I’m Totally Watching this Documentary About Badass Women in Street Art

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Anarkia. Photos courtesy of Alexandra Henry.

Fangirling about street art is a lot like fangirling about anything else: you have this idea about what an artist will be like in real life. You imagine their personalities and stories based on what pieces you’ve seen. You feel like you know them after seeing their murals in multiple cities or gazing at photos of their work online and in books.

So I’m naturally fangirling over an upcoming documentary called “Street Heroines,” directed, shot and produced by Alexandra Henry. The film features so many great artists — Gilf!, Lady Pink, Elle — and the super important and iconic photographer Martha Cooper.

In speaking with these powerhouses, Henry also brings to light the challenges of being a female street artist but also what makes the female street artist community so strong and important.

“I decided to focus on women because I realized that not much literature or film existed on what they were bringing to the urban environment,” Henry wrote in an email. “After my first encounter on the street with female artists, it dawned on my that I had never considered women to be part of the culture. Just always thought of it as male-centric, like many other things. So I wanted to create more awareness on what they were doing, because personally I could identify with the beauty and messaging going on in their work.”

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Miss 163.

Henry traveled everywhere from New York to Paris to Brazil, discovering artists by word of mouth or through exploring the streets. This makes for a rich variety of artists, both in terms of aesthetic style and personal backgrounds.

“Street Heroines is comprised of women from many countries, especially in North & South America. Brazilian, American, Mexican, Japanese, Chilean, French, Puerto Rican, Argentine, Chilean, etc.,” wrote Henry. “The community is pretty tight, so once I met Miss 1.6.3. from the Bronx in New York in 2012, she told me about other artists and also informed me about an all female street art festival called Nosotras Estamos en La Calle in Lima, Peru.”

Legs

Legs.

Henry sees the project as a way of “preserving culture” for the next generation and helping viewers look at their surroundings in a different way.

“I have had countless friends and strangers, men and women alike, tell me stories of a beautiful piece of art in the street that they noticed after hearing about my project,” wrote Henry. “They even send me photos or tell me when they’ve met some one doing graffiti or street art. The fact that this project is starting conversations on issues like domestic violence, sexual harassment, economic disparity and climate issues, among others, is very important for us as a society to find solutions.”

Check out the trailer below and support the documentary’s Kickstarter campaign here.

Official Trailer | STREET HEROINES A Film By Alexandra Henry from Alexandra Henry on Vimeo.

 

 

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Faces to the Names: Women’s Issues in Street Art

Women Are Heroes via JR on Vimeo

As an art form, public art is all about scale: the larger the wall, the better. In transforming huge walls into canvases, street artists have found a way to transform the visual aesthetic, but also function, of a given space. Walls become not just surfaces for painting but areas for social commentary.

Since starting this blog, I’ve been interested in the ways that street art can create an experience — not only aesthetically, but through its ability to spark dialogue. Lately, I’ve especially been interested in pieces that address women’s issues, from violence against women to public perception. Check out a few of my favorite projects:

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Photo by vincent desjardins

Women are Heroes 

JR often works with portraits, printing large-scale faces and affixing them to public spaces. For this piece, he traveled to Brazil to capture the faces and eyes of women. He then transformed these into large-scale pieces that covered Moro de Providencia favela. The work references the fact that women “are the primary victims of war, crime, rape and political or religious fanaticism.” The project has also taken place in Kenya, India and more.

The simplicity of the project lies in its ability to put a face to the statistics, to humanize the many women who becomes just numbers in reports of violence. The project have gone viral and eventually resulted in a book also called Women are Heroes.

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Stop Telling Women to Smile

I’m also a fan of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s ‘Stop Telling Women to Smile‘ project which has now been installed in various cities. The artist takes a similar approach to JR in that she approaches women to draw their portraits. Fazlalizadeh also hosts meetings so that women can share their negative experiences with cat calling. She creates a safe space for them to discuss these incidents; the phrases included with the portraits are often taken from what the women share. Her work has appeared both on the streets — everywhere from New York to Paris — and in the gallery setting.

Fazlalizadeh told the New York Times“Women need to start talking about their daily moments because it’s the smaller stuff that affects the larger things, like rape, domestic violence, harassment in the workplace.” The pieces reverse the male gaze, throwing back the action of scrutiny with a confidence and assertion that is palpable no matter the city.

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Photo by shoehorn99.

Portrait of Sylvia Elena 

Swoon creates intricate paper pieces that she often posts in public spaces. A multifaceted artist, she also creates installations and floating pieces. In 2008, visitors to Honey Space could descend into a cave-like space underground. There, they encountered the Portrait of Sylvia Elena, a paper piece featuring a teenager in her quinciañera dress. A victim of the violence against women in Juarez, Sylvia Elena died at a young age. Swoon met with her mother and learned more about the other dead or disappeared women in the region and created this piece.

After its initial installation, other iterations of the piece appeared in outdoor spaces in San Francisco and Mexico. Paper, a fragile medium, peels away and disintegrates eventually — reinforcing the tragic nature of the violent incidents.

Burst of Colors in NYC

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New York City gives me a sensation that I can only explain as the prickly feeling you get when someone is about to tell you something. You’re ready to receive the message, excited because something tells you it will be a good one.

When I arrived early on a Thursday morning, my body had no trouble adjusting to the jet lag. It also didn’t struggle with weaving itself through subways crowds or streets full of pedestrians. The only challenge: the glorious yet tiring heat.

Luckily I had a couple of sightings to keep my mind off getting lost in the muggy streets while hauling my luggage. During a stroll on the High Line with a delicious People’s Pops popsicle in hand (Strawberry Basil), I came upon this piece.

The bold style and signature tipped me off right away: it’s a piece by Eduardo Kobra, a Brazilian street artist. The mural makes its way into your field of vision when you walk the High Line. It’s a rare moment to see street art from higher up than the ground — you can almost envision yourself in the position of the artist himself. Street art, after all, is about height and perspective so seeing it from the ground sometimes doesn’t do the work enough justice.

The patterns on the piece (those tights!) are fantastic and lend a super recognizable aesthetic to Kobra’s work. He’s depicted everyone from Dalí to Einstein is this signature style. It reminds of something between a colorful quilt and an explosion of bright pixels. Covered in these distinct colors, each scene and person seems to take on a different shape.

I continued to my next adventure and my friend pointed out this Roy Lichtenstein piece in the subway station. So while onlookers watched a subway performer I snapped a photo.roylichtenstein_theworldisacanvas

The “Times Square Mural” is six feet tall and 53 feet long; amazingly, Lichtenstein completed it three years before his death. It’s got references to all kinds of cultural history, like the 1939 and 1964 world’s fairs. I am a big fan of Lichtenstein’s work but normally see his pieces at galleries or museums. Seeing one of his pieces in a public space gave it a different sort of magic, especially with a crowd standing underneath it. New York City’s past and present seemed to come together and I felt then and there that the city had a rich history I needed to know more about.

Alas, my trip was only a couple of days. But I walked away with the feeling that I would be back again. And I KNOW there is plenty more street and public art to discover.