- Be About It:Graffiteras Performing Feminist Community
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“Crah-zis Crew,” Naska corrected my mispronunciation, “not Crazys Crew! Although we are loca!” Surrounded by the bohemian vibe and décor of Galindo restaurant in Santiago’s breathtaking Bellavista neighborhood, graffiteras (female graffiti writers) Naska and Shape punctuate their explanation of their crew name with fits of laughter, the kind born of a private joke between friends. Founded in 2000 as Chile’s first all-female1 graffiti crew, in 2010 Crazis Crew included Naska, DanaPink, Shape, Bisy, Cinemas, Eney, and Adri. The original Crazis, Naska and DanaPink, began painting together because they shared both the experience of isolation as women writers among men and the unrelenting desire to “write their voices on the walls of the city” (Crazis Crew 2011).2 Crazis Crew prioritizes collective projects; their works are “marked by very feminine characteristics” and painted to convey an attitude of personal and collective expression, to both integrate and distinguish the different styles of each graffitera. The crew’s group productions3 have a light, cartoonish quality, with rotund characters and highly stylized organic beings such as insects, plants, animals, young and old people in native clothing—all part of a pleasurable surrealistic natural landscape.
Despite a common root in US hip hop graffiti aesthetics, Latin American graffiti productions generally differ from the North American or European productions that most often are perceived as representative examples of graffiti subculture. North American and European graffiti art tends to emphasize photorealistic imagery with an aggressive composition and less immediately legible letters, producing a more “menacing” impact. This style is characterized as authentic or “real” graffiti and anything else is considered street art or a mural. It is less approachable and less pleasurable to non–graffiti writing spectators who have been conditioned to associate graffiti (in contrast to murals) with a reduced quality of life and urban decay. In Santiago (and in Rio de Janeiro), the public generally perceives multicolored graffiti art as a beautification of the cityscape. Graffiti art functions as a “utopian performative” that when produced and received can uplift a community—the artists who produce the work, as well as the passersby who are affected by it (Dolan 2005). Graffiti art is simply not criminalized to the same degree as it is in the US and parts of Europe—sometimes due to differences in social definitions and aesthetic distinctions. One crucial distinction in Brazil is the form of writing called pixação that, like hip hop graffiti art in the US, is always considered vandalism. If you are caught writing pixação (thin, monochromatic, illegible, hieroglyphic-type letters painted in the most difficult to access—and thus dangerous—public spaces) you can be shot on-site by paramilitary troops, with no questions asked. In contrast, if caught drawing characters and multicolored [End Page 89] letters, which are considered art, you may be reprimanded, but you can go home unharmed. Aside from pixação, Chilean and Brazilian graffiti artists perform in a kind of gray space of legality: they may be fined, given community service, or applauded for their creations.
The graffiteras of Crazis Crew, in addition to painting for pleasure—whether it is done illegally or legally—persistently cultivate the means to make a living from their graffiti art. When we met in August 2010, they expressed the hope that one day they would be able to support themselves collectively through their art for public and private monies. Little by little they’re accomplishing this goal. In April 2011, the Ruth Cardoso Youth Center in São Paulo, Brazil, commissioned Crazis Crew to design a production as part of the exhibition Art Alameda da Rua (Alameda Street Art). And in November 2012, the members of Crazis Crew produced Polanco Graffestival, the first Chilean festival of graffiti murals in Valparaiso.4
As I learned through my fieldwork, Chilean and Brazilian graffiteras have been building all-female crews and collectives for more than a decade. This in spite of the...