Martha has never looked so tough. But there she is, the biblical Martha, sister of Lazarus and friend of Jesus, staring at you with powerful eyes, framed by that classic Chicano lettering: La Dominadora. The Dominator.
The painting, done in gouache by New York artist Nikki Nameless, is one of many graffiti and street art-inspired works currently hanging from the walls at Tuff City Tattoo.
The shop at the corner of Fordham Road and Belmont Avenue, right across the street from Fordham University’s Faculty Memorial Hall (FMH) does more than just tattoos.
It is a Mecca for graffiti artists, providing space, selling supplies and — for the next month — hosting an art exhibition titled “Who Runs the World? Girls.” As the name suggests, the show celebrates a rarity in the male-dominated world of street art and graffiti: female artists.
“Women are making a statement by simply engaging in this type of artwork because it is still so male-dominated,” said Nikki Nameless, known outside of the art world as Nicole Schorr. Schorr provided art for the exhibition and also served as a consultant. “It’s amazing because many women are consciously or unconsciously depicting what they know best — their womanhood.”
Signs of womanhood are everywhere in the works on display. There’s a comic book-style Superwoman, a female body painted from the waist down with gold-plated genitalia and every shade of pink imaginable.
However, Schorr expresses her womanhood through religious imagery.
“My mother’s Filipino so I grew up around a lot of Catholic archetypes,” she said. Schorr is presenting three pieces at Tuff City: the aforementioned Martha, La Dominadora, plus paintings of St. Joan of Arc and St. Michael the Archangel. “It’s a little bit of a triptych,” said Schorr. “It’s how I evolved through a break-up.”
Each piece asserts her strength as a woman.
“I would say that each piece, even the St. Michael that I did, is, to a degree, a self-portrait. I think every piece I wind up doing is a self-portrait.”
While Schorr’s themes fit right in at Rose Hill, her style is decidedly street.
The Joan of Arc piece is painted to look like a paste-up on a brick wall, framed by stylized curlicue script: “Some are born to endless night.”
As a female graffiti artist, Schorr sees her medium as way to make a statement while expressing her own
Her St. Michael flies above tagged-up apartment buildings. He, too, is framed by script: “Keep my love safe from harm.”
“I grew up in New York,” Schorr said, “and so it is natural for me to have been influenced by graffiti fonts and tattoo style lettering over the course of 20-something years.”
While she considers herself a fine artist, Schorr has been surrounded by street artists, and she “can’t help but think” that their bold imagery made an impact on her work along the way.
Like most graffiti, the exhibition came together quickly. Curator Dolene Brick came up with the idea just six weeks ago.
“My goal was to show that us as women can [be] feminine and sensitive and compassionate yet still be powerful,” she said.
It is the first show Brick has ever curated, and she is doing so with noble intentions.
Brick says that in such a male-dominated scene, it’s “definitely much harder” to get your name out as a woman. “This [exhibition] was definitely another way, an easier way, for us to show our work without having to make it so hard on us,” Brick said.
Meghan Muha, GSB ’14, knows what it is like to break into a male dominated scene.
This year, she decided to try a painting class as a “nice creative outlet,” but her real focus is in finance, her major in the Gabelli School of Business. In finance classes, she is often one of the only women around.
“It’s exciting for me to see women doing things differently in an industry that’s previously male-dominated,” Muha said. “Just being fearless and going into it when it’s a little bit scary, stepping off the ledge and breaking out and expressing themselves how they see fit.”
Muha has never been to Tuff City, but she said she thinks the show sounds great, and, as an interested artist, Muha is exactly the type of person who Schorr thinks should stop by Tuff City.
“Fordham students should try to absorb the rich surrounding Bronx culture, and Tuff City is almost like a museum in that respect,” Schorr said.
Budding artists can even explore the back, which Schorr says features “a re-created train yard where anyone can purchase paint in the store and try out their skills on one of their outdoor wall spaces…who knows, maybe an old-school graf legend might be around to give them some pointers.”
“Who Runs the World? Girls” is open daily until Dec. 12 from Noon-9 p.m. at Tuff City Tattoo, 650 E. Fordham Rd, and will be free of charge.