Ideas on Fire Podcast Interview

My interview with Ideas on Fire is live! The episode is available in Apple Podcasts (iOS), Google Podcasts (Android), Spotify, YouTube, Soundcloud, and all the other podcast players.

We chatted about

  • my book Graffiti Grrlz: Performing Feminism in the Hip Hop Diaspora (02:13)
  • The future of feminist graffiti art (05:10)
  • The intersection of art, academia, and activism in Jessica’s work (10:14)
  • Curation as a social justice project (12:22)
  • Resisting academia’s hyper-productivity culture (16:01)
  • Imagining Otherwise (18:56)

The transcript and show notes can be found here:
https://ideasonfire.net/82-jessica-nydia-pabon-colon

The show notes contain links to all my projects, as well as the books, people, and concepts discussed in the episode (which is super helpful for teaching!). Give it a listen and let me know what you think. #graffitigrrlz

From the Archives: An interview with hemispheric graffitera MISS163

[written Summer 2013]

No Somos “Mariposas,” Somos “MariPUSSY”: An Interview with Graffiti Art Activist MISS163 aka Sharon Lee De La Cruz.

Walking through the streets of New York City you are bound to note the graffiti-covered buildings, bridges, and tunnels. You may ask yourself “how,” but have you ever wondered: “why” or “who?” Approximately 28 years of aggressive Broken Window[1] policing has answered the “who and why” with a single, decidedly gendered and racialized, qualifying designation—vandal—effectively denying the art form and the art makers any kind of social legitimacy or political import. No matter, though. Hip Hop graffiti writers have never been that interested in obtaining permission or legitimacy from any kind of governing body. They write on walls for a wide variety of reasons including subcultural infamy, sociopolitical rebellion, and aesthetic expression. Since Hip Hop graffiti appeared on the streets of NYC in the late 1960s/early 1970s, writers have intermittently “flipped” their formerly criminal activity into an income-producing creative practice—exploiting consumer culture’s fetish for niche markets and the gallery system’s taste for the raw energy of the “exotic,” the “other,” the criminal. Some writers have also utilized graffiti art’s quasi-fashionable/quasi-criminal, always public and communicative character for social and political purposes. MISS163 aka Sharon Lee De La Cruz is one such graffitera (female graffiti artist). Currently stretching the boundaries of legal mural artist vs illegal graffiti “bomber,” and capitalist vs radical feminist activist, she exemplifies how contemporary graffiteras are successfully navigating conventional limitations, answering the question of “who” is behind the writing on the wall with a resounding “why.”

MISS163 was born in 1987, raised on 163rd street and Hoe Avenue in the Bronx, and started tagging in 2004. She earned her BFA from The Cooper Union (2008) and was awarded a one-year Fulbright to study experimental filmmaking and mural making in Lima, Peru (2008­-2009). In Lima, she advanced from tagging to more intricate pieces and mural painting as a founding member of Maripussy Crew—an international, all-female, feminist, Latina and Latin American graffiti collective. As a hemispheric radical feminist artist, MISS163 focuses her artistic activist energies on women’s issues and youth development in the Bronx and in Lima. Currently, she is an after-school Program Director for ACTION (Activists Coming to Inform Our Neighborhood) and WOMEN (Where Our Minds Empower Needs) at The Point Community Development Corporation in the Bronx. In February 2012, she was awarded a “Woman Warrior Award” from Project Reach and the NY Daily News quoted MISS163 stating, “You don’t have to leave your community to live in a better one” (Whitehead, 2012). That same year, she became a Calvin Klein Brand Ambassador designed a four-part assortment of “graffiti glam” make-up under the name CK1 Street Edition (News 12 Bronx, 2013). Described by Vanity Fair reporter Lynden Volpe as a collection with a “girly yet edgy vibe,” the lipstick, nail strips, nail polish, and eye shadow feature the literally brilliant color-palette MISS163 uses in her graffiti art (Volpe 2013). With names like Vandalize, Sketched, Painted, Tagged, and Punked, MISS163’s set exposes and explores the aesthetic lines between the grimy and the beautiful. Starting in Fall 2013, she will begin her Master’s research on temporality and permanence in graffiti art in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU.

