- Graffiti Grrlz: Performing Feminism in the Hip Hop Diaspora by Jessica Nydia Pabón-Colón
Graffiti Grrlz: Performing Feminism in the Hip Hop Diaspora. By Jessica Nydia Pabón-Colón. New York: New York University Press, 2018; 320 pp.; illustrations. $89.00 cloth, $30.00 paper, e-book available.
In Graffiti Grrlz: Performing Feminism in the Hip Hop Diaspora, Jessica Nydia Pabón-Colón argues that women and girls who write graffiti activate a visual call-and-response in hip hop culture as a refusal to be silenced by heterosexism and heteropatriarchy across the globe. She traces the history of women and girls who have participated in the hip hop element of graffiti writing, also known as the act of getting up and over (getting up a tag, piece, or production; and getting one over on the authorities). Pabón-Colón traces the history of women in graffiti back to the late 1970s starting with Lady Pink who began to write graffiti in 1979 and is considered the "godmother" or "first lady" of graffiti (5). While the majority of scholarly works on graffiti writing have centered on male writers, Pabón-Colón intervenes by focusing on the knowledge produced, performed, and shared among women graffiti artists as physical and digital sites of feminist community-making.
Importantly, Graffiti Grrlz underscores the significance of self-naming in public space by women and girls in the form of a graffiti tag, throw-up (usually a bubble letter piece designed in one color), piece, or production (a larger piece that is highly stylized and elaborate; sometimes created with a crew of artists) (2). A tag, usually a name done very quickly with one color and one line, claims an ontological and physical presence for women and girls since they are often rendered invisible in public spaces through the capitalist logic of property. The act of selecting one's own name to tag "establish[es] the writer's identity, and writers perform this identity—ideally distinct from their government-issued identification card—repetitively in order to proclaim their presence: I am here" (2). The more elaborate graffiti throw-ups, pieces, and productions operationalize graffiti women writers' knowledge of the art form, through a practice known as "bombing science" (3). It is often assumed only men who write graffiti are skilled in the science of bombing, but this collection of artists and images curated by Pabón-Colón troubles this patriarchal assumption, showing the nuanced and complex skillsets of these women writers.
In order to elevate the work and artistry of women graffiti writers, Pabón-Colón utilizes what she calls a "mashup methodology" that focuses on queer studies and hip hop studies. Working at the intersection of these disciplines, which are already inherently interdisciplinary, Pabón-Colón situates herself as a queer feminist ethnographer conducting interviews with over 100 graffiti women across the globe in 23 geopolitical sites such as Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Chile, and South Africa (27–28). As a result of this methodological framework, the book is poignantly polyvocal, providing many firsthand accounts of experiential knowledge and hip hop culture from women graffiti writers that other published books or volumes on graffiti art have yet to accomplish.
One of Pabón-Colón's theoretical interventions is her detailed assertion of a feminist masculinity, distinct from the ways other gender studies scholars have defined this identity. For instance, one scholar in particular who uses the phrase "feminist masculinity" is bell hooks. However, in Feminism Is For Everybody (2000), hooks deploys the term to suggest male-identified people can and should also invest and identify as feminists to move the human condition toward greater liberation. Pabón-Colón's usage of the term differs from hooks's quite significantly; this is an astute move because graffiti writing has been a hip hop element "conventionally and ideologically secured for cisgender male bodies" (43). Pabón-Colón's theoretical intervention is also significant because women graffiti writers face particular forms of degradation such as being [End Page 173] called lesbians/dykes or being accused of sexual activity with male graffiti...