In three months, the Cheyenne River Youth Project® will welcome nationally acclaimed graffiti artists from around the country to its East Lincoln Street campus for RedCan, Indian Country’s first-ever graffiti jam. RedCan is scheduled for July 8-9 at CRYP’s Waniyetu Wowapi (“Winter Count”) Art Park and July 11 at Rapid City’s Art Alley.
As word about this innovative cultural event is spreading, additional headliners have signed on to participate. The latest featured artists to join the RedCan lineup are Meme and Kazilla, female artists who have garnered significant attention in the worlds of graffiti and street art.
Self-taught graffiti artist and skateboarder Meme hails from northern California, where she started skateboarding at 15. She said she first fell in love with graffiti at a skate park in Truckee, and since then, it has played a major role in her life.
“I was a troubled girl before I found skateboarding (and) graffiti,” she commented.
Motivated to start something positive that would combine her passions, Meme created an all-female group of artists and skaters under the heading “Few and Far.” The organization now has 17 international members who paint murals together around the world — and skateboard together across the United States — while supporting and empowering each other as women and as artists.
“Few and Far has become a powerful female voice in the male-dominated world of skateboarding and graffiti,” Meme noted. “I show women that they can aspire to be anything, even a professional female skater or artist.”
Not only is Meme dedicated to empowering women, she is committed to working with young people.
“I love to work with youth,” she said. “It’s my life passion. I teach youth art, murals, skateboarding, and working as a team. Education is the main thing, besides healthy eating. I always do fun activities with kids to show the importance of women, and all youth, in having a good education. We need more female doctors, members of Congress, scientists, teachers. We need more career women.”
Meme also directs creative photoshoots, facilitates skateboard and mural projects, plans group trips, and paints and skates every day. She recently went to Bali and organized a large-scale mural project with children there. She said she strives to improve the world through activism and art. For that reason, she says she’s excited to participate in RedCan.
“I’ve been interested in working with native people for many years,” she explained. “I’m part Shoshone, with Cherokee and German mixed in, so I feel partial to this. When I read that this is for native people, and for native girls, I felt compelled to participate.”
Like Meme, Kazilla said she was troubled in her youth, and she feels her background story likely will resonate with many of Cheyenne River’s young people.
“I went through a really bad patch in life when I was a teenager and in my 20s, doing all I could to land myself in jail,” she said. “It wasn’t that I was a bad person. I was just always in the wrong environment. I sold and did drugs, was part of a gang, and was homeless for more than a year after my boyfriend got in some trouble with the law. I finally got caught in one of my various bad deeds.
“During that time, I found my strength and resolve, and I empowered my spirit to turn my life in the right direction,” she continued. “I went to a spiritual rehab center for a year, started college, and got counseling. Ever since then, I’ve pushed as hard as I can to be where I am now in my career as an artist.”
Kazilla earned a bachelor’s degree in illustration, got a job as a producer right out of school, and directed several art fairs. She now pursues her art full time.
“I’ve been nonstop, pushing the envelope in my own work to become a better person,” she reflected. “In my spare time, I also actively teach workshops and work with kids and adults to help cultivate their creative spirit. I just recently did that on a mural tour in Costa Rica, in the small town of Uvita.”
The artist also is an active philanthropist, donating her time and art to benefit numerous charities that support youth programs.
“One of the reasons I love my crew is that we’re always out there, giving back to the community and bringing up the youth to be the next shining stars of their generation,” Kazilla said. She adds that she, too, is looking forward to visiting the Cheyenne River reservation in July.
“I know what it’s like to be young and without direction, friends, and hope,” she said. “I would love to come and give whatever positive influence and support I can to these kids. They will always be beautiful, but knowing what beauty they have within can be life-changing.”
RedCan will expose Cheyenne River youth, community members and visitors to what has become the largest art movement in the history of man. Featured artists will show off different techniques and styles, giving attendees an opportunity to get an inside look at the contemporary graffiti movement and how it has evolved over the course of 50 years.
Other featured artists, who will be painting alongside local artists and community members, include: East Foster, from Denver; Peyton Scott Russell, from Minneapolis; Tyler “Siamese” Read, from Rapid City; and many more. Also on hand will be a variety of hip-hop groups, native drum groups and native dancers, ensuring that RedCan will be a high-energy merging of graffiti culture and Lakota culture.
But most of all, RedCan will be a source of pride for the Cheyenne River community — and a source of inspiration for its youth.
“We created the Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park last year so our kids would have a safe, positive, legal art space, somewhere they could freely create and express themselves,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “But really, Waniyetu Wowapi is for all ages and all cultures. It’s truly a gathering place where storytelling, reconciliation and healing takes place.
“We’re thrilled that so many nationally renowned artists want to come and support our efforts,” she added, “and with the addition of Meme and Kazilla, our young women will have valuable female mentors and role models on hand, as well.”
CRYP is currently raising funds to support RedCan — to purchase paint, art supplies, food and beverages, and to help cover the artists’ travel expenses. To support RedCan, visit www.lakotayouth.org and click “Donate Now,” or visit our Crowdrise campaign at www.crowdrise.com/redcan/fundraiser/lakotayouth.
The Cheyenne River Youth Project, founded in 1988, is a grassroots, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing the youth of the Cheyenne River reservation with access to a vibrant and secure future through a wide variety of culturally sensitive and enduring programs, projects and facilities that ensure strong, self-sufficient families and communities.