By Eliza Buzacott-Speer
Though its reputation as a “boys club” persists, street artists who come about to be female — many shun the “female artist” trope — are claiming their location on the streets.
Street art by Baby Guerrilla on the back of the former Grand Theatre in Footscray’s Madden Square. (Supplied: Baby Guerrilla)
‘A wish to reclaim public place’
She goes by the name Child Guerrilla, and the figures she creates soar across the walls high above the streets of Melbourne, totally free from the confines of the classic, four-walled art gallery space.
The street artist, who prefers to stay anonymous, says there are several reasons — each private and political — why she operates on the street.
“I am interested in approaching space and perspective in new and innovative techniques that engage beyond the parameters of a gallery or standard art space,” she says.
“I also became involved due to the fact I was frustrated with the art world hierarchy.
“On the street I didn’t have to ask permission to express myself it was a way of taking back some of the energy from an often rarified, elite and exclusive art globe.”
Founder and director of Citylights Projects, Andrew Macdonald, who was heavily involved in the rise of street art in Melbourne, says street art has its roots in graffiti culture.
He says the graffiti movement reached its peak in Australia in the early 1990s, and then began to decline, leaving a gap out of which the street art movement grew.
I don’t believe that corporations and media moguls need to be the only ones in society permitted to have a voice within public space. I am motivated by freedom of speech, a need to reclaim public spot, to contribute to the urban atmosphere and finding an option to bland bureaucracy and vapid walls.
“What became street art — stencilling, postering, installations, painting on walls in a way that is stylistically distinct to graffiti — begins to fill that vacuum in the late 90s,” he says.
It is likely thanks to these graffiti roots that street art, in its beginnings, was a male-dominated movement, according to the Associate Dean at the Sydney College of The Arts, Jacqueline Millner.
“Not to say that even in its early manifestations there had been not women active, but proof suggests it was a fairly macho culture,” she says.
“Its roots in graffiti — such as the usually death-defying acts to spray out of reach spaces for kudos, and its conjunction with early rap — associates street art with a specific teenage bravado much more common amongst males.”
Mr Macdonald says the “risk-taking” elements of graffiti and street art tended to attract teenage boys, and that likewise, the timing and locations typically alienated ladies, for safety causes.
“There are numerous, many studies about what young teenage boys do in that time of life and it’s about proving themselves to themselves and each and every other and their peer groups, and risk-taking is element of that,” he says.
“Usually it’s young teenage boys sneaking out to do this at evening time.
“Girls have been less drawn to sneaking around the streets and train yards at evening time, and I guess there are apparent reasons for that.”
But Mr Macdonald says the present iteration of street art is far significantly less covert or illegal than that of the early days.
“It really is grow to be an increasingly legitimised culture and a professionalised culture,” he says.
Infant Guerrilla at function on a mural celebrating the power of connection, on the walls of Victoria University. (Supplied: Infant Guerrilla)
That is not to say that street art has lost its rebellious, defiant edge — far from it.
Child Guerrilla says street art allows ordinary men and women make their voices heard in a extremely public way.
“I do not believe that corporations and media moguls need to be the only ones in society permitted to have a voice within public space,” she says.
“I am motivated by freedom of speech, a wish to reclaim public spot, to contribute to the urban environment and locating an alternative to bland bureaucracy and vapid walls.”
But Mr Macdonald says that now, numerous street artists are “commissioned by the owner of a wall” and there is significantly less want to go underground.
He says this has broadened the spectrum of artists, including an increase in the participation of females.
‘You have to operate twice as hard’
But although there are an increasingly quantity of ladies getting into the scene, the gender balance nevertheless swings drastically towards males.
Charlotte Clemens, who, as one particular of the leaders of Neighborhood Art Workers, helped pioneer some of the earliest pieces of street art in Melbourne in the 1970s, says the male-dominated culture is a reflection of the wider art globe.
Vexta (correct) with French street artist Fafi, participating in the Curvy project on the walls of Citylights Projects’ Hozier Lane. (Supplied: Andrew Macdonald)
“[Street art] is quite a lot a male domain, but I feel the art scene is also fairly a lot a male domain as nicely,” she says.
Infant Guerrilla says this is reflected in the palpable sexism that comes in when street art “is taken off the street and placed in galleries, public festivals, private collections, or in the documentation of it”.
“Public art festivals with no any female street artists [or] graffiti artists represented or galleries and studios that specialise in street art [or] graffiti with barely any female artists is bad for art and poor for diversity in general, but it really is still a normal occurrence in 2015,” she says.
