Introducing… YOUNITY Founders AM and TOOFLY

Read more

The all-female art collective known as YOUNITY has only been around since the summer of 2007, but it has already hosted a major graffiti/mixed medium exhibition called Crossover, and is currently hosting Heart & Soul, an urban art exhibit and book launch. Heart & Soul, which runs through November 17th, features 60 international female artists who define their world through urban art–graffiti pieces, photography and other forms.

Who got these talented ladies together to express themselves in an art arena usually reserved for men? Well, we were as curious as anybody, so we tracked down the founders of Younity, Alice Mizrachi, 31, and Maria Castillo, 31, better known as AM and Toofly. The two answered our questions via email and told us about their growing collective and the egomaniac men who inspired them.
When and why did you begin the YOUNITY collective?

Alice “AM” Mizrachi and Maria “TOOFLY” Castillo: YOUNITY was officially born in the summer of 2007. We sat down and outlined what we wanted this women’s collective to be, do, and represent.

ЯE: How do your personal experiences and art tie into the YOUNITY mission?

AM and TF: It was tough at times working with our male counterparts because we would constantly get the “scraps” of the project. We did not feel we were equally represented or given a chance to shine. We got tired of the crappy spots to paint and the egomaniacs. In a few years, we came together to represent our movement to a much larger audience and began to share our philosophies, styles, and skills together.

ЯE: Why did you decide to make YOUNITY international? It seems like it might be difficult to keep it centered in New York when working on such a grand scale.

AM and TF: We decided that YOUNITY should include international artists because many of these talented ladies were our friends. We were fortunate to have met these women when we were invited to paint and exhibit at events like Be Girl Be, We B Girls, and BBOY BBQ. The Internet, including graffiti websites that surfaced in the last few years, also helped us reach out to women we had not yet met but admired.

It has been a little difficult to keep a large collective organized, but we definitely feel it is centered. There are no outsiders in the collective trying to do a “culture vulture” move. We know many of the women personally, and those that we have just met know where we come from.

ЯE: What was the selection process like for the 60 females chosen to participate in the current Heart & Soul exhibit?

AM and TF: We received over 300 submissions for Heart & Soul, which made it extremely difficult. There are many factors we take into consideration — not just your skill level or who you are. In due time, we will fine tune our selection process so that it will include a much more diverse group (and one that has a much larger role in the process). We eventually want every member to be directly connected to the process in some way shape or form.

ЯE: Do any of the Latinas in the exhibit incorporate their culture into their work and, if so, in what ways?

AM and TF: Artists like Nani Chacon (a painter) and Amanda Lopez (a photographer) are both Mexican American artists who capture portraits of their family members and common folk in their community. “A Chicana” and “La Virgen De Guadalupe” go hand-in-hand when you’re growing in big cities where life is bittersweet for people of color. Nancy Rodriguez, a Latina born in Ecuador who grew up in New York and now lives in Arkansas, illustrates a young woman living a life of pure love and dialogue with her creator. Family, religion, and culture are the roots to what keeps these Latina artists grounded and honest with whom they are, and where they come from.

ЯE: How does the exhibit differ from other offerings in the city?

AM and TF: YOUNITY has built a platform for women all across the globe to come together and share ideas through their art. In Heart & Soul, we see 60 women expressing what this means to them. I haven’t recently experienced any show that represents women in a positive light with the allowance for total self expression.

ЯE: How did the idea for a Heart & Soul book come about?

AM and TF: We had been talking about how to produce some sort of keepsake for the exhibition. We came up with the idea of a journal/sketchbook-style book that would represent these women and what Heart & Soul means to them. Then we decided a postcard book with perforated edges would be great because people love to buy items that are multi-functional.

ЯE: What are the usual stereotypes associated with urban art and how do you combat them?

AM and TF: We, as a collective, stay away from that and try to use that energy towards something positive and productive. Combating with words doesn’t usually do much so we fight by maintaining our focus. While they place labels and waste time, we will already be on to the next big thing.

ЯE: What kind of things can we expect from YOUNITY in the future?

AM and TF: In the future we plan to bring our shows to other countries and help spread our movement worldwide. We also aim to continue working with youth so we that can see the next generation in art flourish.

ЯE: What makes someone a “cosmopolatino”?

AM and TF: If I were to guess, I would say a Latino urbanite that loves the raw energy of the city life and loves to be who they are without being ostracized.

ЯE: Anything else you’d like to add?

AM and TF: There is so much room for improvement in this world. We all need to try and come together and unite for good. YOUNITY is just a small example of what can be done with hard work, unity and dedication. If we spread positive messages and ideas like this around the world, maybe we can change something. 🙂

The Heart & Soul exhibit can be viewed at Alphabeta in Brooklyn through November 17th. Check the Remezcla listing here.

And now, some quick questions with AM and TOOFLY:

Name: Maria Castillo aka TOOFLY
Age: 31
Roots: Ecuadorian, Queens, NY, Hip-Hop
Where do you live now: Queens, NY
Where are you answering these questions from? Day job
Day job: Freelance designer at a licensing company for kids
Where were you and what were you doing 5 years ago? Living and working in NY–and rocking the first ever female graffiti wall at the infamous Graffiti Hall of Fame in Harlem.
Recent musical discovery: Santogold
Best recent meal: Mac & Cheese at Coco 66
Movie that best represents your life: Flashdance
Last book you read: The Speed of Trust
Do you have any tattoos? Yes – two small stars on my feet and ankle.
Where would we find you on a Saturday afternoon? Running neighborhood errands, cleaning my crib, and working.
Heroes (besides your parents)? SHE-RA, Asia1, and Rokafella.

Name: Alice Mizrachi aka AM
Age: 31
Roots: Israeli, Sephardic, NY
Where do you live now: Queens
Where are you answering these questions from? My studio
Day job: I teach art at a school two days a week.
Where were you and what were you doing 5 years ago? Teaching and creating art in NY
Current obsessions/addictions: I have always had the need to paint and create.
Guilty pleasure(s): It’s secret 🙂
Recent musical discovery: Corrine Bailey Rae
Best recent meal: The same as TF- Mac & Cheese at Coco 66
Movie that best represents your life: I don’t know if it best represents my life, but I love the movie Spirited Away.
Last book you read: Eat, Pray, Love
Do you have any tattoos? If so, explain them. Yes – one on my ankle of flowers. I love flowers.
Where would we find you on a Saturday afternoon? At my parents’ house or at my crib laying low.
Heroes (besides your parents)? Frida Kahlo is one of them.