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For a Weekend, Female Graffiti Artists Left a Burst of Color on the Walls of the Fabrication Yard

Dallas-grown She Unit Paint Jam is transforming the legal graffiti park into an epicenter for female graffiti artists in Dallas and across the globe.
By Desiree Gutierrez |
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Work by graffiti artists Peste and Maat at the Fabrication Yard in West Dallas as part of the She Unit Paint Jam. Elizabeth Lavin

For a Weekend, Female Graffiti Artists Left a Burst of Color on the Walls of the Fabrication Yard

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It was a woman’s world earlier this month at the Fabrication Yard, the legal graffiti park in West Dallas. The walls bordering Parvia Avenue and Akron, Fabrication, and Bataan streets were buffed on May 11 to create a blank canvas. Over the next three days, more than five dozen artists covered their new canvas in color from aerosol cans.

The walls came to life with typography, characters, and drawings of all shapes, sizes, legibility, and composition.

Ursula, the villain from The Little Mermaid, practically leapt off the wall in one space to grasp lettering bearing the name of the Houston artist Limon, who created the piece. Adjacent to that work, a surrealist take on Disney’s Maleficent pierced viewers with an icy blue glare. Names of notable artists were tagged on the walls. Other artists’ works were identifiable by their signature styles alone, like the Dallas artist Chapis’ well-known faces that represent her Guatemalan heritage. 

These works came to the art park by way of She Unit, a now annual Dallas-based, female-only graffiti paint jam. The event attracted others from across the state, country, and even abroad. 

“It is a life changing event,” says She Unit organizer Raytrill Harvey. “It’s uncompetitive. Artists are willing to teach people, willing to show people the ropes, and willing to share and foster creativity.” 

The inaugural She Unit paint jam was held in May 2022. It began as a simple birthday wish that grew into far more. Harvey had decided she wanted to celebrate her birthday by painting alongside other women. She expressed this to her peers Sueño, Chapis, and Alicia Chapman, and two months later, they had arranged for a paint jam.

“There was this outcry and every woman that came told us that they’ve been waiting for something like this,” says the artist.

The artists say it’s rare to find an opportunity to paint with other women. Harvey is one of two women in the local graffiti collective Urban Army Crew. Even at the Fabrication Yard, she is often the only woman painting. 

“I didn’t meet my first girl there that painted until after a year,” she says. 

Women have been active in this art form since its inception, but the graffiti scene remains male-dominated. And because of the underground nature of the work, many artists assume monikers. Gender is often elusive.

Chapman, a She Unit organizer and contemporary artist, began her graffiti practice in the 1990s. Graffiti had flourished in New York City at the time, but she can only reference one female artist from that period. 

“Lady Pink,” says Chapman, “she was one of the very few female graffiti artists that I looked up to.”

Dubbed “the first lady of graffiti,” Lady Pink gained prominence in the 80s, when she processed grief by writing her deceased boyfriend’s name all over New York City. Lady Pink credits networking in vocational high school as a catalyst to growing her notoriety. 

“We had the most popular table in the lunchroom, and I was queen of the lot. That’s where we planned and did all our business. We all became apprentices and masters; we taught each other,” she said to New York Teacher in 2013. 

The artists of She Unit treat the event as their lunchroom table, where they go to apprentice and master their craft. This year’s version was headlined by German artist Aura and the Mexican writer Peste. Both are world-renowned in the graffiti realm. 

Aura and Australian artist Xhale collaborated to create an aerosol production. Their creation was crisp and symmetrical, a mastery of line work and can control. For Xhale, the $3,000 flight to Dallas was worth the opportunity to work alongside an idol. 

“Most people who are at the highest levels of doing it are the most innovative people in our society,” says Triz, a graff writer whose educational scholarship explores hip-hop’s model of cultural education. “Painting letters has taken them to the heights of human potential.”

Graffiti is a rebellious art form fueled by the determination to create works in spite of its surroundings. Artists don’t need permission. Their environments are often varied, and the limited time requires quick decisions. The craft demands adaptability, coordination, creativity, heightened focus, and versatility. 

Triz conducted an aerosol bombing school at She Unit. She began by writing, which she considers the essence of the art. Children stood rapt as they held aerosol cans. Then they pressed their tiny fingers on the cap and painted their chosen names onto a fence. 

The owners of the Fabrication Yard have allowed graffiti for the past decade or so. It’s a public space that gives younger artists a chance to conquer a strenuous practice without the physical and legal risks, bringing it out of the shadows. Here, rising artists can develop a style and technique without worry. 

“The essence of graffiti is being lost, and that’s the lettering and pieces,” says Peste. “A lot of women that are entering into graffiti are focusing on drawings and other things.” 

The artist composed a colorful multilayered piece of her name. The 3D art was vibrant with blues, greens, pinks, yellows, and oranges that blended seamlessly. Letters appeared translucent in some areas, thanks to her skilled layering. Arrows, an important design element in graffiti, were prominent. 

All weekend long rising artists, observers, and photographers admired her workmanship as she created the piece. 

Harvey views Peste is one of the “OGs” of graffiti. Peste’s practice spans 29 years. Harvey began painting with aerosol in 2019. But she never imagined herself behind the can because of how rare it was to see others like her at work.

“If I had seen a woman painting back then maybe I would have felt differently about the situation and felt more encouraged to try it,” she says. “I could have been painting for like 20 years versus the four years I’ve been painting.”

Despite attendance from seasoned and proficient artists, the event also showcased emerging artists.

M Geezy, a 16-year-old muralist, painted on canvas outside the first She Unit while she admired the women at work. Harvey and other organizers took notice and offered her a slot on the 2023 lineup. They stayed true to their word. This year M Geezy painted a mural of R&B singer Summer Walker. She was the youngest muralist at the event. 

“When you see things like She Unit happening, it’s just going to continue to happen,” says Harvey. “These young girls that are out here are going to see it, they’re going to want to paint. Things like this sparks a revolution, a new wave of female artists that want to get into this and do this.” 


Desiree Gutierrez

Desiree Gutierrez

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