“Any truly revolutionary art is an alchemy through which waste, grief, brutality, frozen indifference, ‘blind sorrow,’ and anger are transmuted into some drenching recognition of the What if—the possible. What if?
—the first revolutionary question…naming and mourning damage, keeping pain vocal so it cannot become normalized and acceptable.”
– Adrienne Rich
What if womxn lived in a world that was safe and free from misogynistic harm, violence and femicide?
This is the kind of question that an artist must ask if she seeks to transform the havoc and misery around her into a masterpiece worthy of praise.
And, believe me, alchemy don’t come easy.
That’s why I’m starting a series called Bout That Lyfe. I’ll be highlighting local women whose blood, sweat and tears are fashioned into the paint that decorates the walls of our consciousness.
One such woman is Leslie “Dime” Lopez. Dime grew up in East Oakland while her parents hail from Mexico. She’s been teaching, organizing, creating and mothering for many years.
When you first meet Dime you notice her warm demeanor—her face glows with love. But she once showed me older photos of herself, from the early 2000s. She looks different. She’s wearing a baggy black hoodie and her expression is stern. She’s got that, “I wish a motherfucker would” face on, the one that girls from the hood learn to wield as a shield from constant attack.
Times have changed though. Her face is relaxed now. Although, these days, Dime is probably juggling three things at once. She’s likely watching her two young sons, who run playfully around her legs, or tending to a youth she’s mentoring, or helping organize the next event at Eastside Arts Alliance.
Whatever she’s doing, she navigates it with grace, purpose, courage and the perseverance that can only come from being the decedent of determined ancestors.
I sat down with Dime to ask her about her artistic background as well as her most recent collaborative mural project, Ni Una Menos ‘Sisters Unite,” which highlights the devastating impact of the murders of womxn of color from Palestine to the U.S. Mexico border.
“I’m like this because I always painted with guys. I never got a chance to build with girls in sisterhood.”
Dime started painting murals at the tender age of ten. She was inspired to paint walls because of a middle school project. Dime and her Oakland Charter School classmates created a mural commemorating the Worker’s Movement and Dime chose to do a portrait of Emma Tenayuca. It was the first time Dime considered herself to be an artist. Although she’d grown up seeing colorful tags all over the East Oakland concrete surrounding her, like most people, she wasn’t necessarily raised to embrace the label, artist. She says that she “struggled to call [her]self an artist because it wasn’t something people respected nor accepted as a career.”
But the seed of an idea was planted in her after that mural project. She improved upon her initial talents and interests in Graffiti. Dime pushed herself to create letters and master a style she could call her own. She put in work to be respected and have letters as sharp and vibrant as the ones written by dudes that dominated the highly competitive—and straight up dangerous—Oakland graffiti scene. One challenge that she faced was that the secret nature of graffiti art made it hard to find women to collaborate with. She says that “the lack of growing up with a sisterhood of graffiti girls really affects me now.”
Fortunately, Dime became part of a crew called Few and Far Women. She has been rocking with the collective since it was first founded in 2011. Few and Far is an all-women collective made up of artists from all over the world. The collective boasts both established and beginner visual artists, all with the common goal of having one another’s backs. Dime says that what brings members together are the experiences they’ve all had while trying to forge a space for themselves in male dominated visual art scenes. What Dime loves about the crew is also feeling completely and totally comfortable to claim the title artist. She sees the impact that Few and Far has had in setting a positive example to younger girls. She values “earning your respect, keeping your respect and checking motherfuckers…letting them know: hey this shit ain’t right!”
“Art can’t be nothing but a protest.”
One of Dime’s most recent collaborative projects is a mural near 22nd and International aka E14 called Ni Una Menos: Sisters Unite.
