AT THE CROSSROADS
At the Crossroads is the intersection of spirit and art, music and spirit. New interviews posted monthly with different artists and musicians! stay tuned..
March 2011- Interview with Aerosol Artist East Suya
I met with aerosol artist, East Suya, before he traveled to Dubai for a hip hop gathering. We first sat for a divination and then flowed into the interview shortly after. This is what was inspired..
Liv: East, for those who don’t know you, what’s your form of expression? What’s the medium that you work with?
East: The medium that I use is a spray can. And it comes from the hip hop culture. It’s arguably the first part of hip hop that evolved, which is the writing part of it.
In New York everything came together kind of at one time. The dancing and the art part was the first. And then the chanting part came in second, known as rhyming. So yeah, I create different expressions of letter forms through a spray can or a pen. And, you know, I feel like it’s more than just a discipline where it’s formulated. I normally don’t have a formula.
Liv: As you’re speaking about the beginning of the hip hop culture in New York it makes me curious, what do you feel inspired that whole movement? It’s a big question but what do you feel the spirit behind that is?
East: Well, it’s told to me by my mentor, Phase 2, the actual starting of the art form that I’m involved with — which is called writing — it was just for self glorification at first. You know, simple signatures were being put here and there. But as it progressed, people started to get a sense of awareness for themselves and pride for themselves and confidence. And for the inner city that was huge. It actually brought a sense of pride to the ghetto.
And that’s where the spiritualism tied in. Because it uplifted the community. It became more than just putting something on every block or every train. It became a sense of pride, a sense of dignity for an area that was so oppressed. And that energy transfered into the dance and then, later the people who used instruments to conduct the dances, which are the dj’s, and emcees and the dancers, they all started to do this and to further explore the other elements.
A lot of people consider b-boying or b-girling a form of an ancient tribal dance. Self expression and, you know, you’re touching the earth. And so people like Remind and Paulskee, they’re really in tune with that. They’re in tune with us as humans touching the earth, being involved with the earth. And for the dance that’s what really took place.
Paulskee with A Mighty 4
And then of course, when you can channel a thought, continue it in a certain way.. you’re actually expressing your words and it becomes poetry. That’s where the art of that developed. And it developed into the music, where certain rhythms and cadences became kind of meditative after a while. DJ Qbert, he definitely has a different approach to his music too, that he creates with the turntables.
So throughout the course of hip hop culture it’s grown and now where it’s at, i believe it’s very spiritual. It actually healed a great deal of the earth because it brought many many different cultures together.
East: And we have a commonality, whether I go to Egypt or France, you see a hip hop head and you’ll know. It’s like, you don’t even need to express what you do. You just kind of know.
Liv: You can just feel it in their vibration?
East: Exactly. You can feel it. It’s like, oh this is a hip hop cat. And maybe it’s part visual. But the minute they open their mouth, it’s like, oh okay. There’s some type of hip hop in this dude, you know. You can tell.
Liv: And I know that you’re about to go to Dubai?
Liv: So where is at today? As you’re about to take this trip, what is it about for you or for the hip hop gathering that’s happening in Dubai?
East: Well Dubai, according to my homework — I could be totally mislead about this from the internet– from what I read about it on the internet, it’s a very serious and heavy place where the law is governed very heavily for certain things. I believe at this point it’s become a little more progressive where the government is actually supporting it. I don’t think they really know the spiritual side of it. I think they’re looking at it from a socio-economical standpoint.
photo from the Might 4 gathering in Dubai
It’s a plus and a minus. Whatever reason they’re bringing us out there for, we’re going to spread the word. So whether they are knowing or unknowing, it doesn’t matter because we’re going to give the good energy and just teach the kids how to express themselves.
photo from Might 4 in Dubai
Or to encourage the right people that are in the culture to advance the culture and to give back to their own community. And that’s where a company like Mighty 4 based out of Oakland has spread throughout the whole world. They have chapters in every country and this is being taught everywhere.
photo from Mighty 4 in Dubai
Liv: We’re living in a time where so many people feel isolated. People are at home alone with their computers. A lot of people feel separate from each other. It sounds like a lot of the movement has been bringing the people together, feeling a sense of community?
East: Right. I mean, the world is hard enough as it is. But if there’s one common ground that relates you to another part of the world, completely on the other side and, that’s where hip hop has become a culture more than ever. And has to remain a culture and has to stay out of the hands of corporate america or any type of Fortune 500 company trying to be the overseers, you know. It has to remain within the hands of the people who started it. Or at least the students who are learning from them.
