Under Pressure Graffiti Festival: Women & Hip Hop Symposium

Sadly, I can’t always make it to the events I’m invited to…but I can help promote and get bodies there! I’ve attached the press release for this women in hip hop event in Montreal below the digital flyer.

CONF_IMG

Press Release

Women & Hip Hop: Conference.

Long before its popularization by the established art world, street art was viewed as a second class art form, associated with nighttime, deviance and crime. This stigma and its sharp contrast with the stereotypical ideals and values society has historically imposed on women ensured that street art remained a mostly inaccessible and uninviting platform  for  women  to  showcase  their  talent. Despite its commercialization, street art has so far been closed to women, both globally and locally. Hoping to address this, the Montreal group OFFMural-es was formed, its mission being to shed some light on the inequalities that exist between men and women street artists.

Launching this movement has helped us to focus our criticism of the representation and visibility of women in Hip Hop. Whether as Bgirls, street artists, graffiti artists, MCs, or Deejays, women are part of this culture. Our goal is to encourage them to come together with their male colleagues and begin a dialog about the status of women in a cultural industry that remains very sexist.

Do these women feel 100% integrated into Hip Hop culture, and if so, how have they have achieved this integration? Were they obligated to deny their femininity in order to be accepted in a milieu where women are often seen as objects? We also invite those rare feminist men taking part in Hip Hop culture and ask them whether they consider women as artists, and whether they engage with their female colleagues in the same way as males. Although there is no single answer, we hope this new conference will help us find ways of encouraging women to commit to and involve themselves in Hip Hop culture entrepreneurship, so that they are no longer mere actresses, but real and significant players.

Information:

-Thursday August 8th

-Starting at 6:30PM

-At Fresh Paint Gallery, 221 Saint Catherine East.

-A 2$ contribution is asked at the Fresh Paint gallery door.

-Limited acces, only on booking confirmation (name and surname of each guests) at

marine@underpressure.ca

For any questions please contact marine@underpressure.ca

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.

Guest Blogger Katrine Couvrette, MA. on Female Graffiti Artists in Montreal

On 17 December 2012, I received one of my favorite kinds of emails:

Hi, My name is Katrine and I am from Montreal. […] One of my friend who is a writer here in Montreal sent me a link where I could read your article published in the C.O.P Magazine and watch your TED talk. I was so happy to see that another woman was also working on female graffiti artists. I have just finished my master on girls writers in Montreal this fall 2012 at the University of Montreal. […] I met 8 female artists and I interviewed them all; it was so inspiring to hear them talk about their experience in the subculture as woman. I found my self in that, because the graffiti subculture is after all a mirror of every woman life, not only writers. […]

It’s always a pleasure hearing from other scholars and/or practitioners interested in female graffiti artists. The more the merrier I say! And Katrine was particularly interesting because she has a connection to Montreal’s graffiti scene and had done some ethnographic work with a few women there. I asked if I might read her thesis—she said yes and sent it along, but alas it is in French…so I asked if she might be down with being a guest blogger and sending me something from her masculinity chapter. I want to support her work and the interest she took in the women participating in graffiti subculture, and so below, you will find the excerpt she sent along as the first official guest blog.

While we do not draw the same conclusions about gender in relationship to genre (characters and letters), or analyze the dynamics of masculinity and femininity in the same ways, we are both doing the work of thinking critically about the performance, centrality, and effects of masculinity in relationship to women identified women and their participation in graffiti subculture. And if we do not think critically about masculinity as a community of scholars interested in subcultures, then we are essentially saying it doesn’t matter and isn’t worth our time—further marginalizing and erasing women from graffiti studies. And clearly, that’s unacceptable.

I hope you enjoy it!

********

Katrine Couvrette

An Excerpt from Le graffiti à Montréal : pratique machiste et stratégies féminines.

A Master’s thesis completed for the University of Montréal, 2012.

Over the past three years I have been studying the Montreal graffiti subculture as my Masters research project. The masculine overtones and machismo culture appealed to me more than anything else. I couldn’t ignore the obvious gender relations and issues so I looked at female writers experiences within the context of the traditionally patriarchal history of the arts to illustrate how they visually distinguish their work and practice from their male counterparts.

Dominant cultural institutions and models that shape our understandings of gender and sex relations are reified by writers both in the practice of graffiti and the lifestyles they lead. Masculine identity is confirmed through taking of voluntary risks to achieve higher status amongst other males in the subculture. As Ruby explains, the graffiti writer communicates this status by saying he’s “tough” and “larger than life,” and as women, we are not pushed to prove this type of physicality.

Ruby 158In The Graffiti Subculture, Nancy Macdonald investigated the marginal activities of groups of male writers whose rebellious attitudes could not be fully shared by girls because they did not feel the interest or the motivation for it. Boys “may therefore get something out of graffiti that girls do not; namely, a relevant and meaningful identity. In which case, girls may be brave enough, but not sufficiently interested.” (Macdonald 2002: 100)

In others words, girls lack this motivation because they haven’t been socially instructed to communicate a propensity for marginality. As Throne clearly explains

“You have to have balls. I don’t know too many girls, when it’s raining, when it’s two, three in the morning, who would like to leave the house to go, put themselves in danger, paint a roof top […]. They’d rather to be home, take a tea, watching Gossip Girls .”

