Street art that defies the status quo on gender and sexuality

French street artist Kashink has created murals with young people, challenging attitudes about the female body to support My Body My Rights. Here she takes us back to where her art activism began. 

I started with stickers when I moved to Paris in 1998. I grew up in the banlieue – the outskirts of Paris – and I was familiar with graffiti. It wasn't until 2006 that I started painting big walls.

At first I wasn't hoping to make any difference. I just wanted to paint. Then I realized I could also share messages. I thought there was some conservatism in the representation of genders for example, and I wanted to share another perspective.

My activism is about celebrating human diversity. When I started “50 cakes of gay” two years ago, the situation in France was scary. People put so much energy into protesting for other people not to have rights. I don't know if painting more than 300 gay wedding cakes in nine different countries really changed the way people think, but at least I got a lot of support on that project.

French street artist Kashink in action. French street artist Kashink in action.
Kashink, wearing her infamous moustache, paints her first mural for Amnesty. "KASHINK is an onomatopoeic word from a comic book," she says. "When I was a teenager I used to borrow American comic books like Marvel from my friends, and I remember reading this word and liking its sound and spelling. I started using it, even before painting walls." ©Charles Devoyer

What it means to be a woman

Being a woman comes with having to potentially find ourselves in situations where our bodies are involved, inside and outside. It’s crazy that some of our sexual and reproductive rights are still somehow taboo.

Women are “not supposed” to have a moustache. I think it's interesting to see the impact that two simple lines can have. I started doing it for fun at first. But at some point I decided to wear it every day. That was almost two years ago. I like the idea of questioning the traditions of female make-up in our society, where two symmetrical lines above the eyes are accepted, but the same lines on another part of the face are not. I think it's up to artists to question the absurdity of these social codes.

Kashink’s first mural for Amnesty

My idea was to use classical paintings that everybody knows, such as La Grande Odalisque by Ingres. I remember seeing it in Le Louvre as a kid. The person next to me said that Ingres added extra vertebrae so her back would look longer and nicer. Her skin looks particularly smooth too, and flawless.

I'm interested in using images that involve this kind of body modification. Ingres' techniques are somehow similar to Photoshop. The fact that I changed the character, making it look bigger, adding this spotted pattern on the skin and a confusing gender aspect to it, made the idea funny, too.

Kashink painting a new mural Kashink painting a new mural
Kashink at work on her second mural for Amnesty. ©Charles Devoyer

I love to sit in public places like a café terrace and watch people do their thing, interact with one another. People inspire me. I'm a humanist, I'm interested in people's experiences, how they were as a kid, how they live now. I'm touched by people who try their best.

The most important thing is to embrace the idea that everybody should be free to make their own decisions in life, and to celebrate humanity in the beauty of its diversity.

Not everyone has the chance to freely decide about their bodies and lives. In Burkina Faso, women and girls are too often prevented from getting life-changing and sometimes life-saving contraception. Sign our petition calling on the authorities to change this.

A version of this blog first appeared in the July-September edition of WIRE.