Artist, activist and Fulbright Fellow, Sharon De La Cruz a.k.a. “Miss 163” yields a power well beyond her petite frame. Raised in the South Bronx, she moved to Florida when she turned 15, where the landscape of the crisp, clean houses brought out her rebellious side and she realized her passion for graffiti. Today, the renowned graffiti artist uses her medium as a vehicle to address empowerment and social justice issues for young women and girls around the world.
Returning to New York City to study Fine Arts at Cooper Union where she received her BFA, De La Cruz was awarded a Fulbright Grant to study experimental filmmaking and mural making in Lima, Peru. It was in Peru where she was able to focus on her art and where she formed the female graffiti collective “Maripussy Crew“. After spending a year in Peru, De La Cruz returned to the South Bronx where she continues to create art and has been honored by the organization Project Reach for her work with The Point, a community development corporation dedicated to youth development, where De La Cruz is the program director of the teen service program A.C.T.I.O.N., and the leader of the women’s empowerment group W.O.M.E.N. (Where Our Minds Empower Needs), launched in 2010 to give young women a safe space to talk about sex and sexuality.
Recently, Miss 163 was selected as a brand ambassador for Calvin Klein’s ck one cosmetic brand. She is among several influential personalities and artists brought on board to initiate global consumer engagement through art, music, beauty and fashion. We had the chance to meet up with Sharon to learn more about her passion for art and activism and what makes her a Woman You Should Know.
10 Questions With Sharon De La Cruz “Miss 163”
WYSK: How did you get the name Miss 163?
SD: I was born on 163rd street and Hoe Avenue, in The South Bronx. I’ve always wanted to be in a Miss Universe contest, but I’m too short, so I decided to crown myself “Miss 163.” I really took to the old school names, where you have your name, and attached is your block number.
WYSK:Your work as a graffiti artist is amazing, what inspires you? Have you ever explored other art forms?
SD: I make work for people who usually don’t enter a gallery, in fact I feel that art should be in everything and everywhere. The Bronx and my nieces inspire me to make better work. I want them to be able to talk and express themselves with a grand sense of freedom. My background is in Fine Arts, so I’ve experimented with everything from 16mm film, to digital video, to chicken wire, and clay.
WYSK: Where does your work appear?
SD: Recently I’ve been drawing and painting a lot on canvases, but most of my murals are in Lima, Peru and I have some in The Bronx.
WYSK: You have lived in many different places, where do you call home?
SD: I’ve been across the Atlantic and below the Equator and I still find myself back in The Bronx. It’s always accepting of me and my travels.
WYSK: In addition to being an artist, you also refer to yourself as an activist, what are you most passionate about?
SD: Funny you ask this question because I’ve been thinking about this a lot. For me, both are important. They cannot exist without each other, but they do exist in a particular order. Art and then Activism. This order is important because it prevents burn out. Activism, though super fun, can be overwhelming. I use my art as activism, it’s the best form of communication I have.
WYSK: As a Fulbright Scholar you spent time in Peru, what is the “Maripussy Crew” all about? What other projects did you work on while there?
SD: Maripussy Crew is a feminist graffiti collective. We are made up of six street artists (Miss 163, Mishap, Bronik, Perez, Monica MIros, and Biarck) and one rapper (Blue). While growing up, my mom used to call our vaginas “mariposas,” which means butterfly in Spanish. When I started painting with Maripussy, we bonded when I told this story. We needed a crew name but decided mariposa was too soft so we decided to add pussy at the end to make it hardcore. At first it felt a little abrasive, but afterwards we fell in love with it. Maripussy was a result of organic happenings. I originally went to Lima to facilitate experimental videos with high schoolers, but the more I spent time there, the more graffiti became more relevant than actual video. I met up with artists from the Fine Arts school there and the rest is history.
WYSK: Earlier this year you were given the Woman Warrior Award from Project Reach for your incredible contributions to the community, what does this honor mean to you?
SD: It was intimidating actually. I didn’t exactly view myself as a woman warrior, but when the day came and I sat next to incredible women, I felt like one. It’s nice to know that I’m going down the right path because sometimes you do so much work and it goes by so quickly that you have no time to take it in. The ceremony helped me reflect on the good.
WYSK: What are you doing today? In regard to your art and work with The Point, blog project, etc.?
SD: I’m doing so much! I’m still working at The Point, but I’ve decided to take up freelancing as a major part of my life. I understand that I need to make art, it’s completely necessary for my well-being. I am currently working on a series called “walking” based on Ruby Bridges (who desegregated the south during the Civil Rights era). She is important to me because she is a metaphor for women of color in America today. We are expected to not only shift culture, but hold our counterparts up as well. I want to shine a light on Ruby and the women’s health issues we are facing in America today.
WYSK: How did you get involved with Calvin Klein’s CK One campaign? What are you doing with them?
SD: My work with ck started with a homeboy of mine named BIO (from Tats Cru), who referred me to Fabel (from RockSteady crew), who also works with ck. The brand was looking for a young female graffiti artist, and the chain ended with me. I started with creating canvases and now I’m one of six ck one tastemakers for their color cosmetics line.
WYSK: What does the future hold for you?
SD: I’m building up the freelance company called “uno seis tres” and Maripussy Crew is starting up their own non-profit in Lima, Peru for women, where we are going to address women’s health issues in Peru via the arts. I am following my passion, and although it’s a constant battle, I hope to bring smiles and safe spaces to young ladies and men around the world.