More than just women painting graffiti
Since the beginning of Hip Hop culture as we know it, girls have been an integral part of graffiti writing culture. Not on the peripheral, not on the side-lines, and definitely not as understudies to the male-dominated head figures that later rose to prominence as the ‘originators’ of the culture.
Possibly, the biggest mistake one can make is to start justifying, comparing, creating a mental list of names, or trying to compensate against their male counterparts. But let’s make a short roll call just to put it into perspective that women are and were there in Hip Hop culture from the beginning. Lady Pink, Martha Cooper, Roxanne Shante, Queen Latifa, Monie Love, Cora E, Musa, Utah, Merlot, Mad C, just to name a very few. It is important to acknowledge that in every town, city, country, and continent, there is a massive unwritten list of female talent just waiting to have a light shone upon them.
And therein lies the concept for the German all-female group, “SISTERHOOD” (Girls Go Graffiti). To shine the light on their fellow creators of female orientation who are equally as talented and productive as any other male creators in the media spotlight. In their own words, “Graffiti is rebellion, perfection, thrill-seeking, expression and much more: for example, male-dominated. Still, women are part of this subculture”. This is exactly what their mission is in their self-funded, self-created, and self-organized exhibition concept of the same name; “SISTERHOOD – Girls Go Graffiti”. To put the spotlight on their fellow female creative achievers and bridge the gender gaps in a male-dominated culture that they too are an important part of. This group of protagonists is not only creatively prolific in graffiti writing, but they are also studying or educated professionals in creatively anchored professions. With a network spanning over the whole globe, with just a small reach out to the next sister, the endless pool of available skill sets enables them to achieve a multi-facet of creative activities. Some of them including film making, sound production, product creation and sales, musical event organization, graphic design, artwork, and of course, all disciplines of graffiti.
But let’s get back to the important part that connects us all, GRAFFITI. No strangers to a Montana BLACK or GOLD can, SISTERHOOD has all the bases covered in the disciplines of graffiti. Active on bricks, streets, and steel, the girls make art that not only catches the eye but engages the brain as well. And if the viewer is female, then the value is heightened as self-confidence, self-reflection, and positive messages of self-acceptance are always on offer. With the number or size of the female writing community uncertain, we took the opportunity to speak to the SISTERHOOD to try and see if they could school us some more. Here is what they had to say…
Interview with the SISTERHOOD collective
MC – Most if not all of you have been active writers so long that you would be judged by your peers on the quality of your work, and not your gender (we hope). Were there any specific moments or turning points that made your creative focus have a feminist tendency, or do you feel like it was a topic from the beginning you have been tackling all the way?
SH – The backgrounds and creative careers of the women in our group vary. Some of us have already dealt with feminism before we even started painting and sometimes started from concrete political contexts. Others were involved with graffiti first. Over time, we have all understood the importance of networking with other women to approach the societal phenomenon of sexism in solidarity.
MC – Do you all cross over into the other disciplines of graffiti, or do the members of your collective all have certain avenues they specialize in? (e.g., street bombing, pieces, trains, freights, etc.)
SH – We all have different paths and all of us have our disciplines within graffiti where it is the most fun. We live out most of our creativity on the rails and in the streets. But graffiti is more than just that as it is so diverse. Therefore, we also networked with women from different disciplines for the exhibition.
MC – Is classic style writing and street graffiti as we see it online (dominated by the exposure of male artists) inspirational for you? Or do you go to other sources for your own inspiration? Is it even relevant if a male did or did not create something you like?
SH – For us, it is irrelevant who created the picture. People’s pictures, regardless of female or male, who we know or like due to their attitude, we celebrate the most. In the beginning, we had mostly male role models when it came to style, but also because in the beginning you never knew for sure whether an artist was male or female. Today we are even more inspired by women who have managed to push their way through.
MC – Is the topic of feminism, or developing the female status within creative cultures the most important aspect in the creation of your artworks, or does ‘graffiti’ and its unwritten agenda (style, letters, innovation, competition, etc.) come first however offering you an outlet to convey other messages?
SH – Graffiti and the accompanying play with letters is always a guideline for us. Which we accept and is inevitable if we want to paint graffiti. After some of us had only painted our alter ego names for several years, the combination of political and feminist messages as a group, brought us important new input and energy. This is how we want to reach other people and try to make them think.
MC – Does your group reach out to other female artists who are not yet involved to broaden the network? Or do the other female artists come to you to be part of it?
SH – We ask female writers if they would like to be interviewed. Sometimes we also get tips or suggestions that we followed and included. Some collectives or individuals also approached us and want to connect or paint together. But due to our time restrictions and for security reasons, we normally don’t do that though. Nevertheless, we network automatically in all directions.
MC – How do female artists who are not active feminists respond to your work or your cause?
SH – Since we do not have feminism as an explicit topic and just want to celebrate women in graffiti, the resistance is limited. Feminism should not be the sole focus for us, it’s primarily about graffiti. Every now and then some people find it senseless that it is about women in graffiti because they want to get away from the stereotype. The worst is when guys think that something is being taken away from them, or who are afraid that they will all be branded as fools. However, the street bombers don’t complain when a film like “Unlike U” is released, and it only focuses on train painters.
MC – To broaden the greater public’s awareness of female writers, who are your heroes, and was there anyone that inspired you to follow your paths?
SH – There are many writers, female crews, and supporters who have been part of graffiti from the start. If you don’t know the synonyms of women, of course, you won’t notice them in public either. But women like Lady Pink, Sany from the “Girl Power” movie, or Martha Cooper, who have been documenting the graffiti scene since the beginning, are of course icons. But there are also many others who are not in the public eye that have not come out publicly as “woman” to be judged differently or torn down.
MC – When you are out in the ‘field’, do you think fellow male artists treat you any differently from their male counterparts?
SH – Yes and no. We have all had different experiences, and definitely not only negative ones. With the support of some male friends, we started our project in the first place and many thought it was very cool that there are women who paint. But also, something like being treated very nicely, or that people want to take care of you was part of it, which was kind of patronizing. We also know what it is like to be not taken seriously or reduced to how we look. Unfortunately, often our gender is automatically their first point of attack when they are aware that we are female. And for many, it becomes an issue as they start to find you somehow attractive, or interesting. This sometimes makes things complicated. We can understand that women are celebrated by men who do atypical things, and with whom they share their own passion. But there have also been some very unpleasant interactions where personal boundaries have been crossed. These are the types of guys that are unlikely to be respectful to women outside of graffiti. It’s a societal problem.
MC – If you could achieve one major achievement as a collective, what would that be?
SH – The first thing would be to encourage other women to continue doing what they love and not to be belittled! Additionally, that as many people as possible hear about the exhibition and see it. Just so that people understand the message, celebrate, and respect women in graffiti. Not forgetting that we manage to give girls a stage and encourage them to do their thing.
MC – If your whole crew had only one Montana Cans cap and can combination to use, which one would it be?
SH – Black-orange dot! Lavender, Royal Purple, Nappies, True Yellow, Black, and White!
All photography by Sisterhood