May 22, 2014

Lady Who Rocks: Lady Pink

Pinterest is a gateway (drug) for inspiration. Note that. So one night I'm with my insomnia and scrolling through yet another pinning wormhole and I come across this wonderful shot of a woman wearing a tank top that read: Abuse of power comes at no surprise. The photo, the woman, the saying, all of it fascinated me to investigate where it all came from and after a quick stroke of the keys I became aware of the bad assery that is the godmother of graffiti art, Lady Pink.

Mare 139 and Lady Pink
Born in Ecuador, and raised in Queens, Lady Pink began writing graffiti in the late '70s after being introduced to it when she was a student at High School Art & Design in Manhattan. From 1979 to 1985 her canvases became the rolling subways of New York City. Her vibrant and socially provocative style led her to become one of the most prolific artists in the hip-hop subculture, and her running with noted tag crews like TPA (The Public Animals) and TC5 (The Cool 5)  and being the only woman in their midst led to her standing out strong.

Though Lady Pink claims that she wasn't the first woman to begin tag as art expression, she is considered to be one of the main catalysts for giving women a voice in the art:
“When I first started, women were still trying to prove themselves, through the 70′s, that women could do everything guys could do. The feminist movement was growing very strong and as a teenager I think it affected me without me realizing that I was a young feminist. The more guys said “you can’t do that”, the more I had to prove them wrong. I had to hold it up for all my sisters who looked up to me to be brave and courageous and to prove that I could do what guys could do. We defend our artworks with our fists and our crazy courage. When you have guys that disrespect you you’re gonna have to teach them a lesson, otherwise they are going to keep walking all over you. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is out there, it’s not easy. But it also reflects what the art world in general is: 80% white males. So you have to fight tooth and nail, bitch and scream, be loud and be large to get respect.”
Today, Lady Pink continues to pound the concrete and create eye-catching murals, but she has also become active in teaching, and conducts workshops and lectures at numerous northeast college campuses.

Bomb It conducted an interview with her awhile back where she discusses her career, what inspires her, and her creative drive in today's street art culture. What stuck out to me is her further comments on how women aided to the street art movements in the '70s and how they used this particular expression of art to showcase their own brand of femininity:
As the times have changed and feminism has caught up with society, a lot of females are into street art and graffiti because they’re just being made stronger, tougher, sturdier, and they’re not all feminine and dainty and delicate and need to be protected by some man. Girls are braver and they are just as foolish and reckless as the next guy and they’re out their showing their thing. And I think it’s a cross-section of our society- you see women in sports, women in the military, women invading every aspect of our world and the same thing with graffiti- they can paint large, they can express themselves just as boldly as any guy and there’s nothing holding them back. I’d like to think I set an example earlier on that no matter what size you are or gender or anything, it just takes a lot of dedication and a lot of courage and a lot of heart to get this done, and a lot of women have followed suit. I’m certainly not the very first one.  
Her thoughts on feminism are equally as wonderful. I like that she does things her way. As she doesn't need to verbalize a label, but rather shows her unique brand of femininity by letting her work speak for itself:
I’m not really much of an activist so I don’t see why people put me in that sort of a role. I just do what I do and go about my business, being a strong female so folks seem to think that I’m a role model in that way. I like to speak on women’s issues because they are relevant to me and in my life. The sexism that I've encountered, it’s not like I’m trying to be a feminist per se but I’m just speaking out about the injustices going around that women and children and minorities endure. 
Adopt me please.

And since we are (still) on the subject of feminism...remember the tank top that Lady Pink sports in the first photo? The story behind that points at NYC conceptual artist, Jenny Holzer, who earned notoriety in the 1980s for her post-modern feminist "truisms". She designed the shirt, and Lady Pink sported it about NYC while Holzer took snapshots. Talk about feminism in motion!

Since I come from the South where graffiti is pretty much a frowned-upon felony, New York street art and its lifestyle has always fascinated me. My paltry knowledge of the hissing can life is just from seeing it in films like 1982's Wild Style (which Lady Pink starred in) and Rembrandt from one of my favorite films, 1979's The Warriors. Completely square dance, right? Well, I've always wondered how artists like Lady Pink can get away with tagging, especially if there are some grouchy folks out there who don't see the bold strokes and vivid colors as art. In the interview, Lady Pink does give insight on how street artists do in fact struggle to express themselves on non-traditional canvasses even today, as well as the numerous legal troubles that occur when practicing this type of expression.

The interview is a lengthy read, but an wonderfully inspiring rebel yell as Lady Pink's non-conformity and her journey to elbow her way into the 'boys only club' to strip gender applicators are why she's an inspiration to us all on how the expression of self is all about showing up and putting yourself out there no matter what the risk.

You can view more of Lady Pink's art at her webspot to soak in more art awesomeness.

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