By Terri Ciccone
Before you cringe about thinking about your naked nanna, let’s start off by saying this is not the kind of Gilf you are probably thinking of. “It’s kind of like my secret word for me,” the street artists began to explain as she meticulously cuts and measured a stencil. “I know what it means, but everyone else thinks it means something different. It’s light hearted, where my work can be really heavy.” Gilf of course isn’t her birth name, but the name she uses as she uses the street as her canvas to spread awareness about social, political and environmental issues.
If you entered Gilf’s studio and living space without prior knowledge of her line of work, you may mistake her for someone on the White House’s most wanted list, and she’d probably take that as a compliment. Aggressive red signs that read “Stop Corporate Douchebags” stand not too far from an almost ready stencil of Lady Liberty drinking the cool aid, literally, and multiple stencils that read “censorship” over and over. A ridiculous and vomit worthy speech given by Rush Limbaugh plays in the background, no doubt to motivate her to continue making visually stunning pieces that stop and make the viewer think, as they give a voice to the underdog. “I started doing street art to talk about stuff that people didn’t wanted to talk about. I feel that people feel hopeless about a lot of stuff and they don’t know how to deal with big issues that are facing us globally and culturally. If I can talk to them in a visual sense, maybe I can change their perspective over time.”
There is something so technically beautiful in Gilf’s rebellious work. As a self-proclaimed tomboy, Gilf expressed that her childhood dream was to design cars. She went on to study engineering in college to make this dream a reality. After learning this was far less than a creative field, and fearing a long career of designing tail lights for a living, Gilf decided she wanted to enter a new path in life involving a more artistic approach that would inspire and help others. As a result, her work has almost a mathematical approach to perfection. She meticulously cuts tiny dots, fills almost invisible cracks, and spray paints letters so perfectly that these pieces often get confused with screen prints. All of this hard work is made with the knowledge of the ephemerality of the street as canvas, and it doesn’t matter to her as long as her points get across. “It’s about engaging everyday people on the street and opening a dialogue about important issues. I put it out there and hope it reaches people, I hope they go home and Google it and talk about it with their friends.”
Her latest projects will be shown at the upcoming Fountain Art Fair. One series portrays a play on vision charts that spell out things like “stop looking the wrong way” and “vision is impossible when your eyes are closed.” Other powerful pieces such as a stencil of a birth control wheel with the words “why are men making these decisions for us?” put in place of the days of the week, prove that her pieces aren’t just beautiful, but a call to action.
Another one of Gilf’s undertakings involves a gardening initiative to promote hunger awareness. A wooden structure resembling a tree is mounted to her studio wall, brushing the ceiling. Spaces where “branches” should go will be filled with blue pouches made from 100% recycled plastic. The pouches will contain soil and the seeds of an edible plant. Gilf dreams of building these structures on the sides of buildings in underprivileged neighborhoods in New York, as well as in countries struggling with hunger across the globe. “The idea is to bring it to different places around the world that have been hit with war or natural disaster. I’d like to do this project with a community that’s been through the worst, to bring a collaborative spirit back to their world.”
Her name speaks volume’s to her work, even if we don’t know what it actually means. Our first reaction is to assume it is closely associated with the acronym, Milf. But like the messages in her work, things aren’t always what they seem, and we should never take what someone tells us, or doesn’t tell us for face value. Always challenge things you feel are unfair, and use whatever talents you have to make your voice heard and to open a dialogue. That’s what this Gilf taught me anyway.