Graffiti Grrlz on the Rise, MOCA Miami

So, as usual, I’ve been busy. After the “My Thuggy Pony” jam and the opening of the Girls On Top Crew at bOb…I graduated (you can now call me Dr. Pabón!) and spent (at least a week) celebrating in Boston where I grew up—reconnecting with friends and family members before I move to the Middle East. Yes, you read that correctly. If all goes as planned, I’ll be starting a position as a Postdoctoral Fellow at NYU Abu Dhabi this fall working with the senior class in the Arts and Humanities. I’m going to be traveling to (mostly to Cairo, Egypt) as much as possible to conduct  research on the Women on Walls Campaign.

Women on Walls Logo

Women on Walls Logo (amazing right?! ) I hope to make some good connections and be able to share what I learn here on this blog; in the meantime you should LIKE their Facebook and peep them on Flickr.

LIKE their Facebook and peep them on Flickr.

Until then, I’m thrilled to share that I will be spending the next two months as an Instructor for the Women on the Rise Summer Program for MOCA Miami. Founded in 2004, “Women on the Rise! is a unique gender-specific outreach program that presents the work of contemporary women artists such as Ana Mendieta and Carrie Mae Weems to young women ages 10-24 who are served by community organizations doing social justice work. Many of the girls who participate in the program live in low-income, underserved areas and some are involved in the juvenile justice system.  MOCA educators visit these institutions and use contemporary art to inspire girls to engage in critical dialogues about body image, relationships, and culture and to creatively imagine brilliant futures through hands-on art projects, visits to exhibitions, and meetings with noted women artists. The goal of the program is to increase girls’ self-esteem, critical thinking skills, and access to arts and culture.”

womenontherise

I want to introduce the girls to the empowering sociopolitical potential in producing graffiti art. I’ve developed a 7-session curriculum designed to teach them about: the ethnic lineage and diversity of artists and styles; the gender politics within the subculture; and the strategies of resistance female artists employ to make space for their participation. The best part is that they will develop their own tag names and crew names, think about and analyze works of graffiti, learn about dozens of female graffiti artists and all-female graffiti crews, potentially have a field trip to Wynwood to peep the Few & Far production at Brisky Gallery, and ultimately paint their own group production (probably a giant mixed media stencil/tag/sticker collage because there are almost 200 girls).

They also get to play with this:

Blank Train Canvas

Needless to say: I’M SO EXCITED!

Until next time…LIKE their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/WOTRMOCA. Visit the website: http://mocanomi.org/2012/03/women-on-the-rise and Support Women on the Rise!

My Thuggy Pony All-Grrlz Jam in the Bronx

When I went to bed last night I had no idea I’d be spending 8 hours in the pouring rain watching some of NYC’s illest graffiti women kill a wall in the Bronx. Granted, I knew they were painting since I helped organize it…but the non-stop-just-enough-to-soak-your-feet-throughout-the-day-misty sprinkly stuff—-that part was a surprise. And the wall is not finished because of it, but whatever. This is [legal] graffiti. It can be an extreme sport, haha. So weather be damned, PIXIE, CHOCK, ABBY, NEKS, QUEEN ANDREA, EROTICA, AND MS163 painted.

I took a LOT of photos. You can see some of them here.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

 

Interview with Chock GOT

I have some EXCITING NEWS!!

The Girls on Top (the UK’s first all-female graffiti crew) are coming to NYC for group exhibition at bob bar this MAY (see bob bar page)!!! So, to hype you all up for the show, I thought I’d share an interview I did with Chock—one of the crew’s founders—in April. So, enjoy your reading and get to know the girls (or, ya know, one of them!) before they get here!! Hope to see you for the opening reception on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013 at 7PM!!

Jess: How’d you choose “Chock” for a tagname? And what crews do you rep?

Chock: I chose it as I wanted a feminine name, but I really liked chocolate! I always used to paint the O as a heart. GOT THC BRS and United Artists thanks to Duster.

Jess: Care to share your 9-5?

Chock: I’m a full time artist. I teach workshops and paint commission mainly. I am also into public sculpture and hope to get that underway with regards to commissions this year. My workshops are in schools and other community centres.  My company is called Paint My Panda.