The title of the project was inspired by Ni Una Menos, which is a larger movement that translates to “Not One Less.” The movement is a “collective cry against Machista violence,” and Femicide. It grew traction in 2015 after the violent murder of a fourteen-year-old girl in Argentina drew 200,000 people to the streets in protest. Ni Una Menos later grew to five neighboring countries, also alarmingly dangerous places to be womxn. Although there have been countless Femicides throughout Latin America for decades, it was the first mass protest in response to these crimes against humanity.
The process of creating Ni Una Menos was as follows: Eastside Arts Alliance goes began with a dialogue involving community members before landing on a theme. Dime and the other muralists thought long and hard about how to highlight Femicide while also cultivating a local context. For example, how does this issue impact Black womxn as well? The theme of Disappeared people continued to come up in discussions and changing the title to Ni Una Menos came up. Unlike “Ni Una Mas,” shifting the title honored living womxn still struggling to survive. Dime says it was “a way of connecting East Oakland with South and Central America.” They wanted to draw parallels with the contemporary Feminist movement, which is sparking resistance throughout the entire hemisphere. In the end, Dime and the other muralists chose the title, Ni Una Menos to inspire solidarity. They commemorated Black and Palestinian womxn alongside Latinxs.
The mural features portraits of seven womxn of color in total. All of these womxn died violently. Dime explains that the topic of unjust deaths felt urgent because, as she puts it, “women have been on the forefront of being attacked [they] are more vulnerable to being attacked.”
As July approached, Dime and the other muralists began working on creating the initial sketches. But the entire process was brought to a halt when Nia Wilson was tragically murdered that same month. Nia was a seventeen-year-old Black woman who was stabbed to death by a white man as she rode BART with her sister. The shock of the grotesque killing sent a ripple of grief throughout the city. Dime said young women were in a state of fear. For example, some of the girls that were helping out with the mural project said that it could have been any one of them—their faces could have been up on the wall too. They were heartbroken and terrified. Dime says that “it was this whole need of—what are we gonna do?”
Dime chose to pick up a spray can and continue to work. She says “we didn’t know Nia personally, her story just took over everything.” And, as a flood of sorrow washed over them, it became even more necessary that these girls and womxn of color didn’t die in vain. They would be honored.
“We were healing as we were painting,” Dime says.
But it didn’t come easy.
Dime described going home some nights and drowning in a pile of portraits of deceased womxn. She placed some of their faces on her altar. She said prayers and sometimes broke down and cried.
“I just wanted to give up sometimes. It was so intense, but so powerful,” says Dime. Dime described how the East Oakland community reacted to the process of their mural project. Strangers often brought food or volunteered to help paint. As they worked, onlookers inquired—some were sex workers. One woman asked why there weren’t any prostitutes on the wall. “They keep killing us and nobody talks about it.”
This interaction inspired Dime to add Gwen Araujo to the mural. Gwen was a seventeen-year-old trans Raza woman who was violently killed by two men she had been sexually involved with.
“Regardless of what skin tone you are, we share the same risk.”
One thing she stresses is the importance of solidarity amongst womxn of color. In a misogynistic world, it is imperative that we protect one another.
The risk of being oneself is a risk worth taking.
The risk to go outside, the risk to fight to survive by any means necessary, the risk to cross borders, to speak truth to power, to demand answers, to be respected, to fight back when harmed physically or emotionally, to do what needs to be done to put food on the table, to just breathe is a risk when your existence is a threat to the status quo.
But thanks to Dime and those that supported in making the Sisters Unite mural possible, we can look into the eyes of womxn who dared to exist.
They are the brujxs the Patriarchy can never kill because,
through art, we refuse to forget them.
Eastside Arts Alliance will be hosting a Dia de los Muertos event this Friday, Nov. 2nd from 5pm to 8pm. The event will honor the lives of womxn lost to Femicide and celebrate the struggle to end the global war on women.
Womxn commemorated on the wall:
Susana Robles, age 20
Razal Al Najjar, age 21
Luz Gonzales, age 4
Nia Wilson, age 18
Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez, age 20
Sandra Bland, age 27
Gwen Araujo, age 17