At 26, MISS163 continues to make quite an impact in both of her chosen communities. She is the epitome of a millennial digital activist. Skillfully managing a dynamic online presence on most, if not all, social media outlets, the public can find her on: Tumblr; YouTube; Facebook; Twitter (@Miss163); Instagram; Myspace; Flickr; Vimeo; and, of course, her own website. Her digital presence amplifies her local community work. We sat down in Pop’s of Brooklyn in Manhattan to discuss her social justice work, her experiences living in Peru, the gender and sexuality politics in graffiti subculture, her role as mentor and leader to the other women in Maripussy, her struggles as a self-identified pansexual AfroLatina, and her solo exhibition at bOb bar & gallery: Wild Thing.

JP: In Hip Hop graffiti subculture, everyone has an alter ego—a kind of stage name referred to as a “tag name,” under which they practice their art form. Tag names tend to refer to something personal like a favorite color, nickname, or the place one was raised. How did you choose yours?

MISS163: My name is Sharon De La Cruz, aka MISS163, aka uno seis tres (one, six, three), aka Charo—that’s what my family calls me. I started painting “Charo” at 18 years old, but that was small tags here and there until I realized “if my momma sees this on a wall, it ain’t gonna be too cute,” haha. I was raised on 163rd street and Hoe Avenue, so I changed it to 163. I wanted to be old school so I crowned myself “Miss 163”.

JP: So after painting sola (alone) for a couple of years, while you were getting your BFA, you spent some time in Peru on a Fulbright and that’s where you founded Maripussy?

MISS163: At Cooper, I took a course on Urban Experience in Latin America and it was based on the history of Mexico and Peru, and focused on the psychology of urban planning. I knew I wanted to travel to Latin America after school and my homeboy told me to check out this thing called a Fulbright. I applied thinking that I wasn’t gonna get it. Turns out, I was wrong.

JP: Can you briefly explain your project?

MISS163: I was doing experimental filmmaking with high school kids. Originally, I wanted to do stop-motion graffiti, but my advisor “advised” me not to do that; haha. I understood why. The Fulbright is the US Government, so they want nothing that has to do with illegality. I kind of masked the project and said “we will do movie projections.” We were basically experimenting with late-night humor, like Jay Leno style. It was really hard to get the students involved. They were natural at it, but they learned that it was bad. I even had teachers that were concerned about what I was teaching. In Peru, people disappeared after using humor against the government. Silly little me wanted to do that, but it was something that was frowned upon. It was very interesting. I learned so much from those kids!

JP: And it was in your first trip to Peru, during your Fulbright year, that you met the other ladies of your now-international graffiti crew right?

MISS163: Yes. While I was in Lima, I met up with tons of local artists and we started painting walls. It was great. That’s where I met Nemiye. She’s the one that does all these crazy Q’s. It’s just so interesting that we grew up in two totally different hemispheres, but the politics of growing up as a Latina are so similar…it’s also disgusting. The first time we painted together was in March 2009 for International Women’s Day. That’s when we knew that we had to keep painting with each other because the chemistry was flawless. We had the same humor, politics, and view on life. Being a crew was a joke at first, and then I told them my story about what my mother called my vagina, which is mariposa (butterfly). And then our friend said, “You should call yourself ‘Las Mariposas’.” The four of us—Mishap, Bronik, Nemiye, and myselfhat mariposa wasn’t strong enough. We wanted a PUNCH. So I asked, “What about MariPUSSY crew?” Maripussy is a super feminist collective, and with our graffiti we tell stories about the effects of patriarchy in relationship to women’s health. We were originally based in Lima, but now we’re also in Paris (Nemiye), Barcelona (Bronik), and New York (yours truly). There are seven of us now: six graffiteras (Mishap, Nemiye, Perez, Monica Miros, Biarck, and myself) and one rapper (Blue). I was so happy to find a group of women to whom I didn’t have to explain everything. I didn’t have to explain sexism or racism. I didn’t have to explain how oppression affects how we love, live, and make art. Before then, my dream of being a part of a sorority, or a women’s crew, seemed like it was far-gone. I always dreamt of having what I call “sister friends”—this unbroken bond between women. But it never happened because I went to art school with no sorority clubs. I didn’t have any friends who wrote [graffiti], nonetheless any women. And if I knew about women writers, they were older; there wasn’t anyone in my age bracket. So I knew graffiteras who were geographically close, but for whatever reason they were either inaccessible or it felt less natural to form a crew. Especially because I didn’t learn how to paint walls in the US, most of my murals were in Peru and that’s where I learned narrative and colors on a large scale. In Peru, I finally found women my age and they had vagina politics.