Jess: Writing for how long and how did you get started?

Chock: 15 years. I was a skater as a kid and always saw graff a lot didn’t think to do it until I went interailing with my boyfriend of the time and the whole continent was smashed! Thought I have to do some of that and got on with it at the age of 17 . ~I was a rubbish skater anyway.

Jess: When did you get down with GOT and how did it happen?

Chock: I started the crew with another girl (NED) in around 2000 cos we were both bored of being the only girls, it was just for fun and she stopped writing, I kept it on because it is boring being the only girl and most of the male writers I have met are not gentlemen!

Jess: What particular aesthetic do you bring to the table and how does that differ from the rest of the crew (if it does)?

Chock: My style is usually very bold and colourful. I lack on the finer details like Cry can bring with her portraits cos my eyesight is shit! I used to have to get people to tell me if anyone was coming in yards, I swear I see fuck all without my glasses! I like to paint cartoons and silly animals too and take pride in my letters. Sabe paints tattoo styles, luna is illustration, cry is photorealistic portraits and 80s style letters, pixie paints cartoony stuff, punish paints calligraphy styles and neo nita paints crazy neon monsters J

Jess: Do you think there is a relationship between hip hop and graffiti?

Chock: There is deffo a relationship. I love hip-hop music I also love loads of other music. We try to post dope females in art music and dance on our blog along with our own work.

Jess: What is hip hop?

Chock: A way of life, a subculture, a style of music, dance and art

Jess: What new trends or types of graffiti are you seeing?

Chock: Photorealism has been around for ages now over here, I see the fine art styles coming through more deffo in my work also as I did study it graduating in fine art sculpture in 2001.

Jess: What do you think about graffiti culture being online, does it change anything?

Chock: It helps people all over the world communicate, it’s a good thing but don’t put your train stuff up cos its hot! You can get famous quickly from all that but also get busted. Over here so many people go to prison for it and that type of stuff is used as evidence against them- don’t boast on the net! I spend a lot of time on here as I work as an artist as use it as a promotion tool, Facebook and other sites have helped me get work and be known for the projects I run over here.

Jess: Tell me what you know about women in graffiti history.

Chock: err…Barbara and eva 62, lady pink, mickey…Martha coopers pics… we are under represented in the main but maybe because we are unique. Not many girls can do what we do due to family pressures or no desire to get so dirty and poor!

Jess: Do you think graffiti reflects, represents or retools your identity in any way?

Chock: It rebuilt my identity, it allowed me to change things in my life, relationships, jobs, situations I didn’t like and create what I wanted to do and be and allowed me to surround myself with people who inspire me not drag me down.

Jess: Do you think of yourself (and your work with GOT) as feminist? What is feminism?

Chock: For me feminism is just belief in ones self. Not allowing shit you don’t like to happen to you and being proud of who you are as an individual.

Jess: What does the word “community” mean to you?

Chock: The people around me. I do lots of community work and charity painting projects. Everyone’s actions affect each other and it is important to engage with people around you to create a better future for everyone not just yourself. There are many people worse off than you.

Jess: Can you tell me the history of GOT (how has GOT changed over the years?, who are the members?, etc.).

Chock: GOT was started in 2000 by myself and NED in Manchester, we drifted apart as she stopped painting and I carried on in other crews in London. I got on the graff girls site [RIP GraffGirlz.com] and started meeting girl writers (akme, numi) to paint with again which was cool cos I really had been the only girl painting for time, there is no one in my area at all who does it! I met up with a mates girlfriend called mira we did some pieces and some bombing together and I put on a jam at stockwell, London in 2007 and put akit, luna, Claudia de sabe and lyns in the crew too; did more jams in 2009, 2011 and 2012 and have now got a nice 7 person line up of Chock, Luna, Sabe, Pixie, Punish, Cry and Neo Nita. The jams are a cool chance for us to get together and jam basically, its not a sexist thing cos we want some boys come down too but its mainly for us girls cos we need support we don’t get from lads. Not all of us have great boyfriends!

Jess: GOT is a “Female graffiti crew started in 2000 to help unite the females in graff world” according to Facebook…can you elaborate on what prompted this? What it means to you? Why it is important?