If you identify with someone in hip hop, it’s a genuine identification. Race or age or anything, it’s not a factor anymore. It’s about the artistry that you share. And that’s where, to me, hip hop has become very spiritual, because you can see the cause and effect with children. And right now in the current state of hip hop, corporate has really taken over. Companies like Mighty 4, Freestyle Sessions, a lot of the other European based organizations are fighting to perpetuate the culture in a way that it was first manifested in the Bronx and Manhattan.
Liv: That seems important.
Liv: Do you feel like the spirit or the energy around it is mostly inspiring?
East: Well, there’s a dark side of it too, you know, the corporate sponsorships. I guess in this world everything’s about money, it’s driven by money. So the darker side of things would be what kind of corporate sponsorship support these positive events have to have. For example, b-boy event sponsored by Coors Lite.
Liv: Right! (laughing)
East: (laughing) You know, that says it all in one sentence. So, I would say, if you’re really trying to learn about hip hop culture you’re going to learn the history. The history is this culture started in the late 60’s and unfortunately a lot of the late 60’s pioneers are passing every day as we speak Fortunately, though, there are a lot that are still alive. That’s where digging further than the internet must be done. To preserve what was lost, you know.
Hip hop is blessed that the culture is so young. We still have our mentors that we can access information from and get reflection of what they feel like this has turned into. That’s where the importance of understanding that hip hop has to stay in the light by creating things that inspire positive energy. Because that’s where it generated from. A lot of gang members in the Bronx became dancers, writers, emcees and dj’s. Some of them made careers out of it. Some of them did it because it kept them out of trouble.
But the overview is that it did take a lot of kids, in the youth, in the late 60’s and early 70’s off the streets and into something productive. Which is now this huge global thing. So something that came from darkness, actually it was brought to light. And we have to keep it that way.
Liv: So it’s been saving lives?
East: Oh yeah, definitely saving lives.
Liv: East, what inspires you to paint?
East: Many different things. When I first started in ’84, I got inspired by a book that had my mentors art work in it. I wasn’t quite aware that I would ever meet this person. But, you know, I followed him and there was contact information in his magazine that he was putting out at that time. And I got it and I was fortunate enough to get in touch with him and, you know, he helped me with my development. And the painting was just, for lack of better words, it was love at first sight. Something you know you want to do. Just like sports or anything, you do it once and you’re hooked!
But none of the social or economical part came into play because I was still in highschool. So this is pure passion driving what I was doing. And the sacrifices that I made, I mean it kept me out of trouble. And I just worked on my craft and I guess the driving force then is different than the driving force now. Or maybe I should say it’s returned back to when I first started. In the beginning it was just full of pure intent to do versus a reason to market or a reason to develop for a reason to market.
Now it’s like the pursuit of elevation and to become more in tune with the spiritual part of the ‘why’ in what i’m doing. Because you can execute, be formulated and stagnant only so long. And you have to find more guidance in what you’re doing. And sometimes it comes into play with the different or higher power, you know, you have to ask yourself why am I doing this?
Liv: I think it’s an important question.
East: Yeah. So as an artist I find myself often being able to channel my energy from a pen to a paper. That was also taught too. That gift was broken down to me by my mentor Phase 2. You know, I’m not sure if that was in his master plan from back then to have me become aware one day. But he is very spiritual and very much into Egyptian culture or Kemetic culture and I don’t know what type of signs or what lead me to follow his ideologies but I was always into Ancient Egypt or Kemet from way back in the day.
I think that it was all for one reason. Everything led to being where I’m at right now.
Liv: Right in this very moment.
Liv: It sounds like there’s a light that’s been guiding you all this time up into this very moment. That’s the feeling that I have as I sit with you. And I wonder, do you believe that there’s something that comes through you or is it just East creating?
East: Well you know, I guess post divination —
East: (laughing), And post scoldings that I got —
Liv: Loving scoldings from your ancestors (laughing).
East: (laughing), Yeah, exactly! This is the piece of the puzzle that I needed.
East: To start to fulfill the journey that I want to go into for the rest of my physical life. I think that this divination really helped me understand certain things that I instinctively felt but not been able to explain — or a lot of frustrations that I had with the way that I deal with people, it helps me understand that — today there was a lot of clarification in what I needed to do and because of that I think that my art is actually going to go into a place where it’s going to have a lot more meaning and depth.
East: And, you know, a lot of artists get caught becoming illustrators, where what you visually see has no depth. And where I was really leaning towards.. how much of this is illustration and how much of this is a lot deeper. And today there was a lot of clarification in where I need to go and what I need to do and it’s all agreeable. So thank you Liv!