JP: It’s interesting that you keep pointing to the similarities in the “vagina politics” that you’ve experienced in the US and that they’ve experienced in Peru. What are “vagina politics” anyway?

MISS163: When we came together and shared our stories, they were similar despite happening in two different hemispheres. I lived in both places and I spoke with a lot of women, and it’s the same fundamental concept of being a “woman,” particularly a graffiti artist, in a patriarchal world. We call it “vagina politics” because as a result of having vaginas we’ve gotten to this…place. When I talk about this “place,” I mean we’ve become who we are because we’ve self-reflected about our experiences. We listened to our gut feelings about sexism and feminism. We understand that the stereotypes of women being emotional and crazy came from a sexist place. We’ve listened to ourselves. We’ve paid attention to what was going on around us, and we chose this thing called graffiti painting in order to express ourselves. To explore and flesh out our ideas about vagina politics, while opening the conversation up to complete strangers. We feel it is important to continue to initiate these conversations beyond our crew—and that’s what’s so fun, and ironic, about art! Once you create it, it no longer needs you to continue to carry out your intention.

JP: And the intention of forming Maripussy was to build a support system of like-minded women artists. Doing so reminds you that you’re not alone. It’s much more productive to have a network, right?

MISS163: Especially in the game called painting or writing, it’s all about support. It’s dark and you’re alone and my instincts say: no, don’t go into the dark! Painting sometimes goes against my instincts, but I keep doing it. I call the women in Maripussy my sister-friends, and to me sister-friends are really important. They keep you grounded. Even though Maripussy isn’t always with me physically, they can still say to me: “Sharon, you’re not painting!” And I’m like, “How do you know?!” We share all our stuff on the internet, so if nothing new has been posted someone like Mishap will know that I haven’t been painting. I also know that people depend on me in this weird way—we need to keep our name alive. I have a tattoo on my chest that says Maripussy. I don’t want another little Sharon growing up saying she doesn’t have a mentor or a network. I take feminist community building very seriously, especially with young women.

JP: Your visibility is really important for young women looking for mentors, for established pathways into the subculture. How has your position as brand ambassador for CK1, and your community work with the Point, elevated your visibility and altered how you feel as a woman in a numerically male-dominated subculture?

MISS163: It’s overwhelming because I feel like I have to represent all women, which is ridiculous because every woman is different and those differences are complicated. BUT, it’s also sweet because I get to give a voice to a lot of women and I get to exercise my power in a sustainable, fruitful way. I can model what being a “voice” looks like, how to be comfortable in your own skin, and how to be fulfilled without compromising your politics. The politics are so intense. I don’t paint with certain people because of the politics. Feeling like you have to prove yourself because you are a woman is not fun. I transform the negative energy, in regards to proving yourself, and turn that into “proving” how conscious, creative, and inspiring women can be. Yes, every time I hold a spray can I am “proving” something on an artistic level and as a woman. I have many limitations, but I refuse to let my gender be one of them. You just gotta keep doing it.

JP: Does that sense of having to prove yourself as a woman in a “man’s world” subside when you paint with Maripussy?