Chock: As I said its just about friendship really and a love of graff, life is dull on your own

Jess: Do you work collaboratively with other crews/collectives, magazines, or websites?

Chock: Not so much yet the crew is looking to do more of that this year and onwards really we have done a few bits with COP and put the jams on so we can all meet up with other girl writers but the scene is not massively strong over here still its very much in the minority, there are many female artists and illustrators but they don’t love the can so much.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

HomeGirls artworks by Abby online store is up!

I hope you’ll take the time to visit http://www.abbygraff.com and then buy a canvas or print for your collection, or for your favorite hip hop fanatic. Truly is money well spent.

HOMEGIRLS

artwork by Abby

A Queens, New York native, Abby is a visual artist with roots in the early ‘80s graffiti art scene at the geneses of New York’s Hip Hop movement. She attended the seminal High School of Art and Design in Manhattan from 1981 to 1984, where she was mentored by some of the most prolific and celebrated visual artists in urban and fine art such as Web One, Doze Green and Mare 139.

Abby was accepted to Parsons School of Design (New York)and attended from 1985-1987. Although she thrived academically, the financial strain was simply too much for her and her family, so she silently applied to Temple University’s Tyler School of Art (Elkins Park, PA and Philadelphia respectively). She graduated in 1991 with a BFA in graphic design with an emphasis on packaging.

In 1991, Abby returned to New York, started working for Arista Records and happily returned to painting legal walls with her crew. In 1992, as the design industry was quickly transitioning to computer-based design, she relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area where opportunities in Silicon Valley were abundant. There, she quickly became submerged in digital art, working for start-up ad agencies. Eventually, Abby earned coveted positions designing packaging and promotional work, most notably for Sega, Safeway Corporate Advertising, Concord Records and World Market.

Marriage and motherhood fostered a shift in Abby to work exclusively freelance, allowing her to remain present for her family and support her fine art. After 16 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, Abby relocated back to the East Coast where she could be closer to her roots.

Since 2008, Abby has been exhibited in ‘Heiroglyphics 3’ at the San Francisco African American Art and Culture Complex, ‘Queenz Arrive’ at McCaig-Welles NYC, and ‘TC5 Revolutions’ at Crewest LA.

In 2012, Abby lectured at Davidson College in North Carolina, on the topic of Stylemasters of Graffiti and her experiences as a female graffiti artist in her native culture and as a design professional.

April 2013 marks Abby’s solo exhibit ‘HomeGirls’ currently on display at bOb Bar NYC until May 19th, which depicts the places and mind-spaces the artist has called home. HomeGirls makes visual her journey as an African American woman, an original participant in a vibrant transnational arts movement, as she transitions from place to place (physically and emotionally) trying to find a balance between motherhood and career that won’t demand she sacrifice one for the other.

To Purchase Works from the show, please visit http://www.abbygraff.com !!

“Homegirls” artwork by Abby, opening next Wednesday!!

"Charlotte" by Abby TC5, on sale at bob bar NYC

“Charlotte” by Abby TC5, on sale at bob bar NYC

 

HOMEGIRLS artwork by ABBY

curated by Jessica N. Pabón

  

Opening Reception: Wednesday April 17th, 2013 6PM-9PM

 RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/299368726856841

bOb Bar is pleased to present the solo exhibition HOMEGIRLS, a collection of works that transform the cities Abby has called home into figurative representations. Abby uses traditional graffiti letter forms to illustrate metaphors and emotions—which are intimate, and sometimes universal in appeal—to push the boundaries of the genre. HOMEGIRLS features African American women whose cadence symbolizes the artist’s experiences living in cities like Philly, Oakland, and Queens. Please join us on Wednesday April 17th, 2013, from 6:00PM to 9:00PM, to meet the artist and celebrate her work.

A Queens, New York native, Abby is a visual artist with roots in the early 80’s graffiti art at the geneses of New York’s Hip Hop movement. She attended the seminal High School of Art and Design in Manhattan from 1981 to 1984, and has been a quiet, yet active, crew member of TPA, TC5, Rocstars, KAOS Inc, and TM7 for three decades. Her early work has been captured inSpraycan Art and Piecebook Reloaded. Her recent work has been exhibited in ‘Heiroglyphics 3’ at the San Francisco African American Art and Culture Complex, ‘Queens Arrive’ at McCaig-Welles NYC, and ‘TC5 Revolutions’ at Crewest LA.