Thes also specifies that the adversity encountered in the act of graffiti lay precisely in the gender question: being a girl can be an obstacle because you put yourself in something that is illegal . According to Macdonald, girls starting in the graffiti subculture are easily ascribed ‘traditional’ feminine qualities – bordering on the stereotypical – such as delicacy, anxiety, and sensitivities to fear, risk and challenges in general (Macdonald 2002: 130). The common assumption is that the graffiti writer is a young male. As Ruby says, a graffiti artist gets dirty, carries stuff, and needs strength , which means, culturally at least, that it’s understood as a man’s job, so people generally see it being done by a guy. Although there are far less female writers on the streets, those out there practicing graffiti are inhabiting roles and behaving in ways that are traditionally considered to be masculine in orientation. They subvert, even break with, popular models of Western feminine culture by asserting new modes of female individuality and empowerment. They show that they are equally capable of taking on the risks and challenges in doing illegal work. Indeed, as Macdonald explained “female writers must work to prove they are not ‘women.’” (Macdonald 2002: 130).

Unlike the overwhelming majority of male writers who focus mostly – if not entirely – on painting letters, there are a significant numbers of female writers who paint characters. Half of the female writers I interviewed for my research devoted most of their energies to painting characters. At first glance the average passerby would most likely not associate these characters with a female writer. A closer and more critical look, however, reveals distinguishing characteristics that can help to differentiate between the types painted by female writers from their male counterparts. When female characters are painted by male writers they tend be portrayed as scantily dressed or not clothed at all, in a submissive posture to a male character (surrounding an authoritative male or in a sexual position), demure, voluptuous, or implying some level of sexual promiscuity, and generally in a passive manner. On the other hand, characters painted by female writers tend to be portrayed as strong, dynamic, active, and even authoritative in nature. They are mostly clothed, fashionable and generally chic.

Some members of the subculture argue that the work done by these female artists is nothing but repetitive, banal, unoriginal characters. Throne says,

I’ve been told by several writers that, as a girl, I shouldn’t focus on doing girl characters because it’s really overdone .” Stela argues that there are virtually no female characters in Montreal precisely because there are so few girl writers on the streets as compared to the overwhelming majority of males. She says that the only way to get over this masculinist discourse is to just not care about it .

Stela 73Miss Teri admits that her paintings are often the target of criticism, mockery, and disdain because of the perceived feminine qualities of her characters and settings she portrays them in . She does graffiti but tends to focus on painting characters and settings, so the challenge is in trying to establish a presence or identity without being immediately rejected for her style of art. Indeed, her work challenges the existing aesthetic simply by being there. This reaction to her work is considerably more critical given the implied cultural values associated with the abandoned and derelict locations (risky, questionable, even dangerous locales) she has chosen to place her graffiti and paintings.

MIss TeriNot all female writers from Montreal focus on characters. Some, like Ruby and Thes, devote more of their energies to honing their skills in calligraphy. Lettering is generally understood as inhabiting the masculine side of the practice and characters more towards the feminine. Not that these categories are gender locked or anything, but there are tendencies in the population for one sex to gravitate towards a particular form than the other. More guys do letters and more girls do characters. Graffiti tends to be produced in an illegal, risky, even dangerous urban context that, given the popularization of risk taking behaviors increasingly seen in young Western males, it is not surprising to find many males doing graffiti. It is also not surprising to see that female writers have a more difficult time asserting their identities on the streets because it is a space dominated in large part by male writers. Even if they are noticed, it is assumed that they are male writers because of this overpopulation issue. When Thes was starting out her gender wasn’t questioned, many thought that she was a male writer because, as a cultural standard, you just don’t see girls like her breaking the law and seeking a marginal status of identity.

Ontario-Rouen 253

To be a noticed and respected female graffiti writer demands more than just solid can control. In fact, the qualities (courage, risk taking, cunning, fearlessness…) recognized and valued by practicing members of the graffiti subculture are constantly sought by female writers as much as by their male counterparts. Being a female writer means facing a lot of the same challenges met by women in the everyday (sexual discrimination, sexism, etc) only magnified because of overwhelming number of male writers in the subculture. These challenges can make a female writer’s career a difficult one but not impossible. The woman who contributed to this article have shown that the qualities, skills and risks are shared by all writers and artists out on the streets regardless of gender or sex. Importantly, these women are on the front lines of negotiating new challenges in asserting women’s identities in the city and in the arts today.

__________________________________________________________________

A special thanks to Thes, Stela, Miss Teri, Ruby and Throne who allows me once again to quote their words, obtained in an interview conducted for my master thesis.

COUVRETTE, Katrine (2012). Le graffiti à Montréal : pratique machiste et stratégies féminines, Master thesis, Montreal : University of Montreal.

MACDONALD, Nancy (2002). The Graffiti Subculture: Youth, Masculinity and Identity in London and New York, New York : Palgrave.

POLLOCK, Griselda (1988). Vision and Difference; Femininity, Feminism and the Histories of Art, London: Routledge.