MISS163: When I paint with Maripussy it is fun. I feel like I’m on clouds. We’ve come to the point now, where we don’t have to talk about a piece—we just paint it out. We’re always dancing and laughing. We joke throughout the whole thing because we’re chillin with our girls.

JP: After meeting with two all-female crews in Chile, I started thinking about the production of feminist community by graffiteras who do not identify as “feminist.” I never would have written that chapter if I’d focused on New York City, or the States in general for that matter. All-female crews seem to be the social-subcultural norm in Latin America, whereas in the States they are few and far between. Initially, I thought it had something to do with the kind of “gray space” of legality that some Latin American writers work within—with more visibility on the street as you paint, you might be more likely to paint together, etc. Is graffiti art in Lima quasi-legal, like in Santiago and Rio?

MISS163: Yea, it depends. Walls are less idolized because of the money it takes to keep them up. So if a landlord can get a free “paint” job then why not? Graffiti artists take advantage of the situation and find more creative ways to send a visual political message. In Peru, I can’t just paint a “pro-choice” wall because it is a very conservative place, but I can mask it with characters and the use of colors. It challenges you to become a better artist, I think. My boyfriend pointed this out and I thought it was really interesting. He asked: “Why do the girls in Hip Hop in Peru look so masculine?” I didn’t realize until he pointed it out, but I was like: “Well, because that’s Hip Hop.” I feel like there’s less room to play with being girly and hardcore. You just gotta be hardcore. One of my Maripussy friends is in Bogota now with her girlfriend.

JP: Isn’t it interesting that we went from the “masculinity in Hip Hop” to the Maripussy crew member who is a lesbian? The subconscious word association “masculine woman=lesbian” is frequently uttered, regardless of the speaker’s politics. And is a really great example of why graffiteras tend to keep their sexuality to themselves. They might come out to me, but they don’t want to feed into the heterosexist rumor mill that uses their sexuality against their subcultural credibility (i.e. women writers are “dykes” or “whores”).

MISS163: I consider myself pansexual. If you’re attractive, you’re attractive. Our fascination with gender is corrupt. We are more focused on the gender of folks, than the partnership that they are building. Not only are we fighting because we’re women and feminists, but also how and who we love. Those things are

JP: One of the reasons I started writing about gender politics in graffiti was because of the notion that graffiti transcends all systems of identity-based oppression. Since graffiti is an anonymous act (mostly), the idea is that anyone can do graffiti. But the thing is: you can do it, but will you be supported or mentored in any way that enables you to keep doing it?

MISS163: The guys who showed me how to paint a mural were actually three of the high school boys I was teaching in Lima. I was showing them that I could draw and I did graffiti and they were like: “You wanna paint a wall?” I was like, “YEAH”! Imagine. These young men had more privilege to go out and seek these walls and show me this life! year old me was like, “Wow. Okay, this is crazy.” To be in certain parts of Lima to paint a wall, I had to be accompanied by three high school boys.

JP: You said that your graffiti takes a specifically feminist stance to illustrate particular narratives regarding vagina politics; how do you incorporate the politics of race and colorism into those narratives?

MISS163: The last piece I painted on my first visit to Peru was about “Doña Papa.” Doña Papa is basically what Aunt Jemima is in the U.S; but instead of syrup, she sells candy. She’s a slave woman with the hair wrap and all of that. I painted her vomiting all the candies. Mishap said “all these Black guys and girls are going wild over your piece.” They loved it because Doña Papa was finally doing something—she was the actor, not the acted upon. That’s when I learned how to mess with politics in another country. I like to twist pop culture images so they tell a more complex story.

JP: You’re working on a series for your solo show at bOb bar & gallery, right?