“All artist residencies ought to allow girls to bring their youngsters and babies.
“I discover it disappointing that the art globe mirrors mainstream power structures and values as an alternative of questioning them and is, in reality, behind on so several of these problems.”
Dr Millner says the gender disparity is also partly due to the legacy of “public space” being gendered — the social construct that encourages guys to engage in a lot more public space than females.
“There is also tiny doubt that one’s relationship to public space … is dependent on gender to some extent, at least in how women and guys are acculturated,” she says.
Vexta, a veteran figure in the Australian street art scene who is now based in New York, says it is challenging not to be conscious of the gender disparity.
“Any lady operating not in a traditionally female role notices the variations,” she says.
“A lot of time the time you have to perform twice as hard and be twice as very good to get noticed.”
Some artists, including American Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, have tackled this idea head-on.
Her Quit Telling Females To Smile street art campaign features pictures of women’s faces captioned with statements such as “my outfit is not an invitation” and “you are not entitled to my space”.
The campaign “requires women’s voices, and faces, and puts them in the street — producing a bold presence for women in an environment exactly where they are so typically produced to feel uncomfortable and unsafe,” Ms Fazlalizadeh’s site reads.
A mural by Infant Guerrilla on the walls of Victoria University, commissioned by the university. (Supplied: Andrew Haysom/Baby Guerrilla)
‘They can have the spotlight’
Like Infant Guerrilla and Vexta, Kaff-eine is making waves in the Australian street art scene.
Since she nonetheless had a corporate day job, Kaff-eine painted anonymously for the very first couple of years of her career, meaning people did not know if she was male or female.
Work by Vexta in the Retali8 project, which she also curated in collaboration with Citylight Projects. (Supplied: Andrew Macdonald)
“That truly suited me because my function did not get judged as being an ‘artist’s’ or ‘female artist’s’ perform and I was genuinely content with that,” she says.
“I’ve never ever genuinely viewed myself as a female artist — I’m an artist — and that’s how I’ve gone by way of most of my life.
“Even to look at the art, you can not inform which is by a male, which is produced by a female.”
Kaff-eine says street art has a sense of democracy that does not exist in the planet of curated art.
“Street art is a truly democratic medium, and that permits anybody to pick up a paintbrush or a pen or a marker and mark surfaces,” she says.
Melbourne-based street artist Klara says street art is “for every person”.
“I like that you never have to go to a gallery or museum to see some wonderful artwork,” she says.
“It really is also wonderful for men and women to have a voice anybody can do it, with or with no pretence.”
For Child Guerrilla also, this is part of the appeal.
“In Australia no-one particular can really stop any individual from going out onto the street and locating a wall,” Baby Guerrilla says.
Yes, I could be being an idealist as it does come in to play often, but I will only let it inspire me and make me function tougher.
“I like to believe very good art will often discover an audience the public will vote with their feet.”
Klara says that for this cause street art ought to be void of gender, but that this is not always the case.
“Most street artists’ gender is assumed. How do we know the media’s beloved Banksy is not a female?” she says.
But the overriding feeling among these women is that no matter the gender politics, they will preserve painting and generating.
“I feel females are generating their personal opportunities, banding together against exclusion, forming their own networks,” Baby Guerrilla says.
“Female artists are feisty … I also feel they are frustrated with unequal representation and opportunities.”
Operate by Perth-born, Melbourne-primarily based street artist Klara. (Supplied: Klara)
Klara says gender need to not have anything to do with good results.
“Yes, I could be becoming an idealist as it does come in to play occasionally, but I’ll only let it inspire me and make me operate tougher,” she says.
“Ladies aren’t represented by the media or these in the scene as considerably as our ‘male’ peers, but to me that’s not why I produce art.
“They can have the spotlight … I’ll just keep performing what I adore and am happy to offer any help or assistance to anybody who feels it has, or is, affecting them.
“And we undoubtedly have the sisterhood to match. There appears to be a distinct dynamic to what we do as ladies — we appear out for each and every other, help every other exactly where we can.”
Kaff-eine also says she does not apologise for “taking up public space, which is usually noticed as a masculine point”.
“I would hope that as we progress as a society — the a lot more that ladies really feel able to engage in public space — I would hope that extends to visual arts and street art as properly,” she says.
Subjects: arts-and-entertainment, street-art, contemporary-art, popular-culture, neighborhood-and-society, melbourne-3000, australia
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