Soolisuse esitamine Eesti grafitis ja tänavakunstis / Representing of gender in Estonian graffiti and street art
Keywords:grafiti, kontekstualiseerimine, kultuuriuuringud, soolisustatud esteetika, soouuringud, naiselikkus, mehelikkus, tänavakunst, graffiti, contextualisation, culture studies, gendered aesthetics, gender studies, femininity, masculinity, street art
Artiklis on tähelepanu all sooline aspekt grafitis ja tänavakunstis kui konteksti- ja kommunikatsioonikeskses kultuuriilmingus. Põhiküsimused on, kuidas soolisus ja sooline kommunikatsioon grafitis avaldub ning milline on grafiti soolisustatud esteetika. Analüüs osutab soolistele klišeedele grafitis ja näitab stereotüüpseid arusaamu laiemas sotsiokultuurilises tähenduses. Teisalt toob uurimus esile ka grafiti ja tänavakunsti rolli sooliste stereotüüpide vaidlustajana ja uudsete tähenduste esiletoojana. Uurimus põimib grafiti ja tänavakunsti käsitlused soouurimusliku lähenemisviisiga ning kasutab uurimismeetodina grafiti ja tänavakunsti kui efemeerse kultuuriilmingu kontekstualiseerimist vaataja perspektiivist. Artikli allikmaterjali moodustavad põhiliselt aastail 2010–2020 jäädvustatud grafitid, mis on koondatud internetiandmebaasi „Grafiti andmebaas“.
Graffiti and street art belong inseparably to the present-day urban space and their various sociocultural meanings are related to different subcultural layers.
The involvement of graffiti and street art in urban space refers to the fact that these are informal ways of depiction which have sometimes been taken to be vandalism. On the other hand, graffiti are a democratic, open and dialogical way of representation, as everyone can make changes in them and add their own commentaries. Graffiti and street art reveal power relations in society, that is why they have also been seen as the undermining of public authority. Such opinion is related to the specific character of graffiti and street art as non-institutional art.
Western researchers have associated graffiti and street art with the male subculture, with an area where male identities are created. Although women have in recent years become more visible among street artists and they have also introduced the so-called feminine subjects, this has not changed the general image of graffiti as the male subculture. Differing from Western countries, graffiti and street art have been relatively less studied in Estonia and no attention have been paid at all to the gender aspect of graffiti and street art.
The article focusses on the study of gender relevance in Estonian graffiti and street art. The key questions here are how gender (or femininity and masculinity) and gender communication are represented in graffiti and how the aspects of gender aesthetics are revealed.
As its sources, the article uses the examples of graffiti, collected in Estonia in 2010-2020 and recorded in the internet database “Grafiti andmebaas” (www.folklore.ee/Graffiti). The database contains also different of graffiti-related metadata, such as the context, the time of its making, the author (when known), etc., including, all in all, about 700 different records of graffiti.
The database does not have much information about the authors; therefore, we could not concentrate on the analysis of the differences in the graffiti and street art created by men and women. Our research method was to interpret graffiti and street art from the position of the viewer. In a way, this approach can be associated with visual autoethnography, analysing visual artefacts and the archive containing photos of these artefacts (see Hamdy 2015, 69). The authors’ practical observations and intuitive interpretations of graffiti also play a role in this approach.
We analyse graffiti as a mix of visual and textual representation where both elements carry some important meaning; however, very often, a piece of graffiti is formed either by an image or a text only.
Analysing the graffiti and street art database, we discovered that gender is in some way or other expressed in one fourth of the works of graffiti and street art included in it. We analysed how gender is represented in texts and images, how femininity and masculinity are represented, whether the works express masculine or feminine points of view, and how all this is done by the artists.
On the basis of works collected in the database we can conclude that a large part of graffiti and street art often represents the masculine point of view (most of the quotations and visual images are related to well-known men, but very few of them refer to well-known women). This could possibly indicate that the majority of authors are men and that men continue to be more visible both in society and in culture which, in its turn, is again reflected in graffiti. The greater visibility of men in society and culture is related to the greater authority of men and masculinity. On the other hand, femininity is often represented in stereotypes, e.g., by sexualising the female body. Among other aspects, the graffiti recorded in the database reflects the gender stereotypes which are widely spread and accepted in society, such as the notion of clean, neat and sober women, while men are seen as influential public figures (e.g., politicians), and masculinity is related to stereotypical behaviour, such as the consumption of alcohol. To counterbalance the masculine stereotypes, there are some exceptional hints on the so-called soft masculinity, and a few images where men and women are represented as equal partners.
However, we can say that women are also visible as the authors of graffiti, as it can be seen in the emergence of new perspectives as well as in the diversification of the visual way of representation in graffiti and street art. Graffiti and street art created by women, such as works made by MinajaLydia, highlight the positive experience of being a woman, which can be seen as an attempt of increasing the visibility and authority of women in public space.
Regarding the gender aspect, a certain amount of graffiti and street art can be considered neutral, but the possible gender interpretations may depend on the viewer in the role of the active creator of meaning.