MISS163: Yes. I’ve been researching how women of color are used as community-organizing tools and I’m basing the series on Ruby Bridges as “Max” from Where The Wild Things Are. Bridges is the perfect example of why being Black and a woman is political from the start. Imagine: you’re seven years old, and you’re brought in as a political tool. Her parents were approached by the NAACP because she got the highest GPA in her all-Black elementary school and once the government ordered integration she was chosen. The NAACP specifically chose young Black girls. They could not be boys because little Black boys grow up to be educated Black men and that ain’t flyin’. But because she was a young female, the perception of her femininity as fragile, inferior, and most importantly less threatening positioned her as the perfect transitional subject in a larger movement for equality and integration. Her story is mind-blowing. I’m getting goose bumps just talking about it. Using women so strategically…and I think that’s a larger metaphor. Have you read Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by Melissa Harris-Perry? That book is killer. It’s about carrying, not only your race, but your sex, on your back. I think Bridges is a perfect example of this. Putting the two together in this way makes too much sense to me.

JP: Obviously your Wild Things series critiques a particular moment in history, but, do you think that it “makes too much sense to you” because you identify with the difficulties of race and gender politics in a particular way?

MISS163: Oh yea, totally. In New York, I’m Dominican. In Florida, I was half-Black and half-white. Then, when I went to Peru, I was gringa (white girl). Then I was “chinch,” which is Black in Peru. It’s like, “Okay…whatever you see.” When I’m in the States I tell people I’m Afro-Latina, but when I go to Peru that doesn’t mean anything. I told one of my girls that I was Afro-Latina and she laughed at me. I was like, “what are you laughing at?” I’m not Latina to her. My parents are from the Caribbean and they speak Spanish, but that doesn’t make me Latina to her. My brother makes a lot of racist remarks about Black women, and I’m like: “Hey I’m your sister!” But he sees me as Dominican and Puerto Rican.

JP: Your work communicates an ethic of resistance in regards to a variety of social messages while being attentive to aesthetics, to style. I see no separation between your art and your activism, but rather a kind of reproductive feedback loop.

MISS163: Graffiti is consciousness; it is the visualization of “thinkers” and “questioners.” For example, making sure that there is a “Female Flava”[2] wall, a wall dedicated to women in The South Bronx. Making sure that you create spaces to tell a story that has been marginalized and normalized simultaneously. We want to create art that questions social conditions, that celebrates women and generates fruitful discussion. Both my graffiti art and my activism are about organizing and energizing women.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

References

News 12 Bronx. 2013. “Bronx Graffiti Artist Sharon De La Cruz Teams up with Calvin Klein for Street Edition Cosmetics Line,” April 16. (http://bronx.news12.com/news/bronx-graffiti-artist-sharon-de-la-cruz-teams-up-with-calvin-klein-for-street-edition-cosmetics-line-1.5083018), accessed on June 6, 2013.

Volpe, Lynden. 2013. “CK One Goes Street for Spring.” Vanity Fair Blogs, March 11. (http://www.vanityfair.com/online/beauty/2013/03/CK-One-Goes-Street-for-Spring), accessed on June 6, 2013.

Whitehead, Kim. 2012. “Sharon De La Cruz, Artist and Activist from The POINT, Honored for Community Work in the Bronx.” NY Daily News, February 23. (www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx/sharon-de-la-cruz-artist-activist-point-honored-community-work-bronx-article-1.1026377), accessed on June 6, 2013.

WYSK. 2013. “Women Talk: 10 Questions With Miss 163, Art Meets Activism -WYSK.” (http://www.womenyoushouldknow.net/women-talk-10-questions-with-miss-163-art-meets-activism/), accessed on June 6, 2013.

[1] Graffiti’s eradication has been a central component of “Broken Windows” policing since Glazer’s 1979 Public Interest article and expanded by Kelling and Wilson’s 1982 eponymous piece in The Atlantic Monthly. In 1985, the NYC Transit Authority hired Kelling to consult on the implementation of Broken Windows theory.

[2] Female Flava is an annual South Bronx event organized by De La Cruz that focuses on women. The 2013 theme is “No Means No, An End to Violence Against Women.” See http://www.facebook.com/events/526315694099978/?fref=ts.

BUY this issue!!! Read my piece: Graffiteras Performing Feminist Community!!

