The following is an adapted excerpt from Women Street Artistsby Alessandra Mattanza, published by Prestel.
There are women who remain engraved in your memory throughout life, and meeting with them becomes fundamental to your existence. Journalist, writer, and activist Gloria Steinem has always been at the forefront of the fight for equality. Getting to know her was a thrill for me, not only because of her vision and thought, but also because of her warm intimacy, her femininity and fervent intellect that transcends the boundaries of gender, space, and time due to ideas that intersect the past, present, and future, her leonine grit and courage, and her fearlessness. Gloria is a friend to women, and it is this that touched me profoundly.
“I really admire Gloria for the magnificent human being that she is. She represents all women in their complexity, and is the woman we all want to be. She is endowed with incredible sensitivity and perseverance, as well as inexhaustible patience and an extraordinary will never to give up, to constantly push forward, even when the goal to be reached seems impossible,” admits Julianne Moore, who starred in the movie The Glorias, directed by another amazing woman, Julie Taymor, who also directed Frida. And it was precisely that movie, which skillfully delineated Gloria Steinem’s personal path and her struggle for independence and the recognition of fundamental human rights, that prompted me to publish a book dedicated to street artists, women who operate in a sector that until recently was regarded as purely male, due in part to the free and wild lifestyle with which it is associated, in part to the physical labor it entails, in part to the dangers that its proponents sometimes have to face, especially when working at night, in secrecy. As a street photographer, I feel quite close to them, often sharing their hardships, dangers, and discrimination. Too often, even in my job as journalist, I have found myself in the position of being the only woman at a men’s table. Each time, I have asked myself: why?
All the artists whom I have met in my life have inspired me in some way or another, and I feel honored to have gotten to know these incredible women, who, with perseverance and courage, have sought their place in the world, a place from which they now make their voices heard.
I have been fascinated by extraordinary women ever since my childhood. I have always had the impression that their power unleashed a cathartic energy, one capable of changing the world, precisely because they were often solitary and poorly understood souls, yet always fierce fighters, capable of shining with their light, despite the social canons that tried to keep them invisible. Women who went beyond what was deemed an ordinary life. Women who were rebels and who struggled against the rules of the common manner of thinking while trying to assert their own. Women who did jobs that were usually recognized as male prerogatives. Women who, at times, decided not to be women anymore, who went beyond gender and chose to live life in their own way. Women who had undergone all sorts of abuse but were able to start over, possibly even to help others. Or women who, on their own, had the determination to take over New York City, painting its walls or putting up portraits along its streets.
Lady Pink may have been the first artist to succeed in an environment that is still largely male, namely that of graffiti, and she used her success to promote everyone’s right to equality and equal opportunities, as well as to speak to young people and tell them that dreams must be chased. An attention to the social function of art—as admonition, to denounce injustice—is central to the work of all the street artists I have met.
This is clearly demonstrated by all of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s works, which are addressed above all to the condition of women and, in particular, those of African American descent. To this end, she conducted the Stop Telling Women to Smile campaign, collecting testimony of women’s life experiences, often of a dramatic and profoundly painful nature. But all the artists who appear in this book have something special and are extraordinary. They will make a deep impression on you, touch the depths of your soul, move you with their stories of their myriad experiences, adventures, innovative visions, wild and futuristic activism, and with their art, which will captivate and inspire you. They will speak to you of their difficult lives, of the inhumane conditions to which many women in the world are subjected, and in which they are abused, regarded as little more than animals, without rights, without aspirations, without dreams, to this day. Shamsia Hassani is well aquainted with this harsh reality, and can personally testify to the dramatic situation that Afghan women are now experiencing and that through her art she can hurl like a boulder at the rest of the world.
This book also aims to be a journey and a wonderful adventure through the infinite universes of these women, these artists, who represent humanity itself as the unstoppable cycle of nature, as the charming spell of shamans that recalls certain looks they discover in the characters of the street artist Swoon, in the primordial instinct of animals and the incessant power of the ocean’s waves.
And, as you will discover, thanks to them, of course, new communities of women are rising all over the world, of people who are tired of being invisible, who are no longer afraid to make their voices heard, who support each other in what can only be described as the principle of a true female Renaissance. And you’ll also find that women are learning more and more that together they will become stronger: United We Stand. And this is just the beginning.