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Changing the World of Street Art

Fine art alumna Nina Wright looks to build confidence and opportunities with an all-girls graffiti camp

The end of March concludes Women’s History Month, an entire celebration of women, girls and the historic strides and accolades accomplished throughout the years. However, even in 2017, some barriers still remain to be broken, especially in the world of street art, and Nina Wright, Academy of Art University School of Fine Art alumna, aims to change that.

According to Wright, the graffiti realm is still very much male-dominated even in the progressive Bay Area. The Oakland muralist wondered why she was always pegged for local all-girls shows. 

“I felt they weren’t really necessary,” said Wright. “Then I realized these shows feature the only female muralists out in the Bay Area. There’s seven of us, which is a pretty small number when you think about the total number that exists, both male and female.” 

In an effort to “balance the scales,” Wright paired up with grant writer Deirdre O’Shea and the two won funding from Southern Exposure (a San Francisco visual nonprofit arts company) for their idea of an all-girls graffiti camp—aptly dubbed “Graffiti Camp 4 Girls.”

The goal was simple: build confidence and create opportunities for young girls to pursue not just street art and graffiti, but murals as well. Over the course of nine days, Wright plans to teach the 12 girls enrolled in her class—ages 12–16—color theory, paper concepts, spray paint tools and techniques and how to bring their ideas from paper to wall.

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Academy of Art University School of Fine Art alumna Nina Wright in front of one of her murals in the Mission District. Photo courtesy of Nina Wright.

“The idea is that girls are not really encouraged to go that route, whereas boys are,” she said. “It can be intimidating for most women and it doesn’t feel accessible.” 

Despite that thought, Wright herself has been a huge presence in the Bay Area street art scene. Since 2014, she’s been commissioned for 13 murals in San Francisco and Oakland and participated in eight exhibitions, including the Academy’s 2015 and 2016 Spring Show, where she won a printmaking award. 

Though she graduated with a focus on painting, Wright said much of her time at the Academy was split between her painting discipline and printmaking. 

“By sticking with painting, I got to learn all these technical skills such as color composition and anatomy,” she explained. “But with the silk-screen department, I could take all of those concepts and freely use them. There’s one side that’s total discipline and then the other is freedom, so it was cool to have a mix of those two things.”

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Motel Mademoiselle mural by Nina Wright. Photo courtesy of Nina Wright.

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One of Nina Wright’s murals in West Oakland. Photo courtesy of Nina Wright.

Wright’s artwork is simultaneously fun, yet also gritty. Her art alias—“Girl Mobb” (Instagram name: @GirlMobb)—aligns with her signature character, a girl in a pink ski mask character. The traits identifying the character as female—the color pink, lipstick and long eyelashes—aligns itself with an air of rebellion and is symbolic that the two don’t have to exist separately. 

The ideas Wright pours into her own art she hopes to pass on to her graffiti camp students. She says the reception has been overwhelming, and people are eager to volunteer, donate and provide spaces. To date, Wright has enough interested students to fill additional sessions later on in the year.

“I want the class to be as renegade and whimsical as possible, but also function as an organized chaos,” she said. “I actually expected to get some hostility, but I’ve received a lot of encouragement and support and it’s been a really magical experience.”