Lady Pink, the Ecuadorian-born Artist Who Challenged the World of Graffiti

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Photo courtesy of news.artnet.com

Being a woman in a male-dominated field is never an easy path to success. While having undeniable talent is essential, it’s unfortunately not enough if you want to compete with men, especially in the world of graffiti art. This is why it’s so impressive and so inspiring that Lady Pink has not only been able to compete with some of the most well-known and successful male artists, but she’s actually dominated them all. 

Lady Pink (born Sandra Fabara) was born in Ambato, Ecuador, and raised in New York City. The NY -based graffiti artist, muralist, and fine artist is known as the First Lady of graffiti and is a rare female figure in the male-dominated world of graffiti art. 

That space at the top was by no means handed to Lady Pink — she had to work her butt off to carve out that space for herself and establish her talent in the 1970s when she first began her artistic journey.

Lady Pink wasn’t always a cult artist. Her career as a graffiti artist started in the late 1970s, sneaking into subway stations and tagging trains. In fact, she was a teenager in 1979, tagging her ex-boyfriend’s name on city walls in New York, when her passion and career as an artist were really set into motion. 

In the early 1980s, Pink painted subway trains, and in 1982 she had a starring role in the motion picture “Wild Style,” a groundbreaking film documenting hip hop and graffiti culture in the 1980s. 

She was still in high school when Lady Pink was exhibiting her work in art galleries, and at 21 years old, she had her first solo show. Since then, her work has been displayed in important art collections around the world, including at the Whitney Museum, the MET in New York City, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Groningen Museum of Holland. 

Lady Pink has made significant contributions to the graffiti art world, but beyond that, she has arguably transformed the perception of graffiti art from street art to fine art — showing that art can transcend cultural boundaries.

In addition to creating art and hosting exhibitions around the world, Lady Pink also runs a small mural company with her artist husband. Through their company, they create massive graffiti works around New York City. She also shares her decades of experience by hosting mural workshops for youth artists and lecturing college students. 

Lady Pink has never been one to sit back and quietly blend into the background. Her thrill-seeking personality as a teen still influences her attitude and her work as an adult and arguably one of the world’s most famous and most successful graffiti artists. 

Even her artist name pushes boundaries. 

At a time when female graffiti artists were few and far between, Lady Pink put her feminism front and center both through her moniker and her work. Her name was the product of her love of Victorian historical romances and her desire to embrace the femininity associated with the color pink. Womanhood is not merely an obstacle — though there have been obstacles — but also a huge source of empowerment and strength in Lady Pink’s work. Being a strong female artist is not only reflected in her style and inspired by her upbringing, but it is also an integral part of who she is as an artist and a person.  

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Lady Pink is presenting her work in a unique and powerful exhibit at Miami’s Museum of Graffiti. The exhibition, entitled “Graffiti HERstory,” features work focused on human rights advocacy and feminism through the graffiti art form. The exhibition showcases works on paper and canvas as well as photographs by Lady Pink and runs from March 5th through May 20th, 2021.

We sat down to chat with Lady Pink about her upbringing, her sources of inspiration, her take on feminism, her latest exhibit, and her message to other female graffiti artists.

What first inspired you to begin writing graffiti?

I started writing graffiti for the fun of it, for the excitement, for the thrills, to be down with the cool crowd, and just to have kicks and giggles with friends. And then to get sane. Once I got sane, I got addicted to fame, so I kept doing it because of that.  

How does your upbringing inspire your artistry?

I’ve been an artist since I was five years old, and my mom always supported and encouraged my creative side. She did not support my graffiti career. I grew up in a very traditional and conservative household, and my mom was horrified by my early graffiti escapades. She did not appreciate that I was a teenage girl sneaking out the window in the middle of the night going into the shady neighborhoods of NYC to paint subway trains. But when I started exhibiting in galleries, my parents really supported me. My mom and my stepdad came to all of my openings, and they would drive my really big painting on top of the car tied down with rope and blankets and take it to the next gallery. They did whatever they could to help me.  

What is the biggest challenge (and biggest reward) of being a rare woman dominating the world of street art and graffiti – a field typically populated by men?

Well, the biggest challenge is that we girls have to pee sitting down when we are out in the field, and boys can just go and find some nearby tree! (laughs) But seriously, the biggest challenge has, of course, been the sexism and the hostility because there’s a “boys club,” and they don’t want girls in it. You know we tiny little females make it look easy, and then they get insulted. And 30-40 years ago, it was worse than it is today, but it still exists. The boys want their own thing, and they don’t want the girls along.  

Tell us about your upcoming exhibit “Lady Pink: Graffiti HERstory” at the Museum of Graffiti. What do you hope spectators will take away from your work displayed at this exhibit?

I’m presenting a variety of work, some of it I just created a couple of years ago and some other stuff I did during the Covid lockdown. I’ve got an amazing painting, TC5, that took me two months to paint, and I’m showing last the best of my skill in all possible worlds. I want everyone to understand how well a self-taught artist can paint. I have my history laid out in this show. There are a lot of newspaper articles and illustrations and murals and all kinds of stuff I’ve done over the past 40 years so that people can see that I didn’t just turn to graffiti as a teenager, and I’m playing off that gimmick. I have busted my butt for decades doing all kinds of projects all over the world to get to where I am now, so exhibiting that history in one place is amazing.  

 I also created fourteen portraits of some dear friends who have had an impact on my life, especially in my early years. I’ve got my first schoolmates there like, Seen, TC5, Mare, Lady Hearts, and Ernie, and these are people I went to high school with, and I’m still friends with today. Most of them are also successful artists, and they inspire me greatly.  Then there are other people; these are guys that supported me and encouraged me and gave me opportunities, and believed in me when I was only a 16-year-old amateur. They gave me an opportunity to exhibit with them in galleries and to paint trains with them, and I greatly appreciate that, so I am hopefully immortalizing their images. I created collaborations of people’s faces with their artwork so that everyone can be familiar with what it is that they did and who they were. I hope it’s a learning experience. I didn’t just make a bunch of pretty pictures with graffiti. I hope that when people walk through the show, they feel like, “wow, yeah, I learned a lot today.”

What does feminism mean to you? Do you see yourself as a feminist?

Within the second room of the exhibit, my work is more driven by activism. Other people see me as a feminist, and that’s always been our lot; other folks label us as “street artist,” “graffiti artist,” “feminist,” “Latin American artist,” and sure, yes, I’m all of that. But I don’t live my life by being a militant feminist. I just go about my business and do my work. I can run a company; I can boss guys around. Being a woman doesn’t stop me or prevent me from doing business in the old, white, male world of contractors. 

What message do you have for young creative students and artists who are interested in pursuing their dreams of graffiti art?

In pursuing your dreams and art — whether you’re going to college and majoring in Fine Arts or photography or if you’re a self-taught street artist who is incredibly enthusiastic and full of energy — what you do need to learn, besides the talent and skill that you already have, is business. It is 50% talent and 50% business to be successful.  You have to learn how to return phone calls, write invoices, write a letter, know how to keep track of all your artwork and how to manage stuff. Know that it’s all incredibly tedious and boring; nobody wants to do this as an artist because we just don’t have that kind of patience, and that’s fine. You should be creative, and you should spend all your time being creative, so hire someone that can do your business. But if you can’t, then definitely spend half your time taking care of your business and promoting yourself, selling yourself, selling your work, and getting out there and doing media and doing publicity for yourself and marketing yourself. They don’t teach you this in school. They teach you to have the skills of your trade, but then they don’t teach you how to survive when you get out.