken about through and alongside hip hop. Do you feel like a member of the hip hop nation through your involvement with graffiti? I feel like a member of the hip hop community through my live painting experiences at hip hop events, and also because Graffiti art is one of the elements of hip hop. That’s one of the things I love about hip hop.

How would you characterize a “hip hop aesthetic”? Fluid and bright, fresh or old school, with a reference to music, and the elements of hip hop. Do you think your graffiti reflects, represents or retools your identity in any way? How so? My art is a reflection of my thoughts and experience, and my graffiti is an extension of my art. They are inevitably linked.

Do you think of yourself as a feminist? No, I’m not a feminist, although I believe in equality.

^^EGR progress shot by John Lee at ReSurface event, Toronto^^

Is graffiti about resistance? If so, what are you resisting and how do you know when you are successful? Graffiti resists conformity, to me. I don’t necessarily think success can be achieved through non-conformity, depending on how you would define success. I think it’s about the process, the message, and feeling like you’ve accomplished getting your message across. It’s about communicating.

Does your graffiti take on a message, or is it primarily about style and recognition-or both? My work is often concept based; I hope to incorporate positive imagery in my work.

Does location affect your choice of theme/character or topic? If so, how? Graf is often about freestyling and vibing off your environment and/or situation. Its making something out of nothing, and using what you’ve got.

Are the effects of globalization being felt, translated and/or responded to through your work at all? Yes. [I bet if she were to answer this question today, she would have a lot to say…see her blurb about the “we are nature” show and you’ll see what I mean.]

BIO: Erica Gosich Rose aka EGR, grew up in Burlington; a quiet suburban city just a train ride away from Toronto, Canada. Her fascination with street art intensified while traveling to and from Sheridan College for Interpretive Illustration; the aesthetics and concepts of which are still featured prominently in her work today. EGR’s works can be found on crumbling city walls and in pristine art galleries, from fine art to murals, illustration and even live art. Part of EGR’s appeal is her ability to bridge art, design and functional purpose. She is just as comfortable with traditional oil paints and brushes as she is wielding aerosol spraycans—in locales as far as Australia and even Florence, Italy. Pop culture and social references abound in the work of EGR, though the female perspective is a recurring staple. As women are still a minority in the boys’ club of urban art, many consider her a pioneer in the street art world.

http://www.egrart.com

Twitter @EGRart

“We are Nature” Press Release:

Eternally Mimi, works by Japanese Graffiti Artist Shiro, Opens August 29th!! NYC

(When it seems like I am slacking on the blog front, it is most likely because I am putting together something like this…please come through)

 Eternally Mimi

works by Shiro 

Curated by Jessica N. Pabón

Opening Reception: August 29th, 2012 at 7pm

Exhibition Dates: August 29th–September 29th, 2012

bOb Bar is pleased to present Eternally Mimi, a solo exhibition of work by Japanese graffiti artist Shiro. Please join us on Wednesday August 29th, from 7:00 p.m. to close, to meet the artist and celebrate the work.

 In Eternally Mimi, the latest series in a career-long study of the self, Japanese graffiti artist Shiro explores the paradox of identity through her iconic character Mimi. Asking what the self between the constant and the evolving might look like, Shiro imagines her sometimes mortal, sometimes immortal alter ego in different times and places—but she remains Mimi, a robust female character inspired by hip hop culture and Buddhism, eternally.

 Shiro began painting graffiti in 1998 in Shizuoka, Japan. A truly international graffiti artist, Shiro is down with GCS, TDS, Universal Zulu Nation Japan, and SUG. She has exhibited works in Australia, China, Germany, India, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, and the US. Shiro is also the designer and owner of the clothing brand “BJ46.”

http://www.bj46.com

shirojapan [at] gmail [dot] com

bOb Bar
235 Eldridge Street
New York, NY 10002
212-529-1807   www.bobbarnyc.com