Saturday, May 31, 2014

Femme(s) & Street Art: Femininity and Urban Ethos

If one walks for more than five minutes nearly anywhere in Paris stumbling upon street art-- Space Invader's retro videogame characters above street labels, Levalet's site specific figures, or the alien-like profiles of MG La Bomba-- is almost inevitable. Yet, like graffiti, it is a form of public art that is often depicted as a masculine endeavor. Galerie de Art Urbain's recent exhibit, Femme(s) & Street Art,  seeks to correct such a public image by exploring works by female street artists largely exploring representations of femininity in literature, cinema, and popular culture.

Running between March 8 and March 22 the exposition consisted of work from FKDL, Stoul, Nathalie Victoire, Vinie, Doudou Style, Jessica LeGuillon, Shaz Arts, and TonyOne. It was released in parallel with a separate exhibit in the halls of the 10th arrondissement local government building which sought to display street art in a public space open to a more general audience.
The gallery owners, Edna Mensah and Samia Eddequiouaq, opened Pari(s) Urbain in June of 2013 as part of a final project for their degrees. Edna noted: “It was our objective to valorize street art and to discover new talent…some of yet which is still unknown.” The Femme et Street Art exhibit was designed with the goal of celebrating the International Day of the Woman, and the show opened on March 8, with live painting by the artists around the front of the gallery. Women are involved in street art, but they are a minority, Edna added. Samia expanded: “The street art scene remains a masculine retreat, in general, and with this exposition we decided to put woman in a place of honor, on the wall with works that reflect on the woman…feminine street art is still not well known, and very few male street artists represent women in their works.” Male artists like FKDL and TonyOne are exceptional in that women are represented in 90% of their works.
The show reflects both representations of femininity in street art, and representations of femininity in popular culture at large by male and female street artists. Iconic images of Marilyn Monroe, Betty Page, and other pinup girls share wall space with Vinie's iconic but unique afro-haired woman.

Vinie. Pink is Beautiful. 2013. Aerosol et acrylique su toile. 70cm x 50cm. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce.
A collage aesthetic dominated, some including the face of celebrities as the face of figures. FKDL, the collagiste who in solo or collaboration developed most of the collage works, explained that he draws from his vast collection of publications from the 1920s to the 1970s. For this show he draws from an era where femininity was strictly regulated, but even so, puts these female figures “into life, walking down the street” by pasting them on the walls. FKDL’s work in the exposition was drawn from a previous show he had organized himself, titled, “Cinema et Cineaste,” an exploration of cinema images. For the show he worked with four artists, collaborating over a period of weeks, and when working with one artist, keeping the paintings of the others hidden so that they would not influence the other works. The show explored the woman “in movement.”
Stoul's work featured anime style female figures in brightly colored clothing, many in close ups, and one in collaboration with FKDL where Stoul's iconic figure stands in for Marilyn Monroe, her dress composed of clippings about the starlet. Is the piece a commentary on the way in which, in street art culture, female members are often sexualized, demonized, or lionized? Or the intense influence that U.S. media has played both in the street art and graffiti movement and in global representations of femininity? Stoul suggested that her work addresses questions of the feminine, but also the feminist. “[My work explores] the feminine because there is a kind of glamour, but also I am feminist in my life, my discourse, which is not necessarily represented in my work…In any case…there is yet work to be done for the rights of women at the international level and also here in France.”
FKDL et STOUL. Marilyn. Acrylique et collage. 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce.

Stoul. Nerf Rebelle. Aerosol sur toile. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce.
My favorite piece was FKDL's play on Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," which included a background from the book version of the story, a cartoon figure of Melanie being attacked by bird-CCTV camera hybrids, pointing to the ways in which surveillance, both social and governmental, haunt women in and outside of street art milieus.
FKDL et Bereens. Bird's Brother. Aerosol, acrylique sur toile. 130cm x 97 cm. Galerie Pari(s) Urbain. Paris, France. March 2014. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Asking DouDou about her perspective on the theme of the exposition she reflected: “When I think of the woman and street art, I think about birth, the beginning of life. The heart of a woman is very sensitive…woman can be very strong, but also behind that, there is a fragility, and so I try to depict both…strength and weakness.”

DouDou/Do U Art. Series: Do U Spleen? Acrylique sur papier. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

In the collage pieces 1950s media prevailed. Such a retro sensibility also emerged in Nathalie Victoires work, one of which was a combination of anglophone comic speech bubbles with snappy quotes like: "Great sufferin' snails its a girl! And whadda girl!" positioned alongside blackbook pieces and more abstract drawings.
Nathalie Victoire. Dara. 2013. Photographie numerique. 40cm x 60cm. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
These comic/digital image mixtures are Nathalie Victoire’s signature. She mixes cartoons, graffiti, drawing, and classical images. Loving to “mix and create anachronisms.” Since she was young she has been interested in hip hop and graffiti culture, cartoons, and enjoys mixing different tendencies. The “Dara” piece was the result of Victoire’s desire to do something on the theme of the beautiful warrior woman. Dara is a Viking, a persona that Victore found appealing because of her “beauty and strength.” 
Nathalie Victoire. OdalisK. 2013. Photographie numerique. 40cm x 60cm. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
In the room below, Victoire's piece, "OdalisK" refers to the art history icon, "Odalisque," as a high point of women's objectification in the plastic arts. OdalisK is joined in bed by two graffiti characters, industrial and lustrous, modernizing the scene slightly. Does the appearance of the characters change the fact that the figure is still the object of a sexualizing gaze? The scene is ambiguous, pointing to the murky terrain that female writers navigate on a daily basis.
 OdalisK, Victoire elaborated, is a drawing that came from her attempt to imagine OdalisK within a planetary space, while also using graffiti lettering and texture. It is an experiement in creating “interstellar graffiti, not urban, but interstellar…an idea of the urban future that also has a sensibility of being from the past.”
Although, in Victoires estimation, the works in the exposition are not explicitly polemical, the artists and their work offer an alternative social model. She reflected:

En cette periode de crise en France, avec…tous ce qui passent en les elections municipaux actuellement, je trouve que qu’est-ce si passe aujourd’hui ici [galerie] reflet de la veritable visage de la jeunesse française, c’est à dire, une France ouvert, une France multicouleur, une France profondement feminine aussi, je ne dirai pas feministe mais feminine, et fort, et belle, et international, et pas du tout dans le firmement de la port de l’autre. Non, pas de tout. Vivre la France!

In this period of crisis in France…with what happened in the municipal elections, I find that what is happening here [in the gallery] reflects a face of the French youth, which is to say, an open France, a multicolored France, a France that is also profoundly feminine. I do not say feminist, but feminine, and strong, beautiful, and international, without closing the door to the other. Not at all. Long live, France!

In this declaration, Victoire suggests that a feminine street art offers a different ethos and ethic for urban living that is open to difference, and the other.

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