Daily Archives: September 28, 2009

Gender & Street Art

Most street artists are male, in Melbourne and around the world. Unlike in other visual arts where the genders are more or less balanced the gender imbalance in street art is evident; there are a few women street artists. Boo asked why at the artist talk at the Melbourne Stencil Festival. Boo was the only woman on the panel.

Rhen Fray found the issue irrelevant: that he wouldn’t care if the gender balance were reversed, and that balance was irrelevant both equality and to the art. However the panel, including Fray, and the audience were keen to explore gender issues in stencil and street art. Boo was not complaining about inequality, repression or sexism in street art. Boo is planning to run some women’s only stencil workshops in an attempt to encourage more women to do stencil art (there are plenty of women doing the workshops at the Melbourne Stencil Festival).

It is very interesting area for discussion because it is not clear why there should be such a gender imbalance. Answers could elucidate gender differences in the way that men and women use the streets and alleyways, proclaim their identity and show off. Speaking of showing off, not one of the other artists on the panel was as well dressed as Boo with her peroxide blond hair and deconstructed style jacket. Fray’s clothes were grey and forgettable.

Perhaps the question should be why there are so many young male street artists? The arts in Australia are regarded as feminine in comparison to the masculine area of sport. Street art is an exception, as well as, the street artists there are a lot more men interested in street art. I know many middle aged men who photograph street art as a hobby and I see groups of young men who admire and discus street art.

What makes street artist particularly interesting to men? Street art combines aspects that appeal to a masculine image: exploration, daring, and large scale. Above all, street art is a public display of bravado, just like a lead guitar in a rock band (and nobody asks the question why there are so many young men aspiring to play lead guitar because the answer is so obvious and phallic). Is spraying aerosol paint a sublimation of the desire to spray on the walls like tomcats?

The nocturnal external urban environment where street art occurs, especially the laneways of Melbourne, is still largely the domain of men. The imbalance in ownership of the street is an issue for women’s groups like Reclaim the Night, as well as, the general public in having a safe peaceful environment. Street art is not a safe activity and young men and women have different strategies for personal security.

What are the young women doing instead of street art? Looking at the organizational side of the Melbourne Stencil Festival you see a different gender divide. The majority of volunteers running the Melbourne Stencil Festival are young women, including both the curators. And it is not just at the Melbourne Stencil Festival; We Make Stuff Good also has a large number of young women running the events.

Thanks for raising the question Boo and I hope that the discussion continues.


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