 Exhibition Dates: April 17th—May 19th, 2013

For more information, please contact the curator: jnp250@nyu.edu

bOb Bar

235 Eldridge Street

New York, NY 10002

212-529-1807   www.bobbarnyc.com

 

Video Mania!!

Here are just a few of the videos in my bookmarks:

Mugre & Cerok “Lucha libre”

Anarkia Boladona “Piece of Mind”

Bisy

Boosted Films Claw Money

Claw and Miss17 Interview

Eney

Few & Far X Ironlak Road Trip Tour 2012

Few and Far Miami Art Basel Behind the Scenes with AGANA

Girl Power movie Trailer

Indie x Karmaloop TV

Injah Painting

Janinné Nuz

Lineas // ZuriK Graffiti

Maripussy Crew 5PTZ 5.28.2011

Miss Van Sao Paulo 2013 VNA

Miss17 Graffiti

MRS Graffaholiks

Nish Cash

Naska

SAX

Shape

Solitas

Turronas Crew

Xalapa Sede del FEMINEM

<

Interview with Stela

As I’ve mentioned before—nothing makes my day like an email from someone who has seen and enjoyed my TED talk or read my manifesto in COP. Last September, I received an email from Stela, a Québécoise feminist street artist from Montreal, Canada who was mentioned in the guest blog by Katrine Couvrette. Stela’s work caught my eye because her absolutely curvilinear handstyle, pastel color palette, and pretty soft-eyed characters are almost always adorned with explicit and aggressive language. I’m all about that kind of contrast in public art…and everyday life. 😉 As per usual, I asked if she wouldn’t mind answering a few questions for my research and she agreed. When I send interviews via email I never really know what to expect, but Stela was thorough and sent a lot of photos.

She talks about the value of finding a peer to paint and talk feminist politics with, her social and political aesthetics, public reception, how painting helped her “reclaim her girlhood” and her feminist identity (which I find fascinating!), the value of illegal graffiti, and being an out queer graffiti writer wishing for a community (a unique positionality to say the least). I hope you enjoy reading about her and looking at her work as much as I do!

Tag and how you settled on the name: Stela, or Starchild Stela

Occupation (9-5): Aspiring feminist scholar (student), florist

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

-the pros: it means you have support and respect, that you are valued as an artist, and that basically you have friends to back you up

-the cons: you cannot control what the other members do, and when some of them happen to be a**holes you got to learn how to deal with it!

How would you describe your style: I mainly paint fierce feminine characters, preferably in pastel tones. People often describe my recent stuff as kawaii/cute, femme and feminist. People who know me often says that I look like the characters I paint, but I’d say I paint characters I would like to be friends with, that I’d like to hug and support. My mediums vary but I mostly use primers and spray paint, the cheaper the better (I like grimyness and free stuff). I’m also known for being a prolific sticker artist. I think people see what I do as street art, I really see it as a hybrid form of graffiti, as I use mostly spraypaint, but don’t paint letters.

Writing for how long and how did you get started: I started when I moved to Montreal, which means 7 years ago but I’ve been doing it on and off for a lot of reasons. The “scene” here annoys me. But I think Stela as she is stylistically today was born 3 years ago. I guess it’s when I started to be really addicted and taking it more seriously. I think meeting friends who truly cared about me who were also painting made me want to paint more too. Before that, I think I did not have such relationships, which is hard on the motivation. I mean I knew people who paint, but it was not really magical, so what’s the point (beside safety)? I think when I met Meen I truly got something. There she was the friend I was waiting for all my life, with who I can be silly, talk about politics and feminism, music, art, someone that really touched my soul, and we could talk about this stuff while painting a wall. That meant so much for me and today still I can’t believe how magical she is.

