Five female street artists who are bossing it right now
For a long time now, street art has been largely thought of as a man’s game. Although accurate figures on the number of active female graffiti artists are hard to come by, due to the use of aliases, the figures are believed to fall far behind that of men. Various reasons have been given for this disparity. To some, it’s an indicator of sexist gate-posting in the art world. Others highlight the requirements of street art - long hours spent alone in the street, often overnight - as being off-putting to women, who are more likely to experience harassment or feel unsafe.
However, the fact is, although they may be fewer in number, there are a whole host of graffiti artists who happen to have tits - and are bossing it right now. Here, we look at just a few of the names you should definitely have heard of.
Hailing from Toulouse in southern France, Vinie is best-known for creating giant, almost cartoon-like, portraits of women with large enticing eyes and wild, colourful hair. Sometimes incorporating the natural landscape around them, Vinie's works have popped up all over the world, and she now regularly receives invites to showcase her work and create new pieces.
Proving that street art doesn't have to take place in the 'streets', in 2016 she accepted an invitation from the mayor of a small French town to create a mammoth piece in their disused quarry. In the last few years, Vinie has also started to experiment with translating the key features of her works into 3D sculptures - we can't wait to see what she'll do next!
A woman you’ve perhaps already heard of, Swoon rose to prominence on the street art scene in the late 90s and early 00s, and has gone on to be the subject of major solo exhibitions, as well as having her work featured in major museums. Swoon is the first to admit that the concept of 'femininity' plays a big role in her work, which often features soft lines, intrinsic detail and kaleidoscopic patterns; she has previously said that, while she initially tried to rebel against this, she eventually chose to embrace it.
Speaking to In Style magazine, Swoon explained how she doesn’t necessarily believe that sexism is what stops women getting into graffiti art: "I think people expect that you’re going to get a lot of sexism, but for the most part everyone just wanted to make s***, and they were excited, and everyone just supported everyone else. I honestly think that there’s a lot more sexism higher up in the art world than there was when I started out making [art] on the street.”
The fact that London-based artist Bambi is so frequently referred to as "the female Banksy" is, in itself, telling of quite how much female street artists are still judged within the context of their male counterparts. However, creating witty designs - using a mix of her own shrewd political commentary and images of public figures such as Amy Winehouse and Princess Diana - has propelled the mysterious Bambi to fame. She even reportedly turned down a request by One Direction's Harry Styles to create work for the outside of his home.
While Bambi's real identity is a closely guarded secret, we did get one major clue when she alluded to enjoying a career as a well-known singer. This has led some to speculate that she could, in fact, be former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, rapper MIA or even chart-topper Paloma Faith. Who knows!
Describing herself as a "feminist, human rights activist, art collector, cultural entrepreneur and a promoter of street art produced by women in Brazil", Panmela Castro uses her work to raise awareness around women's rights issues in her native country. Having trained in art at the University of Rio de Janeiro, Castro's moment in the spotlight came when she collaborated with an organisation to raise awareness around a new law aimed at reducing violence against women; her elaborate murals often feature women and focus on sisterhood and challenging the patriarchy.
Having produced street artworks in more than 10 countries worldwide, Castro has also seen her work featured in renowned art galleries, been dubbed "Brazil's graffiti queen", and in 2015 was named as one of Newsweek's "150 Women Who Shake the World".
Afghani artist Shamsia Hassani has a simple mission - to change the perception of the country that she loves. "I want to colour over the bad memories of war on the walls," she told Art Radar. "I want to make Afghanistan famous because of its art, not its war."
It is through her drawings of women that she does this. Often painted wearing burkas, or hijabs, or as bright blue silhouettes, her subjects challenge traditional ideas about the place of women in Afghani society by presenting them doing all sorts of normal activities - including playing musical instruments, dancing, or even just chilling in the street. It's not only her figures that surpass people's expectations though; Hassani also an associate professor of sculpture at Kabul University.
If I’d asked you to name a street artist before this article began, there’s a good chance that the first name that would have sprung to mind would be Banksy. The elusive figure behind pieces like ‘Balloon Girl’ and the ‘Naked man hanging from a window’ has, for years, dominated the international scene. But as these women - each achieving amazing and inspiring things - show, it’s not a matter of talent or ideas, but of exposure and attitudes.