Start Paying Attention to Female Street Artists

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh's mural in Brooklyn, New York in 2017.
Anpu Varkey and Hendrik Beikirch’s collaborative portrait of Mahatma Gandhi. Image courtesy of Meeta Ahlawat.
Bao Ho, Affogato, 2019, paint, 300 × 340 cm. Installation view in K11 MUSEA, Hong Kong. Image courtesy of the artist and K11 MUSEA.
Crocheted Wall Street Bull by Olek in 2010. Image courtesy of the artist.
Shamsia Hassani, Birds of No Nation, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist and Hammer Museum.
Shilo Shiv Suleman and her mural in Madrid in 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s mural in Brooklyn, New York in 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.
YZ, Amazone, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist.
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Asia Society Hong Kong

With a growing number of street artists who are women doing breakthrough work all over the world, we shine a light on this often invisible aspect of contemporary art.

TEXT: Reena Devi
IMAGES: Courtesy of various

 

Street art, like everything else in the art world, is visibly male dominated but that does not mean there is a lack of ridiculously talented female street artists of diverse backgrounds producing breathtaking and purposeful imagery and installations across the world. In fact, they exist and their art tells stories prescient of our time. This list, by no means exhaustive, attempts to present a glimpse into this multi-faceted, hyper-layered, uncannily insightful world of street art. 

 

Anpu Varkey and Hendrik Beikirch’s collaborative portrait of Mahatma Gandhi. Image courtesy of Meeta Ahlawat.

 

Anpu Varkey

Indian artist Anpu Varkey’s most popular work is the 158-foot mural of Mahatma Gandhi in the Delhi Police Headquarters in ITO, Delhi, which she created working together with German artist Hendrik Beikirch. She is also behind the vast harvest moon near Halasuru metro station in Bangalore. The most apolitical graffiti, mural and street artist on this list, Varkey described her introduction to public art as serendipitous. She also works on comic books. Her most recent publication is titled Summer’s Children (2014), filled with nostalgic sepia-tinted illustrations about life on a rubber plantation in Kerala, inspired by the artist’s own childhood. Varkey is also famous for her cat murals.

 

Bao Ho, Affogato, 2019, paint, 300 × 340 cm. Installation view in K11 MUSEA, Hong Kong. Image courtesy of the artist and K11 MUSEA.

 

Bao Ho

Hong Kong artist Bao Ho is known for her whimsical murals that occupy walls across the city, including areas such as Central and Sheung Wan. Dubbed the ‘Queen of Hong Kong’s Street Art Scene’, Ho won the Hong Kong Secret Walls contest in 2015 and is one of the artists chosen to create new works at K11 MUSEA. Her murals present an eclectic combination of humans, flora and fauna and diverse patterns, with a contrasting use of colour. Her journey as a street artist began overseas in Australia, before participating in a live painting event in Taiwan and then travelling to France and Italy.

 

Crocheted Wall Street Bull by Olek in 2010. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

OLEK

New York-based Polish artist Agata Oleksiak (b.1978), known as OLEK, transforms public spaces and objects with intensely bright coloured crocheted fibres, creating installations of all sizes that grab your attention instantly. Underlying her vibrant and immersive art is serious activism. The artist has been involved in community based projects across the world highlighting a diverse range of issues including struggles of Syrian refugee women in Sweden and equal rights for the LGBTQ community in Russia. Her work can be found in the permanent collections of URBAN NATION MUSEUM FOR URBAN CONTEMPORARY ART in Berlin, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam and the Avesta Art Museum in Avesta, Sweden, among others.

 

Shamsia Hassani, Birds of No Nation, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist and Hammer Museum.

 

Shamsia Hassani

One of Afghanistan’s first female street artists, Shamsia Hassani (b.1988) is known for her whimsical yet vibrant depictions of women as lone figures with an air of vulnerability and strength. In her well-known series, Birds of No Nation (2016), the graffiti artist portrays women as observing cities from rooftops, seeking refuge in a new city akin to birds migrating for food and safety, yet forever on the outside. Hassani was a resident artist at the Hammer Museum in 2016 and has created work all over the world. She is the co-founder of Berang Art Organization, an artist-run group that promotes contemporary art and culture in Afghanistan through programs, workshops, seminars, and exhibitions.

 

Shilo Shiv Suleman and her mural in Madrid in 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

Shilo Shiv Suleman

Bangalore-based visual artist, illustrator and animator Shilo Shiv Suleman (b.1989) creates murals, installations and street art highlighting women’s issues, such as menstrual health, which are seldom spoken about even today. Working from the intention of creating discomfort for the viewer, Suleman creates imagery that are deep-rooted in cultural heritage while reflective of contemporary times. She also manages The Fearless Collective, a fellowship of artists, activists, photographers and filmmakers who take a stand against gender violence through art. The Fearless Collective was formed in response to the gruesome gang rape that took place in New Delhi, India in 2012.

 

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s mural in Brooklyn, New York in 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

Oklahoma city native Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (b.1985), is a Black-Iranian visual artist known for her street art series “Stop Telling Women to Smile” appearing on walls across the world in various cities. The series has also been published as a book, released this month, detailing stories of street harassment alongside her stark yet intimate art. She participated in the inaugural Public Artist in Residence for the New York City Commission on Human Rights in 2018, creating a series of public artworks in New York highlighting experiences of anti-black racism and sexual harassment in the city. Her work can also be seen in the Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It, where she served as an art consultant for the show by acclaimed director Spike Lee.

 

YZ, Amazone, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

YZ

French-British street artist Yseult Digan (b.1975), who is based in the West African city of Abidjan and goes by the moniker YZ (pronounced “eyes”) made the news in 2018 for being selected by French President Emmanuel Macron to create a new image of Marianne, the “symbol of liberty and the de facto face of France, which appears on the country’s postage stamps.” An earlier well known series by YZ titled Amazone from 2015 explores the artist’s Anglo-Guadeloupean roots and pays homage to the strong female fighters of the 19th century West African country, presenting their faces staring openly at the viewer in all their natural glory and fierceness. She is known for creating images of strong, independent women, seemingly undaunted, be it in contemporary or historical times.

 

 


 

Reena Devi Shanmuga Retnam is a Singaporean arts journalist and critic who writes for regional and international media such as ArtAsiaPacific (HK), Hyperallergic (NY) and Artsy (NY). Previously she was a full-time reporter with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore and TODAY newspaper (SG), breaking stories and exploring issues such as leadership, race, funding and censorship in the Singapore arts scene.

 

 

 
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