In a recent TEDxWomen talk, UMass Dartmouth alumni Jessica Pabón shared her research on female graffiti artists. Her presentation was part of TEDxWomen 2012: The Space Between, a two-day women's conference held in Washington D.C. The event attracted worldwide attention and included viewers from 53 countries.
Pabón described the event as "an intense and intimate couple of days with the women who are literally changing our world one day at a time...It was a seriously empowering and enlightening space. I learned so much and gained so much."
She became interested in female graffiti artists while attending graduate school at the University of Arizona.
"I hung out with my friends --they were graffiti writers. I occasionally dabbled, but I was mostly indifferent to it. Until I realized there were no women, or at least I didn't know of any women. Then I became fascinated --some might say obsessed."
From there, Pabón set out to learn about female graffiti artists--a group who, at that time, had received little academic attention. She spent eleven years researching the topic, which later became the subject of her dissertation. Although she studied this phenomenon within the U.S., Pabón also traveled the world interviewing female graffiti artists in places like Chile and Brazil.
Pabón found that female graffiti artists often distinguish their work from art created by men, who have traditionally dominated the graffiti scene. This includes painting pictures of women or tagging their work with female names.
In addition to travelling and interviewing artists, Pabón utilized social networking tools, including blogs and Facebook, to learn about these women and share their work. She argues, "When we're thinking about women and their visibility in graffiti culture, we can't underestimate the power of the Internet...with one status update, these women can invite writers from all over the world to come participate in their all-girl graffiti jams."
Although her academic work has taken her out of New England, the Dorchester native laid down her feminist roots while studying at UMass Dartmouth.
Says Pabón, "My women's literature class inspired a visit to the Women's Resource Center and that space changed my life."
Upon graduating from UMass Dartmouth in 2001 with a B.F.A. in Sculpture/3D Studies, she attended the University of Arizona where she received her M.A. in Women's Studies. In 2008, she began working on her PhD in Performance Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
An American Association of University Women Dissertation Fellow, Pabón will defend her dissertation, "The 'Art of Getting Ovaries': Female Graffiti Artists and the Politics of Presence in Graffiti Subculture," this spring. Her next project will explore the world of human beatboxing, with particular attention paid to women. She also blogs at http://artofgettingovaries.wordpress.com.