At a time when women around the globe are raising their voices to advocate for women’s rights, one medical student is using her passion for street art to make her own statement.
Ashley Franklin, a fourth-year medical student at the UCF College of Medicine, is hoping to inspire and empower women with her graffiti artwork on walls of downtown Orlando’s the WestArt District.
“The piece symbolizes my passion for women’s health, the inspiring women in my life, the hard work we still have to do for reproductive rights, and the strength women of all ages and races possess,” she said.
Born into an artistically gifted family that includes carvers and oil painters, Franklin’s love affair with street art came about only recently. After the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in June 2016, the Orlando community took to street art to express their love and support for the victims and their families, creating a sea of murals in Orlando’s Mills 50 District.
“I noticed all of these murals going up and I really liked them,” Franklin said. “I had never seen anything like this before and so I started going around and taking pictures of them.”
Soon she began to share these photos on social media through an Instagram account she created, @orlandostreetart.
Her quest took her beyond Pulse tribute murals to the WestArt District, a block of warehouses on the corner of West Central Boulevard and Westmoreland Drive covered in graffiti. The art decorates the buildings with the property owner’s permission and is managed by a curator.
Here, Franklin noticed that some of the pieces were highly sexualized and only a few featured positive message, and so felt compelled to send a more empowering message.
One day she presented the curator with a sketch she had done with the lettering “Rockstar Woman.” The phrase resonates deeply with her.
“When I see people like Kara Goucher who ran while she was pregnant, Gloria Steinem, Kerri Walsh Jennings, Hillary Clinton and all these amazing women who have inspired me ever since I was little, they show me the kind of woman I hope to become,” Franklin said. “I started calling them rockstar women. And then it became something I would always say to boost my confidence.”
Franklin’s design incorporates the female reproductive anatomy representing strength and empowerment.
Her piece was accepted and one of the artists, who goes by the alias Noun, helped her use spray paint to create a mural in bright pink lettering on one of the warehouses.
“I want girls to see my art and be reminded of Hillary Clinton’s words – that all young girls are valuable, and powerful, and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue their dreams.”
Franklin has long been an advocate for women’s rights and their health. She has written several articles for the Medical Student Press on issues such as domestic violence and women’s reproductive health. Today, with her newfound love for street art, she wants to take her advocacy for women’s health further.
“I want to explore graffiti as a way of doing community outreach and preventative health care,” Franklin said. “I want it to be a new preventative health care model.”
“Through my art, I want people to know that reproductive anatomy and discussions about sexual health are not inappropriate,” she added. “It’s our health. We talk about diabetes and high blood pressure, so we should be able to talk about sexual health, regardless of our views, because it matters.”
She is now writing a proposal for a research project that involves producing a 10-minute film capturing a graffiti artist at work on a piece that explores preventative reproductive health care for women.
To date, Franklin has photographed more than 500 murals in Orlando and other cities across the U.S. while she travels to complete her residency interviews. She is hoping to match into a residency program with women’s healthcare training after receiving her M.D. this spring.
“I think targeting reproductive health is the best way to access women and help them to achieve their health care goals and beyond,” she said.