Liv: (laughing!) I’m super excited to see where your art is going to be guided. It’s been mindblowing in its own right thus far and who knows, has there been something backing you.. but yea, it’ll be super exciting to see where this goes. It’s true that we sat together in a divination and it’s also true that my perspective has much more to do with the otherworld and I see this world as the expression of the otherworld. So it’s interesting, when a person chooses to align with that.. what’s possible?!?
East: I’m looking forward to it too because I don’t know what’s out there. I’ve gotten instructions and scoldings! (laughing)
East: It’s all positive in my opinion.
Liv: You have tough ancestors.
East: Yea, you know, maybe it was because they’ve wanted to say this for such a long time but hadn’t found the right person to put it through(laughing) and so they finally got — it’s like trying to call somebody on the phone and their phone is always busy!
Liv: Yeah! That’s exactly what it feels like from my end. Because they’ll communicate through me (ancestors) and that’s the feeling that I’ll have, when the ancestors have really been trying to get a hold of somebody for a long time. Sometimes it has a real weightiness to it. And it comes through with a force. And your ancestors seem to have high expectations of you too (laughing)!
East: Yeah, I’m well aware now (laughing)!
Liv: (laughing) And they love you!
Liv: East, you and I share a similar passion in working with the younger generations. Why do you feel that calling?
East: It was something that just happened. I didn’t force it.
I would say this whole journey for me, from the first time I met you until now, it just kind of progressed. And things started to gravitate towards me. So I’m not fighting it. When I was approached to do a suicide awareness program mural for the first organization on Kuai, I didn’t hesitate. I said sure, let’s do it. And from there it was a chain reaction. I got approached from someone else who wanted artwork.
During the first program there were about 3 or 4 kids there. One of them took heavy interest in what I was doing. I saw his work and I had a lot of belief in him. I looked at myself and I looked at him and I said, if I had somebody like me teaching me when I was this young — just on an artistic level — I could have been so much better now. Without any hesitation I just offered everything to him. So he’s somebody that I’m mentoring. And just the look on the kids faces is worth it all.
East Suya with Bailey Bailrok Munoz
Liv: You’re inspiring hope?
East: I’m definitely trying to. Not everybody there I’ll be able to touch. There are some that are just too far gone. I’m looking at being able to save some and that’s all I can hope for. That’s the realistic approach to it.
Liv: How old is this boy, by the way?
East: Well the first one, his name is Mase. He’s 14. He’s in a critical moment. He can go either way. I see a lot of me in him. I really took it to heart. Any time he sends me a picture I always give him back critique or try to build with him. I think just giving him my number is giving him inspiration because he’s always having me talk to his friends on the phone.
And of course, I’m having to slip in the educational points but I do it real slick. I’ll tell him, without content you’re not an artist. You have to learn how to research. Do yo’ Math. Do yo’ English. You’re gonna have to keep your balance. This is not about you locking yourself in a room and drawing 24/7. You’re gonna have to keep a balance.
I’m happy to be able to give them direction where maybe a social worker would have nothing in common with them. And I feel like my art form is a way to reach them. Because the hip hop movement started 40 odd some years ago but to this day it’s what kids and the youth identify with, primarily, in terms of art. Before Salvador Dali or MC Escher they’re looking for the latest piece on the wall. And that’s speaking their language. They see the soul and the spirit in it and they recognize it right away. And it translates into them wanting to practice it.
Bailey Bailrok Munoz
Liv: East, something I’ve noticed about you ever since we first met — maybe it was a little over a year ago — is you have a peacefulness. You have a calm about you. And something that I really admire about you is that you walk with a lot of humility. How did you become this way?
East: I would have to say, there are powerful role models in my life that I observe that basically keep my head where it needs to be. Definitely, from a human perspective, my mom had a big role in molding me. She was a part of the concentration camps and she was imprisoned just for being Japanese. I see her struggles in society. She’s very timid. She’s very passive. She doesn’t want to make any wakes. One of the things that I learned from her is, as much harm and hurt that she’s had to go through, she’s still doing it. She’s still alive. She’s still being a good person. You could be full of hate after something like that. You could be like, eff ‘ the government! But where she’s at is, do good. Don’t make wakes.
And, of course, my mentor Phase 2 is not of an ego driven perspective. He is the most humble guy and the best in the world. He’s a purist. He’s 100 percent purist. It’s not about his accomplishments. He’s about and for the culture. So those 2 people had a heavy role in my life.
Liv: It sounds like you’ve had amazing mentors.
East: And that’s the reason why I want to share and give back. Anyone that I’m privileged enough to share the art form with is going to know. You’re going to know someone that was mentored by me because they’re going to be the same. It’s not an ego driven thing to become better at what you do. It’s a blessing. That’s where I’m coming from. So I want to be able to share that with others.
