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(Eve, pictured above: Melissa Morales, Program Assistant, Latin America and the Caribbean; Eugenia Podesta, Director, Latin America and the Caribbean; Panmela Castro; Stephanie Rearick, Mother Fool’s Coffeeshop; Alberto Vargas, Associate Director, Latin American, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies Department at UW-Madison)

Premised on the concept that inspiration can provoke action, art has often found its roots in the call for social change. Ground-breaking artists harness the power of art to challenge social norms and practices. Panmela Castro – also known by her graffiti name Anarkia – fully embraces the transformative power of art, using her work to raise awareness about women’s rights and to draw attention to the pervasiveness of gender-based violence. Influenced by the dynamic carioca scene of Rio de Janeiro, her work is resonant in the urban spaces that she inhabits, borne out of the reality faced by today’s Brazilian women.  

Since an early age, Panmela was drawn to street art and graffiti, defying her small hometown’s idea of how young women should spend their time. After Panmela moved to Rio de Janeiro, considered by many to be a quintessential haven for Brazilian artists, she soon found a space there and was invited to join other graffiti artists. Her reputation grew, as did respect for her work.

The Maria da Penha Law was enacted in Brazil in 2006, legislation designed to protect women from domestic violence. For the first time in Brazil’s history, domestic violence was criminalized and women were granted legal protection. Panmela used the opportunity of this newly created law to work with a network of women graffiti artists to raise awareness about the law in the favelas of Rio, where access to information is often limited. In 2010, Panmela was honored by Vital Voices during our annual Global Leadership Awards, recognizing the impact of her work in advancing women’s rights. Following receipt of the award, Panmela formed Rede Nami, an urban art network of female graffiti artists that addresses gender inequality through public art, graffiti and workshops in Rio.

Panmela has now traveled worldwide to work with other artists to continue spreading her message. In the past two weeks, Panmela had the opportunity to travel to both Madison, Wisconsin, and Washington, DC, to collaborate with local artists and conduct workshops for young women. These trips were centered around the 2012 DVF Awards in New York, where Panmela was honored with a grant to help grow her organization and continue her work in Brazil.

The Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Department at UW-Madison sponsored Panmela’s trip to Wisconsin, where she conducted two workshops with youth. The first was conducted in collaboration with the Goodman Community Center’s Girls, Inc. Program. There, Panmela worked with young boys and girls to produce a mural that showcased their vision for “The Beautiful World.” At Lodi High School, a small, rural suburb of Madison, Panmela connected with high school girls, inspiring them to create a mural in the center of the school, titled “Evolution of Woman Kind.” For both Panmela and the girls, this presented an invaluable opportunity to bridge cultures and to draw parallels between the US and Brazil experiences. Panmela learned about life in a rural U.S. town, and was surprised to learn that these young girls also dealt with domestic violence. After her time at the workshops, Panmela had an opportunity to paint a stunning mural at a local coffee shop, Mother Fool’s in Madison showcasing some of her latest art (pictured above). 

Evolution of Woman Kind Panmela Castro with a group of students from Lodi High School in Lodi, Wisconsin. Panmela conducted a workshop that led the girls to independently create the mural.

In Washington, DC, Panmela was part of a very different experience. In cooperation with Albus Cavus, an organization that aims to have citizens participate as active designers and builders of public spaces in their neighborhoods, Panmela and a group of local and international muralists created a mural to celebrate Women’s History Month. The group was comprised of individuals of varied ages and cultural backgrounds, each bringing their own perspective on women’s roles in society. Throughout the painting of the mural, neighborhood residents were engaged, stopping by to inquire about the work and truly creating an atmosphere of community in the Ledroit Park neighborhood.

Panmela Peace: Panmela contributes to a collaborative mural celebrating Women’s History Month in the Ledroit Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Daphna Kapnik and Melissa Morales work on the Global Leadership Network and Latin American and the Caribbean program teams, respectively.