- [News Anchor] What some call a police say is a crime.
- Suddenly one man's vandalism is another man's masterpiece.
- Graffiti is everywhere.
- [Josef] Today, graffiti is interwoven in the fabric of mainstream culture, from fine art, to fashion, to music, even corporate adverti But when the modern graffiti movement was started as an illegal expression of rebellion by teenagers, few realized it would explode into a larger cultural phenomenon.
I wanted to get to know the graffiti writers of New York City, and specifically the women writers, who are often overlooked, in what is notoriously a male-dominated space.
Women pioneers have been involve in New York City's graffiti scene since the beginning.
And today, a new generation of w are bringing graffiti into the f and ensuring that its foundations are not forgotten.
- [Josef] New York City has a storied history with graffiti.
Hip-hop was born here during the and graffiti became one of the original elements of hip-hop.
Today you can find this art form all across the city, from building walls, to subway t Some of it is sanctioned legally by the owners of the buildings.
And some of it is defiantly thrown up without permission.
Growing up in Florida I saw some but I never thought much about who made it, or why.
Since moving to New York, where graffiti is almost everywh I've gotten more curious about who made these marks, how long have they been here, and what's their story?
- [Josef] The first artist I met an up-and-coming writer from Que She invited me to meet a crew of fellow women writers called GW2, as they worked on a new wall in the Bronx.
So who's here, who got the invit - [Ming] Okay, so Kaylove was friends with the owners of this restaurant La Masa, so then she just hit us all up on group chat.
These are women that welcomed me into their existing community that they had six years ago.
So I wouldn't have been able to continue painting, and never would've benefited from this whole community, like, had it not been for people like these women, who opened up a space in their c you know what I'm saying?
For friendship, you know, which I think is very rare as you get older, you know?
So Kay brought Jai together, and then we all know other women So Erotica is here, Scratch is h - [Josef] This is Kaylove, who organized the crew, and is a first-generation Puerto Rican American, born and raised here in the Bron - Most of the walls, they are given to guys, and... or street artist, a street artist would get a wall quicker than a graffiti artist.
- [Josef] Right.
- Like if you approach a store owner, and be like, "I'm a street artist, let me do they'll be like, "Yeah."
But if you say, "I'm a graffiti they'll be like, "Mm."
- What do you think people commo misunderstand about graffiti?
I mean, I think the big one that you mentioned is like, street art versus graff I think a lot of people kind of think of those as- - Yeah, they kind of- - the same thing.
- think of it all together now.
I just did a workshop at Feldstein High School, right?
When I asked them what graffiti they went into their phones into to give me the answer.
I'm like, "You guys don't know what graffiti is?"
You know, so then they started talking about street art, and I said, "That's not graffiti "'cause if it doesn't have lettering, it's not graffiti."
- [Josef] Yeah.
- Like all of us can rock this wall without doing any lettering, it won't be graffiti.
- It'll just be a street art mur And an old school graffiti artist would tell you that it's not even called graffi they won't even consider themselves a graffiti artist.
They will consider themselves a - [Josef] Right.
- 'Cause the essence of graffiti was just writing you - [Josef] People have been writing on the walls of building and caves since ancient times, but contemporary graffiti, as we know it, didn't start until the 1960s.
(funky music) To get started with my graffiti history lessons, I turned to some writers who've been tagging across the boroughs for decades.
Ming introduced me to one of her mentors, Sade TCM, an OG writer who got a start bombing around the Bronx.
- Back in the days in the Bronx growing up, you know, before hip-hop was called hip-ho you had these things that were g People were DJing, MCing, break graffiti was going on.
And so I gravitated towards the - [Josef] When hip-hop was born in the Bronx during the 1970s, graffiti became one of the four founding elements of hip-hop cul alongside MCing, DJing, and B-bo (funky music) But contemporary graffiti itself in the neighborhoods of Philadel as early as 1965, with a teenager named Cornbread.
By 1968, the graffiti movement s into the streets of New York Cit - So by the time I came along '77, '78, '79, you know, it was pretty much the norm, it was everywhere.
You name it, from your hallways, to buildings, to streets, mailboxes, the trains, just everywhere.
- The Bronx was one of the the poorest counties in old New York, lots of project and all that kind of stuff.
You know, there was a lot of burned buildings, that was during the era when pre the Bronx was burning down, landlords were burning their buildings, you know, to get the insurance money and things of that nature.
- [Josef] During the 1970s, New York City was bankrupt.
Fire stations were shuttered, and fire inspections were cut by (sirens) Fires were common across Brooklyn and the Bronx.
And the Bronx, specifically, 80% of housing was lost to burning, displacing 250,000 people.
- And so it was kind of like a dilapidated environment.
There wasn't a lot of sources of self-esteem to make you feel good about yourself, you know?
But when you're in that environm you kind of become desensitized And so we made the best of what we had in that time.
- Could you talk a little bit from your history, why you think there's such few women doing graffiti?
- I mean, I think originally the it's just because it was a male-dominated sport, right?
It's just like baseball, basketball, football, you know, CEOs of companies, no matter the discipline, the idea and the gender roles bled right over, right?
