An international team of heavy hitting women in street art are the centerpiece of the Wynwood District this weekend as Jeffrey Deitch returns to Miami to co-curate Women on the Walls. Reprising a more central role for Wynwood Walls that he played when Tony Goldman first established this outdoor mural playground, Deitch says he is reserving center stage exclusively for the women this year as a way of highlighting their history and growing importance in the graffiti/street art scenes around the world.
"It's to correct the historical imbalance," says Deitch as he talks about the new wall murals painted this week and the accompanying gallery exhibition showcase that celebrates the contributions of outstanding women artists in a scene that, with a few notable exceptions, has been primarily run by the guys.
"After this historical imbalance there was something that needed to be addressed about the misperception that graffiti is just a boys club," says the enthusiastic bespectacled curator who shares the role for this show with the team of Janet Goldman, Jessica Goldman Srebnick, Meghan Coleman, and Ethel Seno.
As with the Living Walls Atlanta festival on the streets in 2012, this show gives full voice to women in a holistic and powerful way that rather redefines the context of a graffiti/street art/tattoo/skater scene which sometimes veers too close to being overtly sexist, if not outright misogynist in it's depiction of women and their roles.
Maybe it's the scene itself -- much of the graff/street art scene has always had partially skewed perceptions about the gals because they were traditionally populated almost exclusively by males. Since work on the streets is a mirror that reflects society back to itself, it makes sense that we're looking at a funhouse on the walls sometimes. But you don't have to accept the narrative entirely and shows like this argue for greater authorship of the visual dialogue. Right now in civic life you'll see strong positive images as more women are assuming more history-making leadership roles than ever, but there are also a lot messages in media and pop culture that portray women as little more than one dimensional giggly jiggly sex toys.
For Parisian artist Fafi, a show with this theme could not be more timely.
"The atmosphere about women these days is really fucked up, especially towards younger ones," says the street artist as she relates the sentiment of conversations at a late dinner she recently had with co-participants Miss Van and Maya Hayuk.
"There's something in the air that's telling us we absolutely need to talk about empowering women in our female artist life," she explains as she describes the condescending and denigrating attitudes she still encounters from some men even after she has been painting on the streets and in studio for more than two decades.
Fafi says that there are still some who tell her and her female peers that what they do is cool "for a woman", and more worryingly, "it's something that comes up more and more often nowadays."
"It seems like in 2013 it is almost a passé sort of gesture that a bunch of women would have to get together to make a statement when we've all been doing this for so long," says Maya Hayuk, whose bright geometric patterns were on the forefront of a current street art fascination with the abstract. "Hopefully in the future we don't have to do 'all women' or 'all men' or 'all anything' shows," she says sort of wistfully, "We can do shows on 'all awesome'."
So perhaps Deitch and Co. are rebalancing much more than they realize by creating this environment that values the contributions of artists who also happen to be women. Whether it was their original intention or not, the experience this week for many participants has been about empowerment -- and networking. The complexity of the list itself speaks to the varied and unique stylistic influences that are now brought to the street by women and a certain validation of these voices is reflected in the fact that many here have had commercial success on their own terms.
"I think it's a great privilege to be here with these women artists, to be in a show with them, and to create this work in a public space," says the Polish born Brooklynite Olek, who has made a singular name for herself on the street in the last handful of years by covering bicycles, shopping carts, public sculptures, even people with her hand-crocheted pink and purple camouflage. We have called her the Christo/Jeanne Claude of the streets, which gives an apt sense of the skin-like quality of her wrapping as well as the interventionist instinct she follows, but it doesn't quite tap the personal level of involvement Olek has with her pieces.
For Wynwood she has been hand-crocheting covers for the large heavy boulders that dot the inner grounds of the complex in a blunt and rugged manner. "Of course I love these rocks because I like to highlight things in the existing environment and to give them a new life, a new beginning," she says while sitting on the grass joining the pieces of her new coverings by hand.
Does she think the energy and atmosphere here is positive? "All the girls are really wonderful and I love working with them -- we are all just working here, eating, talking, and I think we have made some friendships that will last a very long time."
So why does Deitch think it is important to create a show that specifically draws attention to women artists at this time?
"It's a very simple thing," he says, "The first reason is that some of the major talents in street art are women." He then speaks about the individual contributions and talents of some of the participants this week before he comes to Lady Pink, the NYC graffiti artist who painted trains in the 70s and who went on to serve as an active role model to girls and young women around the world, giving them confidence to assert and explore their creative talents. "We wanted to celebrate Lady Pink, whose work is better than ever."
Speaking of the 70s, the other woman in the show whose work extends back to those times is photographer Martha Cooper, who shares her work here for this article and whose images of the new walls will be projected in the gallery show tonight. Deitch can not be more pleased with the results of the work from this new collection of artists, and traffic on the streets from fans has been thick and exuberant, whether it is for South Africa's Faith 47 or London's Lakwena.
"These walls by Maya Hayuk, Miss Van and Sheryo are outstanding and as fresh as ones that many male street artists are doing now," he says as he talks about the new collection of work this year.
Singapore's Sheryo, who also spends much of her time in Brooklyn, says that her walls actually reflect the extended two year aerosol "spraycation" around the world that she's been on with her male cohort The Yok (her assistant this week). "We have been chasing summer weather, we love warm weather!" she says as she looks up at her wall. "My characters are seen painting, surfing, drinking rum coconuts and chilling out around palm trees and lush forest environments, which is what we usually do on our vacations."
As with many of the women in Women on Walls Sheryo has been in a number of these street art festival type of events as well as numerous ad hoc painting sessions on roofs, climbing fences, hitting walls, all primarily with men. How does the environment change when all this female energy hits the streets? Not to trash the guys, but Sheryo's response is very similar to women we spoke with here and at Atlanta's Living Walls last year.
"It is a whole lot of fun! Girls are way more caring and there are a lot more hugs going down, which I love." To be fair, boys probably give good hugs too.
For Fafi, the motivation is also simple for her and many of the solid talents involved in this show, "We felt it's the time now more than ever for more "Girl Power". The goal of all this is to inspire younger girls to do the best they can, to search for new ideas, and to come up with something new and different as soon as it gets too easy and comfortable. I want them to be inspired."
Some male alumni of previous Wynwood Walls shows gather with many of the Women on the Walls crew for a group shot here by Martha Cooper. Front row from left to right: Kashink, Janet Goldman, Lady Pink, Miss Van, Aiko and Maya Hayuk,. Second row from left to right: Shepard Fairey, Olek, Jessica Goldman, Sheryo, Lakwena, Jeffrey Deitch, Faith 47 and Dal East. Back row from left to right: Ron English, Fafi, Myla and Kenny Scharff. Wynwood Walls. Miami, Florida. December 2013. (photo © Martha Cooper for Wynwood Walls)
Women on the Walls is on display in the Wynwood District of Miami. For more on Wynwood Walls click here.
Artists included are Aiko, Claw Money, Fafi, Faith 47, Jess & Katie, Kashink, Lady Pink, Lakwena, Martha Cooper, Maya Hayuk, Miss Van, Myla, Olek, Shamsia Hassan, Sheryo, Swoon, and Too Fly.
With Special Thanks to Ethel Seno.
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