This Grafitti Queen is Leading the Fight for Women’s Rights in Brazil

Panmela Castro
Photo courtesy of Panmela Castro

In early October, the well-known vodka brand Absolut unveiled “A Night For Change,” a film that documents seven influential graffiti artists from Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, the U.K., and the U.S. creating murals overnight. These murals take aim at spurring cultural conversations about sustainability, gender equality, global unity, and freedom of expression.

Among them is Brazilian artist Panmela Castro, who uses street art as a vessel to raise awareness for women’s rights in her native country. Castro’s reputation as Brazil’s “graffiti queen” placed her in Newsweek’s “150 Women Who Shake the World” and noted her as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. In “A Night For Change,” Castro’s artwork depicts her vision of a better tomorrow where we bring women to power through unity.

Photo courtesy of Panmela Castro
Photo courtesy of Panmela Castro

Why did you choose graffiti as your artistic medium?

Panmela Castro: Becoming a graffiti artist happened in the most organic way. I grew up in an area where graffiti was widespread, and my family always encouraged me to explore my artistic talents. I studied art at the University of Rio de Janeiro and used the nom de guerre “Anarkia Boladona” when I tagged walls during this part of my life. I turned professional in 2005, and after the summer of 2006, I began collaborating with the organization Com Causa (“With Cause”) to campaign for women’s rights and to fight domestic violence against women.

What is the current environment for female street artists in Brazil? How is it similar or different in other places you’ve been?

Panmela Castro: Brazil still holds a lot of resistance toward female artists that contrasts with how the rest of the world views women who want to explore this avenue of art. I’ve had to pay a high price to be recognized. Men here are not keen to the idea of being equals with women. One of the reasons I was accepted in Brazil as a street artist was because I was good at what I did; they were forced to accept me.

What inspires you to create, and how do you continue to find inspiration?

Panmela Castro: My mom, aunt, and I have all survived domestic abuse. At that time, it was written off as a private matter because there were no laws against domestic violence in Brazil. Those experiences made me want to use my work to empower and unite women. My art positively portrays women, highlighting their strength versus their struggles in a way that emphasizes healing. Ultimately, I want women in Brazil to be more educated about the new laws that provide legal protection against abuse.

Tell us about your next big project.

Panmela Castro: My next project will be moving into the second phase with Absolut in our local community initiative that will provide graffiti workshops through my NGO, Rede NAMI, to Afro-Brazilian women in underrepresented communities. I will be hands-on in the workshops to give young women in distress an avenue to heal and a platform for emotional expression.