A group of graffiti artists known as the Ladies Destroying Crew bombs the streets of Managua, cans of bright spray paint as their arsenal. I met the graffiteras Kyd and Sak when they came to Matagalpa to teach other women the art and activism of graffiti.
There were about 20 of us in the workshop, ranging in age from 10 to 40. Kyd and Sak (their street names) started with a polished PowerPoint of the history of graffiti and a comprehensive glossary (also on a handout). Some of the English terms—tag, crew, highlight—were pronounced with a Spanish accent (and a bit of swagger), and in other cases, Latinized—“bomb” became bomba.
Both Kyd and Sak are young and passionately dedicated to graffiti. Kyd is slender and soft-spoken, yet has a certain bad-ass presence—she knows her history and the Ladies Destroying Facebook page is full of stunning photos of her work.
Sak speaks a mile a minute and has a quick and enthusiastic smile framed by braces. She gushes about the graffiteras she admires and her desire to open the art form to more women.
Their comadres in the Ladies Destroying Crew are four other women, who all meet up once a month to paint together. Two members from Costa Rica meet less frequently, but Kyd said they hoped to travel there to do some painting.
Kyd and Sak tag-teamed their presentation, showing works from famous international street artists and their own creations from abandoned and not-so-abandoned spaces in Managua—colorful piezas with three or more colors, or quick bombs meant to be done on the run.
After the intro we were given our assignments: to develop our own tags, or signatures, using one color and a quick style, then to create a more detailed bomba, and finally a complex pieza. None of this was on the wall—yet. We used thick magic markers and paper to experiment with bubble letters, block letters, and (my favorite) Arabic-inspired calligraphy.
While we worked Kyd and Sak circulated to give us feedback. Sak said my tag needed to be simpler, and I first confused the bomba with a colorful pieza, and had to scale it back. “You need to be able to do it quickly,” she said, “if you’re doing it as vandalism.” (Which, in this group of feminist activists, was a definite goal.)
Finally we got to use the espray and play with paint on the wall— Kyd and Sak outlined the letters for the fierce message, “mujeres libres, lindas, locas” or “liberated, beautiful, crazy women” and we started to fill them in.
The painting was satisfying, and addictive—with just a light press on the cap the color flowed on the wall, quick strokes filling the surface.
It felt like power, holding this tool, with the potential to radically alter a space. It felt like rebellion, wielding what, the world over, is considered synonymous with destruction or anarchy.
The women at the workshop agreed: one told me, “I like to be rebellious, and the graffiti feeds my desire to do something rebellious in the streets.” My friend Itzel explained, “Graffiti for us, as feminists, will be a political action, but it will also be clandestine.”
Once we filled in the background, the graffiteras took over. It was amazing to watch Kyd and Sak paint, their fluid movements transforming flat letter-like shapes into bright, 3-D words, quickly blending colors and highlighting with flashes of white.
I wondered how it ever occurred to them to begin painting, with just a tiny handful of women graffiti artists in the whole country. Kyd, who’s 20, has been painting for about two years. She founded the crew in 2010 with two of her friends to start a movement of graffiteras
Sak’s been painting for less than a year, and joined Ladies Destroying just a few months ago. For both, the initial inspiration to paint came from seeing graffiti around Managua and wanting to try it.
As they’ve gotten better, they’ve looked to male graffiti artists in Nicaragua and women abroad for inspiration.
Sak told me, “The graffitera who’s considered the best in the world is Mad C. I’m super, super inspired by her because she makes awesome piezas.”
Intrigued, I did some research: Mad C is a young German graffiti artist who creates incredibly detailed murals, often with fantastical or sci-fi features like a giant squid sinking ships. She’s done projects in three dozen countries, including a recent mural in León, Mexico.
Yet Sak and Kyd are no slouches themselves, and with this, their second workshop, they continue to spark the creativity of more women.
The cover photo on their Facebook page is of a freestanding concrete wall, with bright red and yellow 3-D letters rising from a blue background. It reads, “Soy mujer y soy artista”: I’m a woman and I’m an artist.
As Kyd said, “My message to other women is, if you’re passionate about graffiti, express yourself, and leave your legacy on the streets.”