There's Somethin' About Shiro

Words & Collages: St. Paco

When considering content for the fifth issue of Kung Fu Grip! zine, it quickly occurred to me that an interview with Shiro, a prolific graffiti artist from Japan, would be a cool inclusion to pursue. I became an instant fan of her work when I saw it on a viaduct wall during a trip to back home to Chicago, and have followed her character-based graffiti ever since.

By way of Myspace, I dropped Shiro a line to request an interview and looked forward to hearing back from the artist. But I never got a response, and didn’t feel at all slighted about it either. Some artists don’t feel all that comfortable about being nailed down in print–particularly graffiti artists.

Despite the high frequency at which Shiro "gets up," and despite the fact that many of the artist’s pieces are legal murals that she received permission to paint (like that one on a viaduct in Chicago), there’s still something very discreet about Shiro. Something mysterious even.

For instance, in nearly all of the photographs that I’ve seen of her, the artist usually has a two-finger ‘peace’ sign raised to obscure her face. Sometimes a spray can has been held up to block the view. At still other times, the bill of one of the hats that she always seems to wear has been tilted down to partially conceal her visage.

And what exactly is it that the artist is trying to hide? It can’t be her identity, because everyone knows it’s Shiro. More often than not, the photographs in which she stands posed are posted right on her blog. So it’s clearly no secret who the artist is–or what she looks like.

Speaking frankly, the artist is also as cute and as stylish as any one of her painted characters. So it’s not even a case of hiding from the world the kind of face that only a mother or father could love. Is it possible that Shiro is just shy? Well, I wouldn’t believe it for a minute, even if she told me that she was.

Perhaps it’s all just done in a mostly symbolic effort to preserve an alter ego that the artist still wants to try maintaining somehow: Shiro Miyakami, aerosol can brandishing super-heroine by day, mild-mannered nurse by night!

An article that I once read mentioned that when she isn’t painting, Shiro works part-time as a nurse in her hometown of Shizuoka. I’m thinking that maybe she should just buy a pair of thick, dark-rimmed glasses; that trick always seemed to work for Superman. And Wonder Woman, too.

Whatever it is that this not-so-masked woman is hiding, the images that she leaves on walls across the globe reveal a lot. Her letter forms, though stylized and colorful, are usually simple enough that even a grandmother could read and appreciate. Still, grandma might actually take issue with some of Shiro’s super-sexy characters that show up on public walls as naked as topless dancers.

Shiro’s colorful cast of characters includes mermaids, sword-wielding geishas, bikers, b-girls, masked wrestlers and bat-carrying ball breakers. There are mini-dress donned divas, baseball cap wearing homegirls, bikini garbed hell’s angels and even a veil-covered Virgin! And they all rock manicured nails, lipstick, earrings and hairstyles that run the gamut; from bone straight and ponytails to cornrows and cameo afros.

Shiro’s art embraces the characteristics of every woman. And that might be partly why the artist conceals her face. Like those characters (and Chaka Khan & Whitney), Ms. Shiro, too, is every woman, and chooses to limit how much she shares of herself because she’s more woman than most of us can handle.

– Originally printed in Kung Fu Grip! #5 (Preview & order here)

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