(left to right) James Coles, East Suya, Tiffany Remedee, Skeme Richards, Skill Roy, Roro Fernandez, Dj Min1, Paul Skee
Liv: As we were talking before we went into this interview, we were talking about how I’ve been thinking a lot about this intersection of art and spirit. Maybe you’ve been walking more in the world of artistry and maybe my perspective has been more in the world of spirit but what do you feel is the potential when these two meet?
East: I think that, you know, in the art of doing Chinese calligraphy or Japanese Kangi writing, the whole purpose for it is not so much perfection. It’s to find the sense of self. And I think the combination of spiritualism and the art is definitely to find a sense of self. To be closer at being at a higher frequency. To understand that your gift inspires people. And you have a control over whether you want to draw a whole bunch of positive icon images or go straight for the money and draw a bunch of things that are negative. And that’s where you have to know, if you connect yourself with something more meaningful then you’ll be directing more into a higher consciousness. We’re a race of people that have been here for a long time. If we still have the same consciousness as even 100 years ago, that’s pretty primitive.
Where I’m at now, I think if we don’t address our mentality — I mean, all the way across the board –we’re going to lose this earth. We’re going to lose ourselves. Not just in the physical form. It’s going to go completely haywire. And I think that we need to take a look at that. I think we need to stop and look at what we’re doing. I think once the world heals itself, then the people who have the so called power of oppression, they
won’t have that power anymore. Because we’re not going to be buying their stuff. We’re going to become more of a thinker than a consumer.
That’s where the art can actually inspire thought as well as being visual. You can’t get that from a cool rendition of a Corvette on a wall. You know, that’s just an illustration for marketing that Corvette. Well what’s in this technique?
What’s the subject matter about? And that’s where I’m trying to go in the direction of identifying with the viewer on more than just the visual. It’s definitely got to be, wow, this makes me feel something.. Wow! I feel good after looking at that.
Liv: Yeah. Maybe something that’s inspiring growth?
East: Yeah, exactly. And it’s to take the steps right?? I’ll put the bait out and reel them in and then Liv will cross them over and get them yelled at by the ancestors (laughing)!
East: But I had it coming! (laughing) Unknowingly, I had it coming (laughing)!
Liv: Well I’m glad you showed up for it (laughing).
East: No, this is something that we’ve been trying to plan for a year. And I think it took me a year to absorb all of this stuff. So I don’t think that the timing was wrong at all. I think that this was the right time.
Liv: Yeah, this is perfect timing.
East: At first it was just a little overwhelming. And then the dust settled and a chain of events happened. And I really think the youth had a lot to do with it too. They had to do with the total switch over, the commitment side of things. Because I have to commit to the kids. I cannot be part time. It’s all or nothing. It can’t be like, oh yeah, I don’t really want to pick up the phone for him. If he’s calling I’ll take the time, stop and do it. Because it could be that one call that might change his world or her world. It might be just that somebody was there for them.
East Suya with Bailey Bailrok Munoz
Liv: Right on. Is there any last thing that you want to speak to that you feel is important?
East: Well, as far as everything I did here [referring to the divination], I feel very blessed and humbled that you helped me with this. It was healing on an undescribable level.
East: If I didn’t take any notes, I probably wouldn’t remember anything (laughing) from the divination. I was trying to jot it down as fast as I could! But I think that the healing that you can offer people is, it’s off the charts. You can’t describe it. It’s a connection. You build a connection to something that you’re not aware is there.
Abstract Photograph by Photographer/Videographer Jen Cohen
East: Because, for me, I’m a touch, hold, feel, see, tangible — up until this point. Now I’m not afraid to know that there’s unknown out there and to explore it. And I no longer question it. It’s there. You just can’t see it. But you have to feel it. And that’s where I think that a lot of people need that help, to get over that, because they’re so fixated on what’s here, on what we’re used to seeing.
East: But it all starts with the individual. Address the spirituality in you and the right meaning of being on the Earth. Because it’s not the end of the road. We all go somewhere else after this.
Liv: Where do we go (laughing)?
East: That remains to be seen (laughing).
East: (laughing) We might have to do another divination. I don’t want to get any more yelling (laughing).
Liv: (laughing) Maybe your ancestors will go easier on you next time.
East: Yeah, I think they better, and I hope they will, because I’ll be doing exactly what needs to be done
Liv: Right on (laughing)!
It was an honor sitting with you in that space (divination) as it is sitting with you in this space. And it’s a blessing being able to call you a friend because I think that you’re a remarkable human being, East.
East: Thank you, Liv. Likewise..
for more info on East Suya, Aerosol Artist, check out his website at http://www.east-3.com/
- See more at: http://ancestorbridge.com/187/#sthash.26JOR4Q5.dpuf