Let's play a game. Think of as many Street Artists as you can name. Now, how many of those artists are female? I'm pretty confident in assuming that it's either zero, or very close to that..
We are used to hearing about sexism in the world in general, and despite huge progress in gender equality in the last century, it still lingers. Fact. In a sector as ostensibly liberal as the arts, one would expect (or at least hope) that in this day and age, credit would be based on creative merit rather than the artist's ability to grow a beard.. Street Art has the added luxury of being a potentially anonymous art form, so sexism isn't an issue right?? Wrong.
In fact, the first thing I did in this post was prove that women are a massive minority in Street Art, with females achieving notoriety only as "the Female Banksy" or other such subtly undermining rubbish. Anywhere female artists are mentioned, they are subcategorized as "Female Street Artists", making a clear distinction between them and their male counterparts. Articles that are intended to empower female artists are really just part of the problem: "10 Female Street Artists" "10 Women Street Artists that are Better than Banksy".... I could go on... Yes, it's awesome that female Street Artists are starting to gain recognition, but the underlying premise of "look, women can do this just like men!" really gets my goat.
Last year, GQ Magazine published a list of the world's best Street Artists, just two of which were female (Olek and Vinie). In Street Art aliases don't often indicate gender (take UK based cbloxx as an example). It should therefore be easy for any artist to blend into the urban landscape without gender-bias, so why is Street Art still such a boys club?
I think the problem is actually twofold. One part stems from the art world as a whole, the other really comes back to Street Art as a movement, and the darker roots of this now widely appreciated genre. Back in the day, graffiti artists were traditionally men, and this was largely because of the risk involved in being out at night alone, scaling buildings, and generally breaking the law. The fact that there is a lot less risk involved in legally commissioned graffiti these days has done little to sway the gender imbalance, but why?
Perhaps Street Art becoming an accepted and (more significantly) commercially viable genre has something do do with it. If recent reports are to be believed, sexism in the commercial art world remains rampant. Just a few months ago, anonymous female art collective Pussy Galore (sorry mum, I swear that's their actual name) posted a faux-report card revealing the percentage of female vs. male artists represented in various NYC galleries. The results (although a marked improvement from the Guerrilla Girls' similar report conducted in 1986) are fairly telling, with the worst offender carrying just 5% female artists. And it's not just the galleries and buyers who are prejudiced, it comes from the artists themselves too. Who can forget the infamous 2013 Spiegel interview with artist George Baselitz, in which he declared "Women don't paint very well. It's a fact"...!
Never mind the fact that this is bigoted and ludicrous, it's also totally outdated, because things are changing around here! At the risk of sounding like one of the Women Can do it Too!! articles, I'd like to point out a few things that helped me to come to this conclusion: Cindy Sherman and Ellsworth Kelly were voted as two of the best living artists by Vanity Fair last year. Artist Cady Noland was listed as the tenth most expensive living artist in America. In the last five years, the Turner Prize has been won more times by women than by men. Compare this to say, 1985-1990 when the winners were all male, and you can almost see the tides turning. Thankfully, this shift is taking effect in the Street Art world too, with women garnering attention across the globe in this traditionally male-dominated genre. In 2011, numerous female artists made it into Complex.com's list of the Fifty Best Street Artists Right Now. Strong female artists such as Kashink were also listed as Street Artists to watch in 2014 by the same website. Yes, females may still be in the minority in a lot of cases, but I think we can finally look forward to a time when talent outweighs gender.
For a look at some of the most talented female, male, and female/male collaborative Street Artists of the moment, check out the awesome site: Women Street Artists.
GIRL POWER, Y'ALL!
British-born arts blogger living in Houston, Tx. A mixture of Street Art, Fine Art, Installation, and anything weird and wonderful. Follow me if that sounds like your cup of tea.