Week 4 with Graf Grrlz on the Rise, sidewalk chalk extravaganza!

It’s hard to believe, but we are almost done with the program. *sigh*

Anywho, this week was all about crews: what they are and mean for graffiti writers, why writers form them, what their purpose is, and of course…the girls decided what their crew names would be. They learned about Maripussy (well, the older ones because having 2nd graders say “pussy” didn’t really seem right), the Stick Up Girls, Crazis, Turronas, PMS (provoked many giggles), Girls on Top, and Few and Far. We talked about how being in an all-female crew might make you feel more empowered to keep painting because you are part of a community, and also  how you could feel equally disempowered because women are often really hard on each other. We talked about the importance of having each others backs, finding out who someone is before believing a rumor you might hear about them, and the concept of strength in numbers. We also talked about how gender might influence aesthetic choices and value systems ( they learned this after I explained what “aesthetics” are..”oooh, like how you decide to dress”). When I asked them to brainstorm their own crew names, they came up with:

PBC: PINK A BOO CREW
PJC: PINK JAGUARS aka PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY CREW
SGD: SASSY GOLDEN DIVAS CREW
DTM: DOING THE MOST CREW (I’m a big fan of this one)
H2O: HAVE TO OVERCOME CREW
LIP: LADIES IN POWER CREW (and this one)
SSC: SWEET ‘N SOUR CREW

There are more groups that we didn’t get to see this week, but this is a great start. To prepare them for the field trip to Brisky Gallery in Wynwood, we had them use chalk on black construction paper. At times it felt like nails on a chalkboard, but I did my best to power through. Ha.

We visited Brisky Gallery to see the Few & Far production from 2012 Basel. After the Gallery Director, Luis Valle, gave us a tour of the show “Eternal Reflection” we headed to the backyard (BTW, go see this show!!). So finally, we had the chance to talk about graffiti art in front of a real live wall! Once the girls got over the grass being tall and the many little bugs, they focused on what was in front of them–a gorgeous production composed of 13 separate pieces, woven together through color and shape. I walked them through each piece, explaining a little bit about each artist–and I have to say, they are getting pretty good at reading the letters! *swells with pride*

And then we all realized it was like 95 degrees and we were slowly dying. So we went back in, took a mini break and then grabbed some sidewalk chalk and they went to town. We had made photocopies of parts of the wall so the girls could look at them and try to mimic the style of the character or the piece with sidewalk chalk. Then Luis told us that not only could we draw on the sidewalk but also on the building next door! Woot! Some of them were too hot to focus, but others…well, they had a BLAST!

Graf Grrlz on the Rise, weeks 2 and 3!

I have no idea where time goes, but if you are following my blog you already know my posts are sporadic at best. So, I am #sorrynotsorry this update is way overdue since it is now week 4.

First, a few things I’ve learned from weeks 2 and 3 as a summer camp art instructor:

Lesson #1: Summer camp scheduling is a tad unpredictable, so be prepared to wing it!

Lesson #2: The amount of female “historical figures” young people can name has increased slightly since the last time I asked (which was probably when I had a 16 year old in a summer college class once). Also, it now includes Beyonce (#allhailqueenBey).

Lesson #3: 2nd-11th grade girls from Miami have a resounding response to nude female figures on walls: “EWWWWWWW”

Lesson #4: Art class comes second only to the pool. (Is there a better compliment? I think not.)

Depending on the groups, weeks 2 and 3 were a mixture of drawing on trains, working with stickers, and playing with fabric and ribbons. In addition to the planned lessons on gender politics and resistance, we tossed in a few impromptu lessons to keep all of the groups on the same schedule as much as possible. The impromptu lessons included a session on Shinique Smith (in which we made some bundles, bows, and what I deemed “cannolis”); a session on exploring the letter (in which they were to pick 1 letter from their tagname and “get weird with it”); and a style mimicking session (in which they responded to characters by drawing their own). On our longest days, we worked with upwards of 60 girls.

In the resistance sessions, we talked about how female writers can reclaim sexual imagery, support one another across oceans through online communities, and communicate political commentary…and why they might want to use their art to do those things. We talked about the use of colors, lines, and textures and how that might affect how the viewer responds to the work of writers including Injah (Rio), Shiro (Japan), Kif (Mexico), Stela (Montreal), Ivey (Australia). And finally, they worked on their “Hello My Name Is” stickers.

After I do the bulk of my mini lecture, we pass out the supplies and they get to work. Then for the second half of the class, we make art and talk about anything (and/or listen to music and rap/sing along). This is our “bonding” time. I ask them about their day and their other classes and we stumble into quite a few conversations that are heavily charged with issues like representation in relation to bodies and the politics of respectability. Sometimes, I’m stumped as to how to talk to them about some of these very complex issues. How do you adequately explain the Trans spectrum after a student refers to people as “drags” (she further explained she meant a “he/she”) beyond rearticulating the difference between sex and gender and the sexuality spectrum…after about 15 seconds you can see the glazed over eyes of confusion. You do your best, or at least that’s what I did. Also, Another example is when we asked why Injah’s or Pink’s  (Brick Lady specifically) nude figures grossed them out I received a variety of responses: “because she’s showing all her goodies and that’s nasty,” “it’s confusing cause we learned the opposite of that in abstinence class,” “her boobs are droopy, she needs to take care of that,” “I’d just get plastic surgery.” We talked about why breasts are gross, or why breasts in art is “ew,” in more than one class. In the end, we do our best to get them honestly talking about their opinions and have them respond through art making.

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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!

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!