Women and Graff
On a very early Sunday morning in Los Angeles I met with a female group of Graff artists who were on a mission to throw their pieces up on a wall. Some were strangers to each other, and some already knew one another. Although I was a stranger with a camera I was immediately welcomed with conversations as if I had known these ladies my whole life.
The group consisted of engineers, entrepreneurs, mothers and fine artists but most importantly they were all strong women who don’t allow the standards of modern society stop them from being themselves.
Among the group were prominent names like Wink, who has been catching LA trains for over 10+ years. Small in size and sweet as candy, she carries herself with confidence that goes unmatched. We Play Nice, who uses caricature as her signature, sported a cast on her leg due to injury but was still ready for the days adventures that lay ahead.
Once the group was complete we set off to our destination, and immediately had a setback. The location, an abandoned bunker hidden in plain sight and entering meant going through one of the few holes made in the chain link fence, was now bolted shut.
Our guide Ms.Yellow, a local resident and muralist, explained how it was a common meeting ground for writers and even used for a music video once. Which makes you question the worlds view on what is accepted form of self expression. Same location but only allowed to use if you cough up a certain dollar amount to the city?
In California the penalty for a person being caught doing graffiti can be a fine up to $1,000 and a year of jail time. All that for an artist who chooses to express themselves through the city and sometimes in locations that are totally hidden.
Needless to say, these ladies were creative rebellions who remain true to themselves regardless of consequence.
Ms. Yellow mentioned another location next to the ocean, but it meant we needed to get our hands a little dirty for a hike. Everyone was willing and ready so off we went, down a rabbit hole of sand and rocks. In a world that continues to represent woman by sexualizing them and putting them against each other, it was a breath of fresh air to be surrounded by the complete opposite of that toxicity.
After a 30 minute hike and helping each other up a small cement building, the ladies organized their paint supplies and began to sketch out their pieces.
The energy was filled with laughter and a deeper understanding of each other. We spoke about the obstacles we face as woman face, personal stories, and gave each other advice. Most importantly, we simply enjoyed each others presence. This was a space to be ourselves and be amongst peers.
Lucy, well known LA writer, expressed the idea of this day as "a way to connect and network with different females". Recently having done another all female paint session she had discovered one of the writers, Aspek, had recently passed away. This motivated her to continue to bring together a community of women who support one another and creatively get down. Not only did she achieve a successful day of new and old friendships, she cultivated a way to pay respect to Aspek.
As the sun began to set we realized the tide was coming in, and everyone began to wrap things up and place their final touches on their pieces. Hungry and worried about the rising waters, we were still happy with the results and full of adrenaline from the day.
After a few celebratory photos we made our way down, and walked along the shore back to our cars. The group decided it was time to grab some food and spend the remainder of our time in positivity and socializing. As I sat there and listened to different stories, I was fascinated by the realities Ms. Yellow and Lucy experienced traveling abroad to perform workshops for adolescent girls. Being a female artist in some countries is actually extremely dangerous, to the point where one needs to be protected.
My mind still questions our society's standard of what is acceptable art. Shouldn't any type of creative expression be welcomed so long as no one is being hurt? How are some artists glorified for pushing their art on the streets such as ObeyGiant and Banksy while others are punished as criminals who probably can't afford bailing fees or fines up to a thousand dollars. Do we truly live in a world where gender plays no role in your status and safety?
Why has society still struggled to create a safe space for womx of all ages especially the younger generation? This question has swirled around my thoughts for some time but luckily my curiosity to find this space led me to this experience. My passion to use my lens for representation introduced me to Lucy, a true feminist who runs Montana Shop LA- a pioneering spray paint company which began 20 years ago in Spain.
The world of art is a fascinating one but the fine art world can be intimidating, and like many art enthusiasts I wanted to experience raw, and natural talent. I found street art has no use for money, and it goes against the status quo. This is exactly what art should be.
As we said our goodbyes to head home I felt a certain ambience that sets this new culture of graff writers different from the rest: no egos, no hate. In their eyes, regardless of skill level everyone is encouraged to do their best and have a good time. What once was a male dominated club has now become a gender neutral community of friendships, culture and freedom of expression.
Article and photography by Crista Abarca, first generation latinx-american, visual artist based in Los Angeles.
Wink, as we wait for the location to be clear before moving forward.
Tease, Hawaii native who uses caricature, writes her name as we try to decide our new location.
Oaks, creating the lines for her piece after finishing the fill. To the left, Ms. Yellow, well known for her unique muralism and caricature.
Liver, a US veteran, fills in her detailed piece.
Oaks places Aspek's name in her piece. In graff culture it is normal to put a persons name or alias in your piece to pay your respects and/or show your love for them.
Lucy writes out We Play Nice, fellow female artist, in her piece as a final touch.
Toch, LA artist who specializes in lettering and signage finishes up her piece with an MTN paint can.
From top left to bottom right: Toch, Lucy, Wink, Oaks, Liver, We Play Nice, Ms.Yellow, Tease