From a youngster tagging the streets of suburban Stockholm, to becoming a big name in London’s rudimental street art scene, the 27-year-old paragon hasn’t let being a woman get in the way of kicking butt and taking names. Employing bold strokes and loud colour that make her Medusa-like motifs jump from the walls, Amara Por Dios is only just beginning her journey to join the ranks of London’s street art elite. But the path hasn’t always been smooth; despite fast-growing interest from female artists around the globe, ego and gender disparity in the male-dominated scene continue to block the way towards a unified community. Yet, in the face of such adversity, Por Dios shows no sign of holstering her spray cans – she’s only just getting started.
You became interested in painting as a child in your grandmother’s studio. What were her feelings towards you taking up graffiti?
That's a good question. When I was a teenager I didn't spent as much time with her so I don't think she knew I was doing graffiti.
What prompted your move from Stockholm to London?
I went to paint in London for the first time in 2012. I just fell in love with the city and how easy it was to paint there. I met so many talented artists and many became good friends. There’s just a nice vibe in London; paint jams, exhibitions, festivals and events going on all the time. In Stockholm not much was happening and I like to paint more in London than in Stockholm.
Are there any comparisons you’ve made between the street art scenes of both cities?
It's been zero tolerance in Stockholm, until last year when they removed the policy. I don't paint much illegally; I like to take my time, and in Stockholm I wasn't able to. Sometimes there are queues at the legal wall spots, and after you’ve taken your photo of the finished piece, someone else paints over it two minutes later.
It was good starting out in Sweden though. I did a lot of practice between 2010 and 2012.
In London there’re so many walls to paint and it's so much easier to get your work up. Meeting all the artists helped me a lot. The first person I met in London was Solo One, and he invited me to paint; shortly after that I met Global Street Art and they gave me a wall to paint. When I painted that wall I met another artist, and then it just went from there. It's like a circle: when you get into the scene in London, it just goes smoothly, around and around.
I've painted more illegal works since I arrived in London – but that's because so many people are used to it, so people don't bother you as much.
Your designs often contain Incan and Aztecan tribal motifs. Why is this recurrent throughout your works?
I wouldn't say it contains Incan/Aztec motifs in particular; it's more inspired by ancient South American culture in general. I do everything from my mind, and come up with everything myself. It's like a modernised version of the culture. I always take inspiration from my roots and heritage and it comes up very naturally.
Your work has diversified from graffiti, illustration and painting to apparel and interior design. Tell us about how your journey evolved.
Everything can be painted on, and that's what I want to do. I don't want to limit myself and I want to come up with new things and ideas. I like to work with different mediums – in that way, I don't get bored and always feel inspired.
What inspired your LuminAir lamp collection?
I wondered why no one had come up with this idea before. It's very simple but fun, and it's a good way to incorporate my art in to it. It got a lot of attention on social media: Real Swizz commented on it on Instagram; DJ Funkmaster Flex tweeted and blogged about it; it got featured in various blogs. I have some other ideas involving sneakers – hopefully you will see them in 2015.
As you’ve progressively branched out into other modes of expression, are there other art forms you’d like to explore but haven’t?
I want to do more sculptures; I would love to build masks and sculptures out of wood. I also want to work with glass but I think I will leave that till later on. At the moment I just want to paint really large-scale murals, and hope to do a collaboration with Nike.
Street artists notoriously have complications with law enforcement. Have you ever had run-ins with the law?
I always get people saying they will call the police, and even the police bothering me when I already have permission – but other than that, not really. Almost every time, something weird happens.
As a female artist in a male-dominated scene, what struggles or challenges have you faced while making a name for yourself?
When I started out when I was 14, some guys told me I couldn't paint because I'm a girl. I was better than them but still they said I couldn't paint. That made me work harder, and I painted every night before I went to sleep. What made me a better artist was when I stopped comparing myself to others and stopped listening to what others had to say.
When I started doing art full-time in 2011, I came across a lot of bullsh*t. I was asked out by a 60-year-old shop owner when I was painting his shutter. I get asked out a lot when I'm doing my work. I'm doing my job and men think I want to go out with them. That makes me feel they don't take me seriously, and every time a guy wants me to paint something I need to be cautious. It's a shame it has to be like that.
I also heard I'm a b*tch, a diva or pretending to be a queen when I tell people in the art business how I want things. If you're a strong woman and don't take sh*t, some men can't handle it. A lot of people have thought that I was a male when they only saw my work. When I'm painting on the street, I have big clothes on and people passing by say “Good one, mate”; “Great work, dude”; “Awesome, man”.
One time I turned around and a guy that made a comment screamed because he saw that I was a woman; it sounded like he got scared when he saw my face. When I was painting the Village underground wall, a lot of people thought that the male assistant taking care of the scaffolding was the artist; and another time when my male friend was helping me one day. Some people just don't expect women to artists, for some weird reason.
What advice can you give to young graffitists?
Don't listen to others. Do your thing and work hard. Things wont come to you; you need to make them happen. Practice a lot, paint a lot, make a lot of mistakes; you always learn from them. And most importantly, come up with your own style – when you do that, you can paint anything and it's not even hard. Develop your style and grow.
Any upcoming projects you can share with us?
Some other projects I'm working on, but can't tell at the moment. 🙂
Text Trent Davis
Images Amara Por Dios