Graffiti artist and DJ Catherine Grossrieder, also known as Cath Love, was shocked when we asked her about feminism. In a male-dominated world like graffiti, we couldn’t help but reach for another point of view. Apart from the fact that she can hold her own among her male peers, it is the subject that she paints about that deserves equal attention.
Her main character in her art work, Jeliboo, is a sweet, kind-hearted, and curvaceous young lady from Hong Kong. Since her inception, Jeliboo has been on multiple adventures and misadventures that face societal judgment while breaking long-held beauty stereotypes. Cath channels her ideas onto her artwork with adorable, tongue-in-cheek illustrations that can relate to every woman’s silent question, “Am I beautiful?” Because in a time when beauty beliefs desperately need a re-write, Cath proves that the pen is more powerful than the selfie stick.
So growing up, how was it like getting into the art scene here?
When I was growing up, the hip-hop scene was few and far in between. I’d always light up as a teen when I met someone who was into the culture. When I met my boyfriend the first time at the age of 14 (Don’t worry we haven’t been dating since, haha), I was very impressed that we could talk about graffiti and rap. This is how special it was. I also hung out with cool, local skater kids who loved the culture and wanted to paint. Seeing this as an opportunity, I started to paint with them as not many others were doing it.
Jeliboo is curvaceous, fun and happy! What’s a day-to-day look like for her in HK?
Jeliboo is sweet and all she wants to do is make her friends and the people around her smile. She likes to live in the moment and worry about the important things in life, like happiness and good health. She likes to get up, make her bed the first thing in the morning and go explore our cool city with her bunny doll sidekick, Percy Fluffybottoms aka Fluffy B. She likes to check out the cute coffee shops where she can enjoy a sweet snack and write in her diary. Her big butt may become an obstacle at times so she has to keep that in mind, haha!
And who is Percy Fluffybottoms? Is he based on a real-life friend?
Fluffy B is our inner best friend. At the end of the day, we have an inner “best buddy,” i.e. our confidence; our soul to rely on. I suppose Fluffy B is our inner best friend personified.
What challenges as an artist did you face to create Jeliboo?
I think the only challenge I can share with you is how I could make her unique and in depth. As an artist, my aim is to stand out from the rest, not to get lost in the same collective aesthetic. I always like a good story behind my creations. I always enjoyed drawing curvy women, but none of them seemed to stand out to me enough. Then one day I went to do some yoga and I was having a really hard time as I hadn’t practiced it in a while. I felt like a “big girl” while doing the bridge pose. Then the idea struck me to go home and draw a series of cute big girls doing yoga. From there, I experimented with looks. I wanted to add mystery to the character too; hence I gave Jeliboo a heavy floppy fringe covering her eyes, which are the windows to her soul.
Jeliboo advocates for self-love among girls. Her message to girls everywhere is to love the bodies they’re born with. Would you call yourself a feminist?
AHHH!!! I can’t believe I’m being asked something about feminism! Just kidding, haha, I’ll answer it. To be honest, I didn’t consider feminism when it came to Jeliboo’s message. I just see is as the right thing to do – to accept and love one’s own body. Rebellion is another element in the message, as society dictates you to stay thin, to take slimming pills, and to do whatever it takes to stay slender, especially in an Asian society.
When it comes to feminism and Jeliboo, it’s quite ironic: I once had a Jeliboo exhibition where I showed framed works. A seemingly nice western lady popped in to see what I had to show and proceeded to tear Jeliboo down for being “an object of desire”. Wait. Hold on. How people see Jeliboo is subjective. Some see her as cute, some see her as sexy, but my intention is not to feed her to the dogs. I just want to draw a happy, cute and sexy girl.
I have feminist beliefs I agree with in terms of not letting society or men tell me how to dress, behave, or what I can or cannot do. Yet, I think as women, we are also made differently and we should accept that and not try to compete with men to prove our worthiness. Women must be respected without having to “over” prove our being.
What does the word “feminism” mean to you?
Let me say this, you’re not asking an expert here, but by feminism I believe that we can be beautiful and graceful in our being. We needn’t have to go overboard to prove ourselves to be respected. I believe that women and men are both very intelligent. However, there are things our [female] body build limits us in doing what men can. Yet men can’t reproduce like we can so this can be seen as our advantage.
By feminism I also don’t believe that we have to fit to society’s expectations, like “because I am a woman I must have children and I must find a man to support me.” We should be very capable of supporting ourselves too.
Lastly, when it comes to appearance, that’s where I can get heated. One man once told me I shouldn’t wear glasses because I’m “pretty and it’s covering up my face” bla bla bla. I mean, you should cover your face, buddy. Ha! Or when my Thai auntie tells me to “wear a dress and heels and doll yourself up, girl!” No thanks.
When it comes to art, this is interesting. When I was younger and I discovered an artist was female, it was SO COOL. This is how we think in a male-dominated “interest” like graffiti or art. However these days, it shouldn’t be like: “Wow she’s good for a girl.” Damn it. A lady can paint just as well as men do, if not better! Just check out Mad C! But I don’t like these whole play-on-graffiti-women, like “Oh we’re female, let’s paint cupcakes and sh*t all the time.” Don’t feed to the graffiti girl cliché. If you want to paint dinosaurs and UFO’s, just freaking do it!
What are the first 5 words that come to mind when you hear the word “feminist”?
Intelligence, Independence, Dignity, Grace, Strength.
We hear you also DJ, what type of music do you mix and where is your music rooted?
I enjoy playing hip-hop, funk and soul. I like “subjectively good” hip-hop music if you know what I mean- which means I play what the hell I want, ha! My first CD was Queen. So I didn’t really start off in hip-hop culture, but picked it up in my pubescent years. I started off listening to the Luniz and Ini Kamoze and throughout the years gained more hip-hop knowledge (Oh God, that sounded corny but you get my drift.) Let’s say I appreciate a Gucci Mane track as much as I do an Eric B and Rakim one.
Who have been the important influences in your life whether in your craft as an artist, a DJ, or just as Cath?
My parents, my late grandmother and no-nonsense auntie in Switzerland, Debbie Harry, Lady Pink, Amy Winehouse
Where and how does inspiration strike?
Normally it goes this way: An idea or spark springs to mind that I can see myself drawing and then I go straight for the pen and paper. Of course, the idea has to be relevant and relatable to other people. Sometimes, you can’t “force” it, i.e. draw something immediately just to please yourself or someone. Of course clients can’t always wait for the inspiration to strike, so you need to have a plan B.
So what I do is, I just start sketching and doodling stuff and then serendipitously get inspired. Does that make sense? Oh well, at least if I’m creating something for myself, I prefer to catch the right idea and inspiration to start working. This can involve going for a walk, looking in bookstores, reading, cleaning… inspiration strikes you in the funniest situations!
What advice would you give to up and coming artists in HK trying to get into the scene?
1. Work hard on your craft but don’t try hard.
2. Be you.
3. Don’t get too big for your own shoes.
4. Be cool with everyone, but still be competitive.
5. Hang with people who matter to you, not who make you cool.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Being happy and earning well at what I enjoy doing.
Photos by Home Kong