graffiti artists toofly/maria castillo
photo: Jay Maldonado
A rebellious Maria Castillo a.k.a Toofly was mesmerized by the graffiti art she passed during her commute to school in Corona, Queens, New York. At the ripe age of 15, she started painting and tagging walls, and instead of quitting her favorite pastime, she turned it into a successful career in the arts. Now she’s using her talent and experience to empower aspiring female artists in Latin America.

“I’d be writing my name on the walls, getting in trouble in school, and little by little I got into the graffiti culture because I started to meet a lot of guys who did the same thing,” she says.
Castillo — who’s known for painting strong, warrior-like images of women — was born in Ibarra, Ecuador but her family migrated to New York when she was 8 years old.

She recently moved back to her native country where she’s a full-time artist, graphic designer, and producer of arts and culture events. She splits her time between Quito and New York curating pop-up shows.

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The launch of her upcoming event, Warmi Paint, is her biggest project yet. With a strong vision and dedication to the arts, her mission is to gather women of all ages to participate in a four-day festival to celebrate and empower young Latinas through street art, graffiti, and murals. Moving to Ecuador, she quickly realized there was a need for women to thrive in the arts career department and she felt it was her responsibility to give them just that.

“Over here in Ecuador — and Latin America in general — there’s a huge machismo energy. The women are still striving to make themselves more prominent in work spaces,” she adds. “I come from a world where women are strong, we get together and we organize and we don’t need the guys to help us. I just have that mentality and here there’s not enough of that.”

Unfortunately, many young girls who dream of becoming artists don’t see it as a career possibility because it’s a profession that’s looked down upon. As she says, women are still striving to make themselves more prominent in work spaces and in Ecuador they’re still ten years behind; that’s exactly why Castillo wants to expose women to the idea that being an artist is an acceptable career.
“We have to show them that yes this girl wants to paint graffiti, she wants to become a graphic designer, she can become a muralist, she can become a speaker about the culture and social issues that occur in her community and this young woman could become a voice of the culture and so being an artist shouldn’t be looked down upon.”
As if painting alongside renowned artists weren’t exhilarating enough, Warmi Paint attendees will also be welcome to join panels, pop-up shops, and music concerts. Street art photographer Martha Cooper and graffiti artist Lady Pink will be painting collaborative murals and hosting workshops alongside international artists from Chile, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru.

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“You have to connect these girls in some way and bring them together,” she says, “Because they’re gonna inspire each other or they’re gonna feel like their work was really worth it."