Feminist Street Artists Transform Parkdale Alleyway into Public Gallery

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Feminist Street Artists Transform Parkdale Alleyway into Public Gallery

Twenty artists attempt to capture the diversity of being a woman in freshly painted murals—but the project is not without criticism

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A roster of all woman-identifying artists have turned a derelict Parkdale alleyway into an outdoor art gallery of murals representing intersectional feminism.

With support from the City of Toronto Transportation Services Division’s StreetARToronto (StART) program, the 2,000-square-foot, gloomy laneway that runs north behind 1468 to 1486 Queen Street West has become a vibrant crossing for west-end dwellers.

Longtime Parkdale resident and project organizer Bareket Kezwer worked with StART to get permission from each building owner in the laneway to transform the space.

“I organized this event, Women Paint, to connect with my fellow female artists by creating an opportunity for us to tell our stories and amplify the female voice in public space,” says Kezwer. “I want to raise awareness and foster dialogue about intersectionality and equity.”

On social media, dialogue surrounding the term “intersectionality,” gentrification, and the involvement of Toronto Police ignited debate even before painting began.

Critics of the project argue that the meaning of intersectionality is not understood by the organizers. Concerns have been raised on Twitter and on the Women Paint Facebook page questioning how much involvement, support and leadership has come from Indigenous, racialized, disabled, low-income, and street-involved communities in Parkdale. 

Organizers say the 20 artists aimed to capture a diverse spectrum of what it means to be a woman. And while there are many shared experiences, each artist has their own unique narrative. 

While support for street art and its role in adding beauty and character to neighbourhoods across Toronto is generally seen as positive, some observers of the project remain fiercely critical of how the language pits street art against graffiti art and vandalism. 

“I don’t see street art and graffiti as existing in a binary way,” says Kezwer. She says the definition of street art and graffiti is a constantly moving target that is being redefined as the practice continues to develop.

Public spaces, like subways and alleyways, have historically been areas that perpetuate gender discrimination and violence. Women Paint allows discussions about the feminist movement to continue outside of academic spaces and political activism, where murals quite literally intersect with one another to display untarnished, overlapping identities that shape the female experience.

For a conversation to be productive, Kezwer stresses that it has to exist in many places and be accessible from many different entry points. “Some people are professors and some people work in City Hall … and some people like to ride bikes through alleys.”

Kezwer found her crew of artists by putting out a call through area organizations, including the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust, Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre, and Black Artists’ Network in Dialogue, as well as through her own circles of contacts, CBC reports.

Meet five of the artists involved in Women Paint. They explain why they participated and what intersectional feminism means to them.

The Artists

Bareket Kezwer: Artist and Project Organizer

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Why it was important to participate:

I’ve been working in the street painting scene for a number of years and I’ve noticed at similar events that there’s not a huge female presence. As a Parkdale resident, I thought it would be a really great thing to bring women from different places together. I wanted to do something in my neighbourhood because I think it’s important to start working where you live. I live just a couple blocks away and once I committed to the idea of bringing women together to paint, I began to organize this.”

What intersectional feminism means to them:

“Feminism means something different to every woman depending on a number of different factors that shape their identity. Being a woman today is recognizing that it isn’t one thing, it doesn’t look one way. Nobody experiences it in the same way as anybody else and, for me, being a woman is about listening to the experiences of other women and trying to create opportunities for other women to share their stories and to create an environment to support one another.”

Tennille Dowers: Artist

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Why it was important to participate:

“Being part of something that means something greater than me and that a lot of people before me have been working towards is really important. [These murals] are not being beautified to usher in new folks. This collective piece is also important because we are using materials and an artistic style associated with resistance and, often, masculinity.”

What intersectional feminism means to them:

I think it means being part of the voice representing other voices that look like me, sound like me, or share experiences similar to me. It means actively listening, acknowledging, and sharing among women while recognizing our differences and similarities as beneficial.”

Daniela Rocha: Artist

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Why it was important to participate:

In Toronto, I’ve only been an artist for a year. I studied anthropology and international development. So after I finished school, I was working, and it wasn’t until last year that I wanted to go back to my art. I used to draw murals in Colombia. I knew I could always incorporate anthropology into my art.”

What intersectional feminism means to them:

“It’s about engaging other feminine voices. I don’t read books about feminism, but you need several voices from different females, from different cultures, and from different socio economic backgrounds in order to understand what things affect different women. I see feminism very differently from a white female that comes from a higher class. We have different struggles. It’s important that we understand that so we can understand different perspectives and help each other grow. Projects like this give a voice to women like me.”

Caitlin Taguibao: Artist

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Why it was important to participate:

“When I think about the feminist movement, there have been certain spaces I’ve never felt were accessible to me. I am a first-generation Canadian. My mom’s side is Chinese, but raised in Guyana, and my dad’s side is from the Philippines. It’s hard for them to feel represented in these movements because they don’t know terms like ‘feminism’ in the first place. I really like community initiatives that engage the public, which is what led me to paint murals. I think street art can engage a community more whereas graffiti represents the image of a forgotten space.”

What intersectional feminism means to them:

“It means understanding how people can be marginalized in other ways further than just being a woman. Things like class, education, and skin colour play a role in how we see the world. Intersectional feminism [through murals] allows us to display our diversity, represent ourselves, and reclaim control and autonomy over our bodies and spirits through visual culture.”

Monica Wickeler: Artist

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Why it was important to participate:

“I think this is important for female street artists in Toronto who don’t have a platform to be able to share their skills. Typically, street art is a male dominated world so this is really empowering for everybody.”

What intersectional feminism means to them:

“Personally, I feel like I can subscribe to this branch of feminism, being a boyish girl, working in a visual arts field that is driven by men. Being a lesbian and being a woman, it was important to me to portray in my mural a fierce woman who is rockin’ her motorbike.”

Some of the Murals

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