Does your graffiti take on a social message, or primarily is it about style—or both: Both. I love adding a little feminist twist to my pieces. I don’t really intend to add a social message to my pieces, the words I add often reflects the discussion I’m having with friends. But indeed we are talking about what matter to us, and what makes us pissed off. I guess the social message resides in the eyes of the viewer, too. Many teen girls told me I inspired them to start doing street art. I only started to add words to my pieces recently, but it brings another dimension that has a strong social meaning. But primarily painting for me is self-care, so it is not about the message, it’s rather a way to makes me feel better first, a way to cope with society’s and personal bullshit. I like adding sentences like “Think critically or die tryin’” or “Fuck your macho bullshit” under my characters. My favorite piece of 2012 says “cats against cat-calls”, which came out of a discussion I had with a friend. We thought that cat-calls were unfair to cats.

How do you feel when you see your pieces up: It depends if I’m satisfy of the result! I think every time I see an older piece it adds a bit of fierceness to my ego, but it also reminds me that I overcome lots of stuff. Recent pieces make me happy, and I’m overwhelmed by the reception of some of them got. It brings me tons of ambivalent feelings! I like that some people relate to it, especially teenage girls, because I think I started doing it as a way to reclaim my girlhood.

How do you feel when you are gettin’ up? What emotions do you associate with the act: I think it depends of the situation. I think the best feeling in the world is painting freight train when it’s not cold outside. Winters are rough here and I often end up painting in the cold, which brings a lot of frustration too! With the act itself, I think I associate fierceness, silliness and fun times. It makes me feel like I will never grow up, and it is in itself one of the best thing ever. There’s something really powerful in painting somewhere you are not supposed to. It can be hard, but it is super fun.

What does the word “community” mean to you in relation to graffiti culture: “Community” is a big word for me. If there is such thing of a “graffiti community” in my city I’m certainly not a part of it. And I’m totally fine with it because I don’t relate to it. If you say that community is about the connections I made with other folks who I paint with, that’s different. There’s only a handful (ok maybe two hands) of people I truly love to paint with, they know who they are, and at the end it’s a bit because of them that I keep painting, it’s not as fun if you are alone. It’s important for me to paint with folks who respect me, and most importantly I think it’s the fact I can talk with them. Having silly or critical discussion is central to me. I believe that I have a small network of really awesome people who paint too, and they are awesome. I think people that organize graffiti stuff here don’t take me seriously, because, well I’m not serious about graffiti. Fair enough!

What do you think is the historical significance of graffiti: Taking back/ reclaiming the space that is controlled by people beholding power. I mean now it can be perceived differently because there is a strong consumerist graffiti scene, which has nothing to do with the origins and true impact of graffiti; which for me is inherently about breaking the law and the social order. As my city is being increasingly gentrified, I think ALL illegal graffiti, even if it is not intended to have a social significance, disturb the forces trying to control the city.

Do you think of yourself as a feminist: Yes! I am currently doing my undergrad degree in gender studies, so feminism is an important part of my everyday life. It’s funny because I think I started to be interested in feminism because of experiences related to graffiti, unpleasant experiences and stuff I witnessed. I really perceived myself as anti-feminist back then, but I really had the mediatic, monolithic white feminist from the 70s in mind and obviously I couldn’t relate. The more I read about feminism and gender theories, the more stories of resistance I read, the more I was able to associate the fucked up stuff I went through with a broader picture. When I started to meet vocal feminists, I understood they were up to something I could totally relate. They really inspired me. Then eventually I started to consider myself a feminist, and an outspoken one. Being openly feminist means being reminded daily that feminine power scare the shit out of many. It also seems like an incongruity for some to be a feminist graffiti artist, and it seems almost every time I talk about it in interview about my art, the “feminist stuff” is cut from the final report.

[To which I say: No worries about that happening here…ha!]

What is feminism to you: Feminism, for me, is a framework that helped me to understand how my experiences of oppression were related to a bigger and complex system. It needs to be intersectional. I think it’s about the political significance of our everyday experience in a rape culture. It allowed me to understand my privileges, and also lead me to the process of becoming a better ally for different struggles.

What does resistance mean to you: Forever bashing back. I think my life shifted when I realized that I had in me the power to resist, cheesy as it sounds. Resistance is being aware that no matter what, nobody can take away your dignity. Resistance is at the core of my fierceness. I think it’s also something that we need to learn to have fun with, like being creative and giving ourselves the permission to be playful even if what we resist bring us painful emotions.

