"We have to transform the way we think about the woman." - Panmela Castro
I barely allowed myself to fall asleep.
My dependency on my iPhone to wake me up ended over a month ago when it suffered an untimely death. These days I relied on the morning sun.
I awoke in a panic, naturally, and checked the time. 6:35 am. I opened the refrigerator and grabbed the one pack of Polaroid 600 film I’d been saving for the last 6 months. At $24.99 a pack for 8 slides I couldn’t afford to use it on anything less unusual than this. And by unusual I mean in the most extraordinary sense. I was going to interview Brazilian graffiti artist Panmela Castro, aka Anarkia Boladona, and what better way to be creative with a creative than with a Polariod camera my mom kept since I was 3 years old.
Two buses and one and a half cab ride later... (The half due to getting kicked out after one block of explaining the address in my novice Portuguese) I arrived at a quaint apartment on a little street.
She heard me knocking and poked her head out of the window upstairs, Rapunzel-esque with her copper ponytail slung across her left shoulder. After a second, of what as an American I deemed awkward silence, I urgently said my name and that I was there to interview her. Without saying a word she paused for a second and then darted her head back into the room. A few moments later she arrived at the front door. She stood there for a second looking a bit confused and then suddenly yelled, “I thought you were a man! I mean in your emails when I saw your name, I expected to see a man!” We both laughed and she proceeded to welcome me into her home.
I assumed the address she gave me was her organization’s not her apartment and therefore had not anticipated what a graffiti artist’s pad would look like. It was like I stepped into a Pinterest post. The perfect hue blue with a multitude of her beautiful artwork lived on the walls. Her paintings were mostly framed in these gold baroque-ish frames, creating the perfect contrast with the hues of pink, purple and orange seen in most of her work. Two French windows were open, rimmed with sheer white curtains. The natural light poured in. Her awards--among them the Diane Von Furstenburg award for improving social, economic and political standing of women--sat modestly next to her collection of books. Most of which included the word ‘anarquistas‘ in the title, meaning anarchist. You could tell that these genuine pieces of literary works were not just there for decoration. She internalized these; they are a part of her identity.
A painting she’d done of Frida Kahlo hung low near her couch next to a hookah. Before we even began our conversation I could see we had things in common.
12 mins and 39 seconds later... there we were talking -off the record. About a number of things, occasionally touching on subjects you could tell she was passionate about. One of which being her campaign sponsored by Avon called Graffiti Pelo Fim da Violencia Domestica (Graffiti to End Domestic Violence). Her demeanor was completely calm and undisturbed; at one point she sat down and smoked a cigarette while talking to her friend and business partner Michelle who had arranged the whole thing. I was free to roam her treasure-filled apartment and take pictures of her used art supplies and other little knick knacks.
I pulled out my Polaroid, foolishly assuming I was being original and that she’d probably never had anyone take a polaroid of her when she emerged from her room holding a stack of polaroids that took both hands to hold. From Paris to Spain to New York there in front of me spread out all over the table was her and her friends and their graffiti lifestyle, chronicled almost, in the sickest way possible: polaroids.
Her presence was far more meek than I expected. Especially given a woman whose alias is Anarkia Boladona. Anarkia coming from anarchy and ‘boladona’ a Portuguese slang word for a woman who is bold and doesn’t take shit, basically. Perhaps it was just the slight apprehension that's normal when one is not speaking in their native tongue. Nevertheless her intensity showed in her artwork and humanitarianism.
I walked away with a few signed polaroids and what felt like the biggest adrenaline rush ever. I had just spent the last hour and a half with one of the most inspirational women on this planet. And I assure you not much else can compare to that.
Here’s my interview with Panmela Castro, Anarkia Boladona:
A: Can you explain the Maria da Penha Law on Domestic and Family Violence and how what happened to her caused you to act?
P: Maria da Penha Law is a new law that was approved 7 years ago. Before Maria da Penha there was no law to punish domestic violence and it was common here in Brasil. This woman that the law was named after was a woman that suffered alot. Her husband tried to kill her 2 times, and now she’s paralyzed. She started a movement because at that time he didn’t get punished because there was no law for it. So she started working with an NGO and presented this problem to a commission that caused Brasil to create this law. It changed the way we look at domestic violence as a crime, it’s not a familial problem it’s a public problem. And women have to speak out to help to end domestic violence.
A: How does your artwork and your organization Rede Nami affect women socially, economically and politically?
P: I founded the organization Rede Nami and we started with workshops in the favelas and now we are in the schools. We start a conversation. And people compile their experiences and we have a specialist who shows the women how the law works. Because the problem now is, everyone knows about the Maria da Penha law but not everyone knows how it works. And we have to show them how to use it so it becomes real. After the talk we invite people to paint a mural about the conversation. The mural continues to compile information from all the women we speak to and the people who participate in the workshops become transformed into a communicator (between women and the public). Now we have a program called Grafitti to End Domestic Violence and we are visiting 26 schools in Rio to talk to teenagers as prevention. Because if we talk about this issue with teenagers we prevent them from becoming victims and the aggressors as well because we are working with boys and girls.
A: Why do you think domestic violence is such a huge issue in Brasil?
P: The issue with domestic violence is an issue not just here in Brasil but all over the world. Women suffer domestic violence but they don’t speak about it. Here in Brasil we have this movement to make women speak out against it. The culture in Latin America is that men are too macho and this is a large contributing factor to domestic violence here. We have to transform the way we think about the woman.
A: What affect, if any, do you wish to have on men who see your artwork in the street?
P: People confuse my artwork in the street and the work with my organization. I have my workshops that deal with domestic violence but my artwork in the street is just art. I paint the woman and my history as a woman and that is the same history of other women. Sometimes I paint with this theme in mind (domestic violence) but most of the time it’s about the history of women. Men who see it like it as well they see something that is great artwork.
A: I saw pictures on your Facebook that you went to Israel recently and did a workshop there. How did you choose Israel?
P: I didn’t choose Israel they chose me. (laughs) I was invited through a conference to come and conduct workshops and make murals. I was afraid because I had heard so many bad things from people about this place but in the end it proved to be a very nice place with very nice people. The workshop started off talking about domestic violence but then became a conversation about so many other things, we started talking about different cultures and graffiti, because you know graffiti there is so illegal so it was weird for them to have a graffiti workshop. And then in the end I discovered we did not have authorization to do the mural! The police could have come and put me in prison! (laughs)
A: How did you get the nickname Anarkia?
P: When I started doing graffiti when I was a teenager, it was not graffiti it was pichação which is tagging. I used to do tagging because when I did it I felt a sense of freedom. I wanted to be free because my family was so traditional and I couldn’t do anything. So I started tagging to feel free. For me ‘Anarkia’ from anarchy a word I found in a dictionary was like there is no one above me, there are no laws and no government and for me it was synonymous with freedom and so I started writing Anarkia.
A: You are very busy, traveling, giving workshops and creating art. What do you do for fun?
P: Graffiti! (laughs) I hang out with my graffiti friends, the parties are graffiti parties, everything is revolved around graffiti, because it’s a culture.
A: Do you feel like you have found your passion and purpose in life?
P: Yes. I am very happy today with the work that I do, through the graffiti, with the NGO and the people that work with me.
A: What would you say to someone who is unsure about pursuing their passion or unclear of the purpose of their life?
P: Sometimes life is very hard. For me in the beginning lots of times I thought that I could not work with art because I wouldn’t have food to eat if I did. But I had this dream and I believed in it and I tried. And now today I can live by my art and I’m happy with my work. I think people just have to try and not give up.
A: Listen to their heart and not their head?