It is of course true that one of the functions of turning art out into the streets is to change the portrait the city makes of us into a self-portrait. And so is it equally true that those individuals who chose to paint themselves are highly likely to be those with a cause to do so. Those with a case are canvasing the cities for blank spaces and women are certainly well versed in having their portraits drawn for them. Pinned up on boards, women have been delegated as the stars of pin-up advertising campaigns and of a show, which more often than not, is just some type of urban bravado. In cities which deck the urban spaces in sleek architectural lines and advertising campaigns, the female gender, pictured so copiously across our urban spaces, is adversely never truly shown.
So enter the domain of Street Art and the work of the women who are taking their own self-expression out of the studio and showing that the spell cast by the media is nothing in comparison with the spell the reality of experience can cast. These women are showing that perhaps the best way to fight “the man” is not to show the man at all, but instead to vociferously bring the mechanics of any top down patriarchy or hierarchy to its knees by placing the omitted firmly back in the picture. It may not always require the image of the bureaucratic businessman feeding the workforce into the factory to get the point across. Sometimes it can be said far more laconically, and it can be said by women.
It can be said when the women who make the urban buildings their canvas, who bring the underground not simply to the street level, but often high up above the eye level on the wall of large apartment blocks, abandoned buildings, forgotten places. When what we see are no longer snapshots, but stories, we also see that the artists who prefer the exterior of a wall, a door, a lamppost, also prefer an approach of bringing life to the surface. Bringing the life of women to the surface in all its beauties and realities and difficulties. Street art is the art of exterior canvases and so it is natural that it should be a movement where the artists themselves are entirely preoccupied with bringing to the forefront of the walls all that is usually kept unsaid, unstated.
Alice Pasquini is a Roman born and based artist who is at the forefront of the Roman street art. It is not that her gender matters, in the sense that we do not need to qualify or categorise her as a female artist. Only that her unique and very human approach to art and to the presentation of women brings an entirely new approach. When we hear of women climbing the walls, we know that they are doing so in Alice’s work, as they do so on the side of the Quadraro neighbourhood based apartment block, because Alice takes the approach that the street artist does not just paint on the old cement blocks and walls, they also paint on the dinner tables and on the lives of all those for whom these urban spaces and buildings also function as homes. And so, Alice has no wish to simply bring another form of imposition to the urban spaces. She works with the buildings and the people to show things as they are.
On the Quadraro apartment block, Pasquini painted a female figure in three different points and along the natural horizontal lines in the building’s structure. This was a piece designed in collaboration with the Muri Scuri project. In some ways, Alice’s art may appear minimalist, she chooses to paint the female body, as opposed to anything overtly political and in doing so makes a strong social statement which is uniquely her own. She does the same when she paints women, as she painted the faces of two women on her mural in the Ostiense district. Kind comments was a mural which made an open story without end, an image of shared emotion between two women.
Pasquini is also focused in taking the unspeakable out into the exterior and she managed to do just this in her infamous San Lorenzo piece. Her image of a girl urinating in the street came as much with the message that we should integrate the neighbourhood of San Lorenzo, with its youth culture and love of the party, into the city of Rome, as that we should integrate all of the functions and realities of the body back into the female form. As we reframe the rejected externals of our cities, so we do the same with the rejected parts of our experience.
Gio Pistone is another woman who helps us to meet up again with all our taboos and rejected parts of self and society. Rather than the horror of a woman urinating in the street, we instead get the chance to meet other horrors in the form of monsters of an alien and foreign looking form, beings that we nevertheless endeared towards, for these are strange and fascinating monsters. Gio’s work for once gives us the opportunity to know that when we think we see monsters in the taboo tackling themes of street art, we have not missed the point.
As is often the way when artists play with the theme of horror, it is the shock of an image, such as that of the woman urinating in the street, which acts in a way to normalise it. And this is the element of horror that Gio plays around with in her work. In the act of playing, she gives us our monsters to meet and brings all the monstrosities of the city and of the self into one show of colourful and patterned beasts. Ones that we are comfortable making friends with. As with the work of Pasquini, the point is ultimately not to see monsters in the first place, however by using her art to help us make friends with these beasts, we are able to welcome any monsters that we think are living among us in our cities and our lives.
Pistone first in fact began to see these monstrous creatures in her dreams. As such, they are uniquely her own monsters, as well as those of us all and she initially she began superimposing her monstrous creations onto posters, then onto the surfaces in Rome, as a form of deeply personal psychological acceptance. Afterwards she moved on to paint her creations on urban surfaces and in one notable grand scale piece in Pinerolo, a city just outside of Turin.
This is a subverted landscape and one that has been driven underground through our own rejection of it. Alessandra Carloni is a street artist who similarly deals with rejected themes such as migration to and across our cities. Although in her work, it is left ambiguous as to who is it that is doing the migrating. Whether it is ourselves or others. She has exhibited in the Quadraro neighbourhood. Her work deals with idea of flight, travel and a sense of movement. In this way she shows the city to be in a constant state of motion and makes sure that it is not entirely clear cut as just to whom the vagabonds and travellers in this city are. La Mia Città è Il Viaggio (my city is a journey) is a prime example of this.
As with Pasquini, Carloni created artwork for the Muri Scuri project and her mural, Anime Viandanti, in the Quadraro neighbourhood of Rome, continues with her theme of personal journeying.
Pasquini, Pistone and Carloni are all women who are using the street art platform to talk back to the world in a way which is uniquely urban, matriarchal and accepting. As this is the case they take a certain approach which fights to keep alive and to aid young girls and women in the consciousness of their own rights to their cities and their bodies and the exploration of their own directions in life.