I’m THRILLED to announce that the Fall 2013 issue of TDR: The Journal of Performance Studies has DROPPED!!

My piece on Crazis Crew, Turronas Crew, and Rede Nami “Be About it: Graffiteras Performing Feminist Community” joins works on Censorship in Egypt, Hip Hop in Israel, TDR’s first born–digital article and more!

Here is the (truncated) Table of Contents:

Social Performance Studies: Discipline vs. Freedom by Faye C. Fei and William H. Sun

The Fire and the Frying Pan: Censorship and Performance in Egypt by Nehad Selaiha

African Tongues on the Israeli Stage: A Reversed Diaspora by Sarit Cofman-Simhon

Imaginaries of Exile and Emergence in Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Hip Hop by David A. McDonald

Be About It: Graffiteras Performing Feminist Community by Jessica N. Pabón 

Death Dressed As a Dancer: The Grotesque, Violence, and the Argentine Tango by Julie Taylor

The Aesthetics of the Invisible: Sacred Music in Secular (French) Places by Deborah Kapchan

Hearing the Music of the Hemispheres by Erin B. Mee

CLICK here to purchase the issue for $13. Unless you want to subscribe to the journal (which is way more bang for your buck, so you definitely should), make sure you select Single Issue “T219, Fall 2013 Volume 57, Issue 3.”

Special Offer: Subscribe to TDR/The Drama Review and receive a 35% discount off the regular subscription rate PLUS a free MIT Press book: http://www.mitpressjournals.org/page/TDR13

Teachers/Professors! Tell your students to subscribe to TDR for only $25.00 per year!

Like them on Facebook! http://www.facebook.com/TDR.TheDramaReview

T219 Cover

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.

 

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!

From the archives…Ana

Who? Ana

Where? Rio de Janeiro

When? August 2010

The night before I left Rio, Anarkia had a little bon voyage party for me and I finally got a chance to speak with the fiery pixadora Ana.  She shared her thoughts on community, pixação, self-expression, feminism, art vs vandalism, getting shot by police, and why pixação is so different than graffiti.

Jess: Ok, so can you just tell me a little bit about your name and how you got started?

Ana: My name is Ana, which is the same as my real name. I started around 2001 when the movement started but really I began around 1999. I began with a group of three other boys at school. We wanted to make Pixação as a joke, just like Free, but in 2001 I really got involved with the actual movement.

Jess: Do you think you could talk a little bit more about how it started as a joke? Because it seems like Free and yourself all refer to this word “joke” when you speak about how you started.

Ana: Everyone say this because it’s a reality here. Everybody when beginning Pixação just thinks its fun and stuff. But when you become a real Pixador in the movement you get to know the people and begin to interact with everyone and it’s powerful. It’s like a profession. And when you get involved in the movement, that thing that was just a joke becomes a priority against studying and work. Nothing else matters besides Pixação. And if you think it’s just a joke then we are not getting our point across. Because if you’re not really “professional” about it, the others will have more names than you. You have to really do it.

Jess: That’s like graffiti. It’s the whole purpose behind graffiti to live it and be it all the time or else you are not the king. So you’re coming on ten years doing Pixação, right? What would you say has changed?

Ana: Well in 2002 Anarkia and I met, and we realized that other girls were doing the same thing. And maybe you have heard this from the other girls, but the boys would put us up against each other to try to cause fights. But in these ten years, the fight about Pixação and the boys trying to get us fighting and stuff, we don’t have any more of this. Pixação is a unit now. In the past we had fights, but not anymore. In the past, in the taggers meetings, we always, always had fights. Now everybody is a unit and the boys go to the parties with their wives and we are all a unit.

Jess: So, when you say meeting do you mean a party? Or is it like the writer’s bench in graffiti?

Ana: In graffiti, we have a meeting where everyone meets at the wall and makes graffiti like a jam. But in Pixação, we have a meeting where everyone gets together and talks and signs each other’s books and stuff. But nowadays we have parties and barbeques and talk about Pixação. It’s a kind of different meeting.

