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Gender Violence

New Feminism Tears Down Walls in Brazil

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 4 2013 (IPS) - Anarkia Boladona has turned the streets of Brazil into billboards against domestic violence. As a self-titled feminist political graffiti artist, she represents a new trend in women’s rights that seeks less academic and more daring and popular avenues of expression.

As the interview begins, Boladona, born Panmela Castro, is painting a mural in front of a municipal school in a Rio de Janeiro suburb, along with other young people.

But unlike in the past, when she began to paint walls as a “pichadora”, or street artist, officials now support her work.

“I had the habit of writing in the streets as a teenager and then I started drawing. When I passed by the drawing next day, I noticed that people liked it and commented on it,” she told IPS.

The artist says she began painting walls “out of indignation”, until she discovered she could use her drawings to “contribute something that could serve my community”, which is a poor suburb of Rio de Janeiro.

“As part of a family of women, one of the issues I perceived was that of violence against women. It was always very present in my life, in that of my sisters, my cousins, my aunts,” she recalls.

The transition to what she calls a “feminist political graffiti artist” was also about her family background: women “influenced by the feminist revolution of the 1970s”.

“At the same time that they were prey to marriage and patriarchy, there were women who understood that everything was walking toward being different. Me and my cousins were raised differently from them,” she adds.

Education was different, as was the path chosen to fight for the rights of women. Today, at 31, she feels part of the feminism of a new generation.

“I think the old feminists had to be very radical to break the stereotypes. That is why they had these strong concepts, like not exploiting the body or even the body image,” she explains.

If in the past they did their bit for a world “without bras”, today these new feminists do not hesitate to remove theirs if it is for a good cause to defend their rights.

“We have advanced so much that our fight is no longer over for example not to explore the body image, but to use your body the way you want, even exposing it. We have the option of working with our brain, our body, in any way that we please,” she says.

The graffitist chose to “work” with her art, with the walls as her instrument. She uses them to portray the tragedies suffered by millions of women. Sometimes graffiti begins with a theatrical play.

The mural that she is doing is against violence toward women. A telephone number indicates where to turn for help.

The Maria da Penha law, passed in 2006 to combat domestic and family violence against women, raised punishment up to prison terms.

A report by the Sangari Institute indicates that a woman is beaten every five minutes in Brazil, and in 70 percent of cases the people responsible for the attacks are boyfriends, husbands, ex-partners or family members.

The themes of Anarkia Boladona’s murals are endless: A female mythical world of flowers, dragonflies, Eves and witches appealing to a world with equal rights in work, culture and sexual freedom.

“I fight mainly for gender equality, that women have the same rights as men. And, when I say rights, not just in law: It is a right of cultural equality as well,” Boladona says.

Silvana Coelho, 23, is involved in the mural. In an atmosphere considered revolutionary like that of the “pichadores”, she knew this to be a cultural struggle.

“It’s a man’s world. I suffered a lot of harassment from the artists themselves. Sometimes they called me to paint, with ulterior motives. But I got angry and told them: ‘I am an artist of the street, I’m not any one of those street women, I’m here to do my art,’” she tells IPS.

As the mural takes shape, the curiosity of men and women passing by is piqued. A group of women, boasting an average age of more than 90, approves of the work.

“Before, it was very difficult for a man to beat a woman. Now there are men who, besides taking their partner’s money, they beat them too, “says 92-year-old retiree Francisca de Oliveira.

A grandfather with his two granddaughters also observes the work. “Some people use this art to denigrate, to demoralise. This art is thought-provoking, educational, on the street, so it is accessible to everyone,” says Mauro Torres, a graphic artist.

“It’s important because there are people who abuse women,” reflects his granddaughter Ingrid da Costa, aged nine. She is part of a generation that, according to Boladona, is experiencing new feminist themes.

The graffiti artist says that in the past, the fight was about sexual freedom. But today, preadolescents and teens from the strong “funk dance culture” of the favelas (crowded slums) feel compelled to have sex, because “if they don’t their boyfriend leaves for another”.

“There is a role reversal. Before, the obligation was to maintain virginity. Today, the obligation is to no longer be a virgin,” she observes.

Sometimes the walls are inadequate for tackling so many issues. So Boladona founded an organisation called “Nami”, a play on the word “mine” that in carioca slang means woman.The organisation uses urban arts to promote the rights of women, especially the poorest.

Daniele Kitty, art student and vice president of Nami, had to face her parents, who do not accept “a woman walking around painting,” when “in truth I am here working as you can see,” she says.

Nami uses its work to reach women who do not even have access to a newspaper.

“You cannot just ignore a mural like this. It ends up being almost like a TV commercial, a subliminal message that you watch again and again as you pass. It stays in your head,” she maintains.

The unfolding mural calls for “an end to violence against women.” A woman, painted like a flower by Coelho, complements the work.

“A woman is sacred, a flower to be cared for, not to hurt. You have to nourish it with water, but also with love,” she says.

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