What are the characteristics, personalities, or traits, that you associate with graffiti writers? The ones I hang out with may be different than the mainstream ones! Hahaha… They are not good at maintaining a “contained” lifestyle with a 9 to 5 job. They are all unique, so it’s hard to qualify “them”. I often think of silliness and spontaneity. Good sense of intuitions. Developed aesthetic tastes. A particular interest in shoplifting. For women writers I would add fierceness.

How does graffiti fit into your past, present and future: I started to be interested in street art/ graffiti out of teenage boredom, because I had no true passion in life and I had to do something empowering with myself, and at the time I was partying so this hobby made a bit of sense in my life and schedule. Then I developed my critical thinking and start seeing it as a part of the lifestyle that was meant for me. In the present it is something I will never do enough, I have to set time to do it which is a challenge but that is totally worth it. It still gives me the butterflies. In the future, well, hopefully I will develop skills, be in a femme crew, learn to manage to write essays, be published and being a graffiti artist at night. I’d like to paint in different cities, and I would love to see a queer graffiti scene to develop. More feminist/anti-colonial/anarchist quality street art. A high school friend said of me recently: “well at this point I think she will always be doing it, it’s not like she will stop to be a teenager soon”. I couldn’t agree more.

Tell me what you know about women in graffiti history: For me, there’s two different standpoint we can look at, which is either traditional/hip-hop graffiti, and I think some people really dedicated time to document it, even if it’s probably not enough. It seems, at least in North America, that women who graff had it rough, and they were always outnumbered by men. This side of history is important, but I am more interested in another face of it, which overlap at some points. It is not what some would qualify as graffiti, but rather simple political writing on walls. I would qualify it as feminist street art. I believe revolution; social change and resistance can be read on walls. There is an undocumented history of feminist street art, which appeared (to my knowledge) at the same time graffiti became an “urban crisis”. In the 70s, at the peak of the second-wave of feminism, you could see ads being vandalized by feminists, message such as “discover your clitoris” on walls, reflecting the women’s liberation going on at the time. The backlash against feminism didn’t make these writing disappear. What resonated the most with me is when Doris (in her zine Encyclopedia of Doris) says she felt like someone hold her back when she witnessed girl gang’ graffiti appeared on walls, like “dead dad don’t rape”. For me, this alternative “graffiti” history is under looked, and any graffiti/street artists who label themselves feminist are totally a part of it.

Special Issue on Graffiti Goes Live!

I’m happy to announce that my article “Shifting Aesthetics: The Stick Up Girlz Perform Crew in a Virtual World” is now live!!! You can access it, and many more wonderful contributions to a special issue on Graffiti in Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge (an independent peer-reviewed online journal). Here is the TOC:

Graffiti

Edited by John Lennon and Matthew Burns


» Introduction: Academics Don’t Write: A Few Brief Scribblings and Some Questions
Joe Austin

Essays

» The Underbelly Project: Hiding in the Light, Painting in the Dark
Jeff Ferrell

» Expanding Lines: Negotiating Space, Body, and Language Limits in Train Graffiti
Elisa Bordin

» “Graffiti as Fearful Commodity”: Princess Hijab, the Muslim Woman, and Anti-Consumerism
Mariam Esseghaier

» Graffiti as Spatializing Practice and Performance
Tracy Bowen

» Radiant Children: The Construction of Graffiti Art in New York City
Natalie Hegert

» London Riots, Living Walls: Questions of Resistance in Late Capitalism
» Supplementary Photo EssayAesthetics of Capture
Liz Kinnamon

» Shifting Aesthetics: The Stick Up Girls Perform Crew in a Virtual World
Jessica N. Pabón

» The Politics of Writing on Walls
Gabriel Soldatenko


Interviews

» An Interview with the Freedom Painters
John Lennon

» Interview with Julie Breton
John Lennon

» Interview with Mahmoud Graffiti, a graffiti writer in Alexandria, Egypt
John Lennon

» Compiled Interviews
Matthew Burns

I hope you enjoy it!

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!

*******

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.

02_016

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.