I think I surprised our cute work-experience boy by showing proper interest in his latest bit of street-art. Men always seemed surprised when I say I'm into graffiti, as though I’ve confessed a love for amateur porn, or membership to the dead-hand-gang; apparently the graff-world is for men only. We might catch street-art in the “womanisphere” on rare occasions-French Vogue's sick 2009 graff photo-shoot for example- but rarely do I expect to hear about female fans or ‘writers’. Why does graffiti seemingly come with a 'not for girls' tag-line?
|French Vogue - Mario Sorrenti - 2009|
Is graff-‘writing’ some sort of male-only ritual? The dude’s spray-can being a kind of phallic symbol, with his finished work - part territorial piss-marking, part artistic spunk – being such a god damn manly end-product that us girlies wont ‘get it’ without bulking up our inner-male and investing in some huge, metallic, strap-on substitute..?
Recently I worked with Australian graffiti artist Anthony Lister. His ‘fanboy’ prints and latest book – littered with photos of him and his mates with their balls poking out etc. – showed how typically ‘laddy’ graff can be. But away from the testosterone-filled feuds, macho bragging and teenage high-jinx, I reckon street art has a different, feminine edge.
|Anthony Lister - Finishing off some graff.|
I’ve just got into the American (female) street-artist Swoon. Her work is totally amazing – and she makes me re-consider graffiti’s message. Swoon doesn’t need to accessorise-up a Balaklava, or keep a shank in her knickers. She works in broad daylight, often alongside her fans, pasting whimsical paper creations onto uninhabited buildings; even non-believers struggle to define it as vandalism. Rather than a spray-paint flex of the artist’s muscles, her works are softer, delicate, word-shy and often striking in their silence.
|Swoon - NY|
That’s not to say her art lacks meaning or drive - after all, isn’t that what graff is all about? For example, Swoon’s latest creations saw her working in association with the Konbit Shelter to help rebuild Haiti in a way which ‘acknowledge[d] the importance of soulfulness and beauty in people’s daily lives.’ The girl has a message just like any other graff-writer, but perhaps it’s in a different language to what we expect?
Of course I don’t want to say that hard graffiti is purely the domain of men, or that sensitive street-art is “women’s stuff”. In fact, when Lister showed me through the pages of his book – the one I’d thought was just men and cocks – he pointed to the beautiful graff-work he’d done to transform his family home. He too appreciated a side to graffiti that was beautiful, domestic even.
And just glancing at my Terry Lynn Kingstonlogic album reminds me that women too can look fierce with a spray can.
I hope women continue to get involved in street-art, above-and-beyond buying some Vivienne Westwood graff-print threads. Female graffiti-artists such as Swoon may have been the quieter voice of the streets, but they are no less striking.
And hopefully, one day, my love of graffiti won’t have to be my dirty little secret.