"Stop Telling Women to Smile" via Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is an artist, activist, and illustrator who literally takes her work to the streets. She made international headlines with her projects confronting street harassment from Brooklyn to Mexico City. Fusion caught up with Fazlalizadeh after she spoke at a conference on The Philosophy of Street Art in NYC in early March and asked her to share her thoughts on the evolution of art in public.

"Stop Telling Women to Smile," Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

Fusion: How did you get into street art?

TF: I was introduced to art very young - my mother was an artist, so it was just always around. She was an art teacher - she's retired now - she was a painter, she did a clothing line, she had a silk screening business…I grew up in a creative household. I didn’t pursue [art] on my own until high school when I picked up a pencil and started drawing. Then I went to art school, I decided to go to Philly - I don’t know exactly why I wanted to live in Philly, I think it was what was happening with the the music and arts scene - but I moved to Philly and went to art school.

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I took up traditional illustration - so I do oil paintings, and now I do freelance illustration work.

Swoon Mural

Fusion: What is the role the street plays in your art?

TF: The street is a different canvas, a different place to put your work on. I use the environment as part of the art. I am trying to think outside of the box, to not limit myself. I’ve been trying to think, “What else can I do that makes a specific impact on a topic in my work?" If I‘m talking about street harassment it just made sense to me to put that art in the street. I don’t look at myself as a street artist or graffiti artist - I’m just using the street as a medium.

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[Street art] is not just making a painting and putting it outside - it’s about [thinking through] what does the space mean, how do people look at space, why are people outside and what is [intrinsic] to that space.

"Hunger" by Faith 47

Fusion: What is Street Art?

TF: A lot of people have different definitions of what it is - graffiti is a part of hip hop culture and we think of graffiti when we think of street art, but there is a difference between graffiti and street art and public art.

For me it’s kind of a fine line - I define it as putting up art in the street without permission.  Public art has permission - I think about that when I think about murals I’ve done, and paperwork and permissions and getting all these people involved. The difference between graffiti and street art, I think, just comes down to aesthetics.  It’s really kind of muddy - I was asked this at the conference [on the Philosophy of Street Art, March 2015] and we all just had different answers.

For me, it's about the taking of space - I am going to take space and create it wherever and whenever I want. Making art in the street means taking it upon myself to have a canvas - maybe I can’t afford a canvas or maybe I just want to go outside and make work on the wall. Who has access to make [art]? Who has the access to see [the work]?  I think the idea around creating art in the street comes down to taking space, claiming space as an artist and being that person in the neighborhood who has art on their walls.

Paris, Seine, île Saint-Louis, JR : " Women are Heroes "

Fusion: Can you talk about the gallery vis-à-vis street art? What is the difference between those spaces, especially as we have seen a blurring of the lines with graffiti being sold.

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TF: A gallery represents money. You think of collectors, museums, the elite - it’s a place where art is purchased. You are here to buy the art. When art is taken from the street and put into gallery space it commercializes it.  All of these spaces aren’t even spaces that I am very familiar with - I’m not represented by a gallery, I’m not a part of that New York art world,  I just get in where I fit in, and I don’t feel like I fit into one community [in art] - which I am ok with.  But the difference between the gallery and social media or the streets is access. The work in the street just gets put out there - it’s not designed to last,  and it’s not just for me anymore. I put it out there and it’s for the people in the street, it's for the outside, it’s part of the wall now.  [Creating street art means] you’re looking at your work in a different way.  I’m still figuring out all of these different spaces.

Graffiti by Ganzeer

Fusion: If art is commentary and street art is public art, then is this form of work a type of public conversation?

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TF: I think that Swoon does a great job of making a statement.  Her work, to me, is very beautiful aesthetically and she makes this social justice commentary in the nature of the work outside.  The street is a tool, and one that a lot of artists do not use as we should.  A lot of street art I’ve seen is just aesthetically beautiful - but I don’t know what they’re saying. I mean, it’s not like they have to [have a message] but the space is there - say something.

LNY does really beautiful work with just saying things. Commentary. So does Faith 47 and JR.

I think about people like Emory Douglas - not just about art in the street but art that we use for political purposes, for moving people along.  And there is the art that's been happening in Egypt. Ganzeer is a pretty big artist who does political work. He's a friend of a friend and has a show up in NY right now.

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But I'm also mostly thinking of the feminist art in Egypt. Mirah Shihadeh does murals in Egypt addressing sexual harassment. There's a lot of other artists doing feminist street art there but I'm not sure of their names - think they might be doing it anonymously.

I think that we should take the work of social justice artists and put their work in public, Like Damon Davis - he's an artist in Ferguson who did Hands Up. [The piece] was important and that’s what you can do in this medium. It hits you. It’s urgent.  That to me makes a huge impact.

Damon Davis's work in Ferguson.

It’s really important to work out where people can see it.