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 Archive…Kaka

Who? Kaka, former pixadora

Where? Somewhere in Rio…

When? August 2010

The fact is, when you do over 20 interviews in 10 days (in another language in a foreign country), you lose track of small details like…location. No? Well I do. I remember visceral responses to places and people, overall impressions—not addresses. In order to meet up with the now-retired pixadora Kaka, Anarkia and I had to hop on a few buses and truck through the city. You see, Kaka had no cell phone, so we set out to find her hoping that, but not knowing if, we would succeed.

Just as the sun was setting, Anarkia announced that we had arrived. We had tracked her down to a tiny booth in a seemingly infinite public market where she was working. Surrounded by people selling all matter of wares and food, we sat on a bench and chit chatted about her involvement with pixação (if you don’t remember what pixação is, check out my interview with Free). Kaka was kind enough to share her story with me despite the fact that she had stopped painting because of her renewed relationship with the church. As you’ll see when you finish reading the interview, it’s not the most “pro-graffiti” or “pro pixação” story, but I include it (even if it doesn’t line up with my desires and politics) anyway. She took a break from work to talk with me—a stranger who doesn’t even speak her language—and it is important to value her act. Our conversation was short and a little like pulling teeth that aren’t yet ready to go. She had no pictures with her and gave no email address…so following up with her or even sharing this post is impossible. I think the image at the bottom is hers. It’s the only mysterious tag in my blackbook so I’m guessing yes. No matter what Kaka is doing now, and the experiences that made her choose to stop painting, at one point she was a very well known pixadora who got up with the kind of fervor and voraciousness that made people jealous…and that is worth remembering.

JESS: Ok, so first could you just tell me how you started doing pixação, what year you started, what your tag name is and stuff like that?

KAKA: My name is Kaka. I started in 2006 because of my friends at school.

JESS: How long did you do it for?

KAKA: I started in 2006 and stopped in 2008 because I became part of the church.

JESS: Can you tell me a little bit about your experiences doing pixação? How did it make you feel? Why did you start doing it?

KAKA: It is a feeling like nothing on earth. I didn’t have any friends at home and pixação was a way to begin doing something with my life, to be someone, to do something that comes from inside of me.

JESS: Did you do it by yourself or with other people?

KAKA: I began to do it alone and then I began to do it with other people.

JESS: What is feminism to you?

KAKA: I am not a feminist, but I want to be.

JESS: Why do you want to be a feminist?

KAKA: I want to do lots of things, but as a girl I can’t do them. Like, I am anxious to make something of my life, and I’m afraid of things. I want to be a feminist about things that I want, but I’m hesitant.

JESS: Do you miss doing pixação?

KAKA: No.

JESS: Even if it were with a group with other women?

KAKA: I don’t want to make pixação anymore because it is illegal, and I am in the church. I have changed.

JESS: But what about graffiti? And I ask because it sounds like you would have the drive to do it.

KAKA: I don’t know how to draw.

JESS: But you can learn! What do you think about women doing graffiti and pixação?

KAKA: People know what they want to do in their life. Even if it’s a girl or if it’s a man, they can do whatever they want.

JESS: Ok. I have questions that have to do with identity. When you were active did you feel that your work was a part of your identity? Like you were trying to communicate something about your identity to other people.

KAKA: I liked writing my name everywhere.

JESS: And what did you like about writing your name everywhere?

KAKA: It was cool!

JESS: Haha, yes it is cool. Do you have any stories about a particular spot that you got that was a good spot? Or did you ever have to run from the police?

KAKA: I don’t remember, but I went to a place very far with my pastor, the pastor of my church, and I was walking the streets and I saw lots of my name.

JESS: Were you embarrassed or did you think it was funny? Did you like it?

KAKA: All of these things at the same time!

JESS: Did you teach any other girls how to do pixação?

KAKA: No, I went tagging with other girls, but I didn’t teach anyone. Pixação you really don’t teach, you just do it.

JESS: Yea, but I think that if a new girl wanted to learn how to do it she might ask you, as a mentor.

KAKA: No, because the girls prefer to go with the boys for protection. But for example, if there were a group of girls like Anarkia and myself I would be doing it all the time. But if there were girls that I didn’t like, then I wouldn’t be doing it!

JESS: I have questions about the physical strains of pixação: are there body limitations for women? When you went out, did you have to dress like a boy? Can you talk a little bit about how you prepared to go out at night, being a woman?

KAKA: About the clothes, I put on my own clothes, the same clothes that I wear everyday. And about the body, it’s not really a problem because the boys would help me.

JESS: Oh good, so you had support. What did your friends and family think of you when you were painting?

KAKA: The boys liked it, and they helped.

JESS: Oh that’s good because usually I hear the opposite: that the boys don’t want to help.

KAKA: No, here the boys help us.

JESS: Is there anything else that you want to say about pixação? Because you know that I’m writing a book, and that other girls will be reading it. So is there anything that you want to say to them to help them put their name out?

KAKA: Just one thing that I want to say is not to have the same experience that I had in my life. Don’t do it. Don’t do pixação because the people are not good. You don’t have true friends, and you lose friends and family. Everything that I had I lost.

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.]

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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!!**