If you spend some time in the New York City subways—and you keep your eyes open—you may notice some signs that look a little bit off. Children in gas masks might intrude on a poster for an upcoming movie, or a warning about a track change might include a comment on the culture.
Jilly Ballistic is one of the few women graffiti artists who turns the vast transportation network into an open air gallery. Her specialty is turning the advertisements plastered on subway station walls into impromptu collages, subverting the intended meaning for a poster about snack food into something more counter-cultural.
Ballistic’s work, which she shares with her 3,400 Instagram followers, includes posting faux-advisories that read “If it Ain’t Broke, Break It” and pasting a notice on top of an advertisement for breast augmentation in the style of an Apple update warning that reads “Software Update Unnecessary. You’re beautiful. Don’t Change A Thing.” She prefers to paste images over existing ones, favoring black-and-white imagery from World War I and II.
Ballistic is part of a close-knit group of female graffiti artists making headway in the male-dominated culture of street art in New York.
“What happens more often than not, is that the wrong pronoun is used by bloggers or fans when referring to me,” Ballistic said in an interview with Societe Perrier. “It’s not intentional on their part; it’s always been accidental. But this little typo innocently reveals a big problem — the default perception of an artist being male, especially in street art. Perhaps it’s because my work doesn’t appear to be feminine. It’s not trying to please or to be beautiful. Perhaps this is what they expect from female artists? It’s worth thinking about.”
In a profile of Ballistic and her female street art colleagues in Elle Magazine, an artist named Lady Pink explained the difficulties of navigating both anti-vandalism policing and other graffiti artists marking their turf.
“Guys were extremely macho and chauvinistic and they fought tooth and nail not to have a girl infiltrate the boys club,” Lady Pink told Elle. “[Graffiti] is not for genteel people. You have to be able to fight and carry one.”
The potential for a run in with the law keeps many women from the field, but Ballistic and her fellow female artists are working on making a name for themselves in street art, one subway collage at a time.
Still, the risk of getting caught in the act keeps Ballistic from revealing her true identity.
“I’d like to avoid the police,” she told Don’t Panic Magazine. “Plus, the less people know about you, the more freedom you have to try new things inside and outside your medium.”