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In the world of graffiti and street art, a still heavily male-dominated arena, Lexi Bella battles through with her female-focused murals, paintings, and collages.
Depicting seductive street vixens, mystical heroines, and real life historical martyrs, Lexi Bella explores an ongoing dialogue regarding beauty, sexuality, pop culture, sexism and women's bodies. Her signature woman is an alluring urban minx posing in a luscious pout, but make no mistake – Lexi's female subjects are forever in a state of power, ownership, and elevation.
Bella astutely represents ladies of all colors and backgrounds, drawing from multi-cultural elements and representing a very globalized view of 21st-century women.
Currently based in Bushwick, Lexi Bella moved to New York over a decade ago after receiving her MFA from PAFA. Bella's feminist murals span from the Lower East Side to Miami and she has repeatedly participated in official New York graffiti projects such as the Bushwick Collective, Welling Court, as well as the former legendary 5 Pointz.
Her work is also deeply engaged in New York City history portraying members of the storied New York Yankees in a Bronx mural, to showcasing trailblazing women from the last four hundred years who have socially shaped the Lower East Side in a downtown mural commission.
Lexi took a moment from her hectic schedule to speak with Konbini. Read the full interview below!
Konbini: There is an incredible mix of beauty, fantasy, and toughness in the way that you depict women. What inspires you to portray them this way?
Lexi Bella: This theme of women has been a subject of my artwork since I was a child, so it's something I innately needed to express. I think that fascination with womanhood combined with the society and time I’ve grown and lived in uniquely formed my perspective, that being, third wave feminism.
It is the realization that I'm living in a racist society that tried to act like "racism is over," realization I'm living in a sexist society that tried to act like "sexism is over," fascination with mythology from all cultures especially surrounding goddesses and strong female archetypes. It's also the shock at how much crazy shit women are subjected to around the world in an effort to control and/or exploit their bodies, and the INSANE amount of social justice in general.
I think that combo as well as the need for myself (and women as a whole) to express their own beauty, fantasies, and toughness creates the work I feel compelled to do.
Back in 2014 you were commissioned by FABNYC to create murals for the Lower East Side Heroines Project where you included icons such as Rosario Dawon and Blondie. Tell me more about your fondness for this NYC neighborhood and why you chose these subjects.
The Lower East Side is my heart and favorite part of New York City. This was where people coming to America first started their new life in the new world, and had a turnover for each culture of about 20-30 years until a new wave would come. Research shows this happened about eight to ten times over the course of 250 years.
That's a lot of cultural infusion in a tiny time in a tiny space.
I created eight murals depicting women from 1750-2011 who were very influential in the neighborhood and representative of its culture. Free thinking artists of African, Dutch, German, Irish, Italian, East European Jew, Puerto Rican and Dominican descent were all represented in the project by the women who lead them.
Feminism and freedom for women are at the heart of your work. Can you talk about the collaborative mural projects with Danielle Mastrion, #BringBackOurGirls in 2014 and #SaveYazidiWomen in 2015.
My work is 100% about that! Danielle Mastrion is my best friend and collaborator. We came up in the scene together and always felt like the scene was so biased and women are so pitted against each other and sexualized in the art world, especially graffiti and street art.
That conversation turned to world events and how women were disrespected, controlled, abused, and turned into property. Even in America where we have some of the most social freedoms in the world, the media pits us against each other (Real Housewives and Love & Hip Hop, anyone?) and uses ageism and body ideals against us.
That lead to us wanting to use our work to be a voice for those that don't have one. We are so grateful Welling Court was gracious enough to give us a platform for this, because a lot of mural projects, building owners, businesses, etc. DO NOT want anything political on their walls.
You and Danielle Mastrion are also featured in the upcoming documentary Street Heroines, which profiles leading women in graffiti and street art. What are you hoping this film will do for the female graffiti community?
I hope it will spotlight and empower the women who are in this world. The OG’s like Lady Pink and Claw had a hard road mowing down for the artists who have followed. The sexism, harassment, and exclusion by men continues in Graff to this day.
I think the doc will highlight the strength of our numbers, explore how we live and paint, and validate our breadth and meaning of our worth.
You’re also a mother to a young girl – how do you think your work impacts and inspires your daughter so far?
That's a big question because I really won’t know the full answer to it until my daughter grows up. But from as far as I have seen she is definitely inspired to create art, and her 5-year-old plans are to be an artist like mommy, as well as a teacher, a doctor, and a ninja.
She knows how to express herself and thinks more abstractly from seeing me create 3D space on a 2D wall, but I do hope my pursuit of creating pieces to bring consciousness to women’s rights issues around the world will make her more aware of her own value and rights in the world, and inspire her to live her truth and stand up for her beliefs.