So initially, there weren't that many female writers, but there were: Barbara and Eva, you know, '62, you know, after them, you know, Lady Pink came along.
(funky music) - [Josef] Lady Pink got her star proving at only 15 years old that she was as good as the best of the boys.
- [Lady Pink] And at the age of 15, I started writing graffiti, and I was introduced into the New York City subway trains, and the excitemen and thrills of vandalizing those And that was my opening into the world of art.
The very first piece that put me on the map, per se, was the very first time I went to go paint a subway train with a bunch of guys.
They took me to some place in Br and had me doing my name on the while a bunch of them are standi and looking over their shoulder As if it's not scary enough to b on the train tracks, bunch of guys staring at me, I'm trying to do straight lines, But when I achieved it, and I got it done, from beginnin that put me on the map.
And the guys were like, "Yeah, yeah we gotta give her re - [Josef] Trains, like the ones Lady Pink and Sade TCM tagged in the early days, became the go-to moving canvases for early graffiti, because it allowed the work to be seen across the whole city This led to the Style Wars, where graffiti writers would create elaborate pieces in order to become famous.
- [Sade] You know, it was about getting your name out there, and getting getting that fame, that recognition from your peers - [Josef] During the 1970s, New York City's mayor, Ed Koch, responded to the growing graffiti movement by introducing anti-graffiti law The government fought against gr by cleaning up subways, even unleashing dogs to attack t - [Josef] By the mid 1980s, the city was succeeding in eradicating graffiti from its train system.
Many taggers moved from the trains to building rooftops.
This time became known as the die-hard era.
But by the time the crackdown ha the graffiti movement had spread around the world, becoming a global phenomenon.
(funky music) Because of the aggressive and macho culture of graffiti, women not only had to act extra tough to be included, they were also at extra risk of being hurt or abused.
- But I also knew how the game was; very male-dominated.
- [Josef] Yeah.
- And abusive to females or girls who want to write.
They find a male artist, and the guys are like, "Yeah, take you underneath the w but it's all for the bad... the wrong intentions.
- [Josef] Right.
- [Kaylove] So it is hard, a lot I just did stuff solo, or just with one or two people.
As a girl, you just gotta be tou - Men do dominate, you know, the graffiti world, still do, you know?
I think that the difference is that there's not a lot of females that actually own walls, you know, to put something like this together, you know what I mean?
- [Josef] Yeah.
- That you don't see a lot.
- [Josef] After they finished the wall in the Bronx, Ming took me to Queens to meet another mentor.
Jerms is a graffiti writer, who also spins under the name, D - [Jerms] Hey, come here.
Just try to spray the line right across this.
There you go, yeah, yeah, not bad, not bad.
Here, you can just make a line anywhere in there.
- [Jerms] See, that's not a bad - [Josef] Just laying close, lay - [Jerms] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
- [Josef] Both Ming and Jerms are from Queens, and Ming was able to secure this legal wall, in the neighborhood she grew up for the two of them to paint tog (mellow piano) Over the years, Queens and the other boroughs have changed, as developers have moved in, and white-washed certain neighbo Probably the most famous instanc is the notorious 5 Pointz, which was a sanctuary for graffiti artists to do legal curated by a graffiti writer named Meres One.
- [Jerms] Now, when Meres took o he really went all out, and he treated the place kind of like an outdoor gallery, and it was fantastic.
They would do concerts in the loading dock area, bringing DJs, there'd be people break dancing and stuff.
Over time, that grew so big, where it was like a tourist attr The owner wanted to knock down the building, and put up two towers with a bunch of condos.
A federal judge told the owner of the building- - Yeah.
- "It's your building, you're allowed to knock the buil stop it being landmarked, it's f However, give the artist 60 or 90-day notice that you're going to be destroying their artwork.
If there's anything that they co and salvage out of there, that they want to take, let them take it.
They wanna do new updated photos or whatever of it.
You gotta just give them a warning that you're gonna do it, and then you're allowed to do it A couple nights later, he hired and they just went and splashed white paint over all of the artwork on the b - [Josef] The artists sued the developer, and won; their work was legally protected just like any other fine art wou - [Josef] The graffiti community today looks a lot different than it did in its early years.
And although the world of graffiti hasn't always been welcoming to women, mentorship between women writers has played an integral part in expanding the legacy of graff - Since the 1990s, new women have been appearing all over the world, and girls are being made stronger and braver, and just as reckless as the boys.
We have a a sisterhood going on around the world, and we support each other and love each other.
And absolutely, it's happening because of the lack of support that some of them have from their own boys.
- And it's a support system that we need, you know, especially in in these streets r it gets a little crazy.
- For the young women that watch and are inspired by what you guys are doing, do you have anything that you'd like them to know?
- No matter what anyone tells you, just put your heart and your soul into it, and don't wait for people.
- [Josef] Yeah.
- Don't ever wait for people, take the initiative yourself.
It's a beautiful art form, it's something that could give you a long-lasting career.
And it's not an art form just fo who just wanna be down with it, - [Josef] Yeah.
- It's something that you live and you breathe, you kn But graffiti's everlasting, graffiti will never die.
- [Josef] Yeah.
- If we wind up going to Mars there'll be someone bombing Mars, believe you me.