Jess: So, what is the value of that kind of party? Community-building? What is the point of Pixação?

Ana: It’s something that we have during the week one day. This kind of party is special because people can go there and meet other people in Pixação and learn how to do this kind of text and stuff. The importance of Pixação is different from generation to generation. But the one thing that stays the same is the idea that Pixação is something that you do to put a part of yourself outside of yourself.

Jess: That makes sense because a lot of people talk about marking their identity in graffiti. So you’re saying that Pixação is a way to express your identity differently than how you do in your everyday life. So, would you say that what you mark on the wall expresses your identity in some way?

Ana: People don’t know how to express the answer to the question, why is it that you do Pixação? But it is because it is your identity on the wall. They see your name on the wall when you do Pixação.

Jess: So before I start asking my feminism questions, I just wanted to ask you about [make up a name of your choice cause it’s confidential yo! let’s call her X]. Did you go painting with her, what is your relationship? Do you see a difference in her between when she was actively painting and now?

Ana: I met X when I was going out with this one guy, but we have a lot of friends in common. As I learned things about X, I realized that I was a girl like her who was unafraid to make Pixação and go out and do these things. It’s like a deception to see X now. I know how much power she has, but we are seeing that she is taking all of her power and putting it in the garbage. And we always try to help her, but it doesn’t happen. It hurts us because we really admire her and like her and know that she’s a good girl. It’s her choice, though, and we can’t do anything more.

Jess: So this leads me to my next question, which is: what do you think the value of Nami is for women like X?

Ana: I think that Rede Nami is important to show these kinds of girls that they are not alone. If they really need help and want help then we are here for them to help them in their situation. And we also want to show that they don’t really need a male to help them, that we can do it by ourselves.

Jess: Well the way that I see Rede Nami in my head is as a feminist collective where women come together to help each other help themselves. Do you consider yourself a feminist? And what does feminism mean to you?

Ana: I do consider myself a feminist but not that old kind of feminist. More like a personal kind of feminist. First, because of my profession, I am like the first woman mechanical engineer. Not the first one, but there are not many. And second, because of Pixação. Because we don’t have girls in Pixação. This is why I think I’m a feminist, because I’m a girl but I do things that only men are supposed to do. I don’t like when people say that things are not for me because I’m a woman. I can do whatever I want whether I’m a boy or a girl. I think that a feminist woman is one that does not agree with the idea that women do certain things and men do other things. A feminist does not agree with this.

Jess: And what is your role exactly in Nami?

Ana: I don’t do anything, haha. We are organizing the network, and many of the girls don’t know what to do but we are preparing things that girls like me can work on, girls who are involved in Pixação but not graffiti.  Rede Nami is still trying to find a role for girls who don’t do graffiti. But I will be a part of discussions and I’ll be involved in the reproductive rights activism that kind of stuff. I work a lot with kids and they think I’m good for controlling the teenagers. There is work for all the women. Also, I’m being put to work to take care of some of the money. There are 30 girls in Rede Nami who are not involved in graffiti at all, and we are trying to find a place for them like as photographers, psychologists, and this kind of stuff. There were a lot of girls like me that were totally uninvolved in graffiti but we still want to be involved even though we will never, ever, ever in our life do graffiti, haha! It’s very expensive to make graffiti. In Rio the monthly salary is like 500 a month, but to make a graffiti it costs like 100 to do it!

Jess: When did you start learning graffiti?

Ana: I didn’t start, I just want to start one day maybe. I made a cloud and put my name on it to be a part of the wall, haha. But I probably won’t start because I don’t have paint.

Jess: Is there anything that you want to make sure people know about what you do, or about the movement in general? Anything that you think I should have asked?

Ana: The problem with Pixação is that people just do their name. They have to get a social problem and make it a project to make Pixação important. In the beginnings, it was about protection under the dictatorship. People expressed themselves against the way things were going and there was a social connection. Now, Pixação is just about writing one’s name on the wall. But I think that Pixação has to have a social meaning behind it.

