Filmmaker and photographer Alexandra Henry brings the heat with her directorial debut Street Heroines, a short but sweet documentary love letter that follows women graffiti artists in America, Mexico and South America. Equal parts history lesson, light political primer and ode to the power of art, Henry’s film not only encapsulates New York City’s invaluable contributions to the legitimization of street art, but showcases how a thread that began with style writers like Lady Pink and Claw Money continues across borders and through large and small communities to become a full-fledged phenomenon.
At its core, Street Heroines is really about street art, not just graffiti, though that once-maligned art form did pave the way for artistic freedoms in the mural department that many take for granted today. Take a town like Santa Fe, where murals are a hot button issue and groups like the Alas de Agua Art Collective fight hard for access to every wall—the film is really a celebration of folks like them, even if their forebears were forced to scramble up buildings and sneak into train yards and deal with yet another example of the world telling women they couldn’t do a thing.
Through interviews with the past, present and future of artists and muralists (plus peripheral heroes like photographer Martha Cooper, whose so-called fine art shots of street art helped legitimize the form), Henry ultimately proves that women were always at the forefront of graffiti, be it introducing more artful characters to the equation (hat tip to NYC’s Toofly). Hearing from those who blur the lines like American artist Swoon or the legendary Brazilian muralist Nina Pandolfo adds even deeper layers to the story, and without pining on how many men treated women like they couldn’t do graffiti, Street Heroines ultimately ends on a hopeful note.
Of special note are artist conferences and Mexican artists who tired of restrictive policies in the bigger cities and partnered with tiny village communities to do their work. All along the way, countless jaw-dropping pieces flit across the screen and inspiring stories of punk rock (or hip-hop?) artistry unfold. If there’s any real criticism to be found, it’s in Street Heroines’ short runtime. This would be watchable at twice the length, but even so—it should be shown to kids and in schools immediately. As one artist points out in the film, if a little girl can see her working and suddenly find herself capable of doing the same, then it was all worth it.
+Destigmatizes street art
-Too short; music feels tacked on
Directed by Henry
Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, NR, 70 min.