The Leading Graffiti Artist of Senegal is a Woman

Af Mona Munck-Lindblom

Although the hip-hop culture in Senegal is predominantly male, one of the best graffiti artists in the community in and around Dakar, the capital of Senegal, is Zeinixx, a 24-year old woman. In her art, she puts on display the challenges facing women in Senegalese society.

Most artists and activists of the hip-hop movement are men. And Senegal is no exception. But, among the men, some women emerge. And while it is not always easy to be Muslim, female and a hip-hop artist in this male dominated world, some persevere and become successful. One of them is Zeinixx, who, in the community around the hip-hop school Africulturban in Pikine, outside Senegal´s capital Dakar, is known to be among the leading graffiti artists of her generation.

Woman Pioneer

When Zeinixx started to do graffiti about 7 years ago when she was 17, she was the only woman, and although more women have joined the scene since then, she is still one of the only female graffiti artists. But she does not only stand out because she is a woman; her name is also mentioned by many as the greatest graffiti artists in the community. One reason for this, according to Zeinixx herself, is that within the hip-hop community it is not that hard to get recognized for her art. Here, she is respected and promoted for her talent more so than her gender. However, this is not the case in the world outside the hip-hop community. She says:

Those who are not involved in the hip-hop movement, think that I and the other women in the movement are bitches. Especially the older generations tend to think that hip-hop culture is steeped in sin, and being female only makes it worse in their eyes

When she is painting in the street she always wears headphones to avoid the comments of the people passing by. She says with with a slightly resigned smile:

When I am painting with my male colleagues I often have the experience that they get compliments for their work, while I get comments for being a woman. It bothers me, which is why I always wear headphones now, when I paint

Art for the Independence of Women

Yet, this doesn`t mean that Zeinixx isn`t aware of gender in her art; for example she often paints flowers in red and purple nuances. Besides being a graffiti artist Zeinixx is also active in the community as a rapper and slammer, with lyrics that revolve around the lives and challenges of women in Senegalese society. Her key issue is to give voice to the fate of children born outside of wedlock.

There is a lot of shame attached to pregnancies outside of marriage. It is not uncommon for an unwed mother to leave or even kill her newborn child to avoid social stigmatization

When sex before marriage is bound up with guilt and potential scandal for one’s family, many young adults – especially female – live at home until they are married, at which point they move in with the husband’s family.

According to Zeinixx this, on one hand, means that women have a more comfortable life, because they do not have expenses such as rent, food and so on. On the other hand, many conflicts arise between the young women and their parents because the latter will try to monitor any temptations that might occur outside the home.

With Success Comes Acceptance

Zeinixx herself has had many conflicts with her parents, especially her mother. While her father has supported her since she first began to be a part of the hip-hop community, her mother has always been critical of her involvement and at one point tried to ban it.

”My relationship with my mother has been filled with conflict. She could not accept my engagement with the community. She was convinced that it was a bad environment for me, and that it would only bring shame to me and our family”

Zeinixx continues:

But as time went by and I got more and more exposure as an artist, my mother became proud of me. She can see now that I live a good life and use my art to promote healthy values

Zeinixx is not only a known and well-respected name in the local community. In 2012 she was invited to France to participate in a graffiti festival.

Author: Mona Munck-Lindblom.Mona traveled to Senegal in the beginning of june 2014 to attend to the international hiphop and urban culture festival Festa2H in Dakar. During her trip Mona got a inside view of the Senegalese hip-hop environment which is known for its political activism and its social work in the ghetto. Mona is cand. mag in Literature and Culture Encounters and she is a cultural writer at U-landsnyt.dk.