Kashink, a street artist from Paris, has a been drawing a mustache onto her upper lip for the past two years. “I wear it every single day,” says the artist, who has become one of the world’s better known street artists for her large-scale, diversity-conscious murals in Paris, Miami, Morocco, New York, and Los Angeles. “It started as a kind of alter ego to wear to openings or performances or parties. Little by little I realized I wanted to wear it more often. Two symmetrical lines on a female face are accepted on the eyebrows or as eyeliner, but if you drop these same lines [lower] on the same face, it becomes the opposite of how a woman is supposed to look. It’s really interesting to question these codes.”
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Kashink’s latest mural in Paris was commissioned by Amnesty International as part of their “My Body, My Rights” project. “The idea of the campaign is to be able to reach a broader audience about sex roles and reproductive rights,” Kashink says. “It also has to do with gender representation. The first idea I had was to revisit classical paintings such as ‘La Grande Odalisque’ with the idea that bodies are represented a certain way in art. I thought it was interesting to present them in a way that was the opposite of the originals.”
The artist, who got involved with street art at age 17 and began creating wall-sized pieces at 25, has finally established a recognizable aesthetic at 34. Her re-imagining of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s celebrated nude form employs her trademark bright colors to render the woman race neutral. “I’m working on human diversity and how beautiful it is,” she says. “The fact that my subjects have no defined skin color is a great way to share these different aspects.” She’s also added a message to the piece—the words “mon corps, mes droits” (my body, my rights) appear as if coming from the woman’s mouth. “Ingres made her skin look perfect and smooth. I thought it was interesting to completely change these aspects,” the artist says of her creature’s comfort with her spotted skin and Picasso-esque rows of eyes. “We’re so bombarded with images of women looking good that we don’t even question this anymore,” she says. “It’s very interesting that the imaginary skin color I’m doing is a way to free my art from the origin of my characters.”
In addition to disturbing the notion of beauty, Kashink also wants to give back to her community. She regularly involves students in her projects and enlisted a group of them to help with the Odalisque mural. As for being a woman in an art scene that is primarily comprised of men? “I get that question a lot,” Kashink says. “There are less women in art in general. It’s very easy to name ten male painters who marked art history. It’s very hard to name five female painters who marked art history. It’s not specific to street art. Women are expected to be useful in society. They’re supposed to be raising kids, taking care of their homes, having a career that’s effective. Art, in a way, is kind of useless. Art doesn’t change diapers, cook, or clean the house.”
There is a second factor that comes into play with street art: the inherent risk. Although Kashink paints a lot of commissioned murals that are completely legal, she continues to create pieces outside the law. And despite recently being brought in by the Paris police for tagging trucks, the artist remains undeterred. “I’ve always been a risk-taker so I’m not scared of that,” she says. “But maybe taking risks is not something women are encouraged to do and they should be.”
To see more of Kashink’s work follow her on Instagram.