Jess: Why do you feel that way? Why can’t it just be art, why does it need a social meaning?

Ana: Because I think that in this way people will understand us more and society will see Pixação not just as vandalism. One day Anarkia and I were planning to do some tagging and we were talking about what we should say to the police if they came. So we said, oh we should tell them that we’re doing a project about women’s rights for the cause of the feminists. It’s funny because really we were just writing our name. For society, Pixadores don’t have any difference from robbers and criminals other people that society hates. But there is a difference between graffiti and Pixação. Pixação is seen as vandalism, but graffiti is seen as art.

Jess: Oh, so that reminds me—do you have any stories about any dangerous situations? I hear that actually its very common to get shot doing Pixação. In the United States when people are doing graffiti in the subway, sometimes the writer won’t stop when the cops are chasing them and then the police will shoot at the kids but it’s a very big deal and it rarely happens.

Ana: There was one time when I was shot one year ago. Everyone was saying don’t hit her, and it was aimed for a car, but I was hit. It was me and three other guys in a place that was like residential. I wrote on a lot of places where everyone would see my name. It’s not like an invasion because I went into the residential area but not into the houses. Everyone put their names on the windows. The boy in the house opened the windows and started screaming and shooting. The boy got in the car and I tripped and fell. At this time the police spotted me and two other guys and we had to get down on the floor for like an hour and half. The police made us get out all our money and then we were able to get up and retrieve our spray cans. I didn’t want to get the cans, though, because one of the guys was really addicted and he would want to continue making the tags. But if the police got us again it would be a problem.

Jess: So does a situation like that scare you? How do you come back from that and continue to make Pixação?

Ana: I can’t answer why I continue to do Pixação after this incident. I just know that it’s a part of my life. It’s a way to be a part of the life of my friends, to be with them. Today I don’t do the same things that I was doing last year, but I won’t stop doing it. Even if I wanted to stop doing Pixação, I wouldn’t be able to because I’m addicted. Anarkia and I stopped doing it, her in 2002 and me in 2004, but because of the Internet we started up again because of all the pixadores and the community on the Internet.

Jess: Here in Brazil you’re literally risking your life to do Pixação. That is a serious commitment. Do you think that that’s why the boys are supportive of you girls?

Ana: Yes. We are really risking our life. In other countries, if people are caught, they will go to jail. Here, if people are caught, they will die. If I’m caught doing a train, I’ll die—I won’t just go to jail. People can rape us. People can kill us. Do you remember when you and Anarkia were talking about the militia? Well, now if you are caught doing graffiti in the militia’s space, you will be killed.

Jess: You know, talking to Free was really inspiring to me because she’s like in her forties and she’s still doing Pixação! So I was wondering if you think that you and Anarkia will still be doing it when you’re forty?

Ana: I think yes, but we will know less people doing it. But there will still be people coming back home to do Pixação and they will be a part of our lives forever. These people that are our real friends, maybe we will stop or not but these people will always have an influence on us to start up again. If we stop making our name in the world, we will be unknown.

Jess: You said that you’re one of the first or only female mechanical engineers, around here, right?

Ana: Well I’m studying to be an engineer but really right now I’m a technician. But I don’t know any women who do that.

Jess: Right. So, how does it make you feel to be in Pixação and in your professional field as a woman?

Ana: In Pixação in the past we had to dress like males and they boys wouldn’t help us or anything. But now it’s different. Our generation is different from three generations ago. In our generation we try to put our tags up as high as possible, and boys think that we can’t do it. And now boys see that because girls like me and Anarkia did it, that girls can do it too. Anarkia was one of the first ones doing the tags up top and then girls saw it and wanted to do it too, and the boys saw it and respected her for it and now they help other girls to tag up top too.

Jess: I’m out of questions, but do you have any kind of message for other girls who are interested in doing Pixação or graffiti?

Ana: It’s really hard to say something about this because your research is for women experiencing a different reality than Pixação. But I would like to say that I feel good making Pixação and I think I will never stop.

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

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.]

*************

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!!**