INTERVIEW: Visual Artist Michi Meko – Conjuring Super Powers
By Eye Candy
March 14, 2014
I stood at the gates of Michi Meko’s studio and watched as he approached with a lit cigarette hanging from his lips. It was a beautifully sunny, but breezy, day in Atlanta, so he wore a lightweight plaid Dickies jacket. His dread locks sat piled messily atop his head. He had to run a few errands before meeting me — including a trip to the farmer’s market. Meko lovingly posts pictures of his urban farm’s products on his social media, so it is understandable how a trip to the farmer’s market would start his day. After we exchanged some pleasantries, we entered his studio. The studio contained some finished artworks, which were placed at the circumference of the room leaving the center open for new creations. We got down to business, but not before he turned on his own video camera to record the interview.
By Shantay Robinson, AFROPUNK Contributor *
Meko finds himself in Atlanta by way of rural Alabama. He came to the city with $400, four garbage bags full of the clothes, and a few paintings in the back of his car. Surprised to see so many black people owning their own stores and living in their own neighborhoods, he called his mother to express his awe. His mother had always been supportive of his artistic path. When he was younger, she would bring home copy paper for him to draw on, she cut out an article from a magazine about Jean Michel Basquiat for him to read, and took him to the Matisse exhibit, he remembers. One day at church, he told her that his pencil is going to take him all around the world.
Working in the tradition of Assemblage, he repurposes found objects and combines them to give them “super powers.” African-American artists Thornton Dial, Terry Adkins, and Radcliffe Bailey all work within this artistic process. Meko finds there is a conversation already existing there. “Once you combine objects and then you obscure those objects and you put them in different sort of context of what they normally were, that’s when the magic happens. That’s when they get super powers.” These “super powers” are present in Meko’s work, The View from Ships. In this piece, he assembled found objects that speak to the Middle Passage, the journey that Africans took to become slaves in America, Exxon Valdez, the largest oil spill, Sirus Star, a ship that was captured by Somali pirates, and a 1965 Cadillac Deville, which he likens to a new kind of ship.
As we discussed Meko’s art and where he finds himself in historical canons, as well as amongst his contemporaries, the conversation took some obscure turns. One minute we were talking about Afro-Futurism and the next minute we entered the world of donks and rims. Meko said the future that the Afro-Futurists are imagining is for the next generation and the future that George Clinton and those of his time imagined, is what we’re living right now. He thinks the future is now and testament to that statement is our rides. “The Chevys with the 32-inch rims and the way that we decorate our decorations and color match stuff super hard, I think that’s all postmodern and I think that that’s all futuristic…” He notes that 20-inch rims now come standard when in the past young cats were criticized for defacing their cars.
As a multi-disciplinary artist who seeks to explore Southern culture and contemporary subcultures, Meko has a love/hate relationship with the South. He wonders if there are some things about tradition that are hindering our progress. “Southern culture is this whole notion of yes ma’am, no ma’am politeness stereotype and then there’s this whole history that goes along with this region and I think you can try to be objective and we have to realize too that we’re still sort of dealing with our history.” He recognizes that the North might be more accepting of the arts, but he believes that it’s not hard to be taken seriously about your art in the South, noting that many literary greats came out of the South because there’s a lot of culture here.
When asked about his success, Meko confesses that he doesn’t know that he is successful yet. He admits that he’s going to just put in the work with the hopes that people will eventually appreciate it. Does he have street cred? Yes. Is he doing shows? Yes. He realizes that he’s blessed and stoked to be where he is. Regardless of Southern tradition, which may be hindering artistic progress, Meko thinks it’s possible to have success as an artist in the South. “Pull out your pistol and shoot at something and I think that you’ll be okay,” he says. “That’s all it takes to exist here.”
* Shantay Robinson hosts The Third Eye Site, an arts and culture blog, which looks at the arts in Atlanta and beyond. She is a freelance writer at Urban Lux, an Atlanta based lifestyle magazine. And she has been published in SCAN, Examiner, and Skirt. As a student at Savannah College of Art and Design, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts in Writing, she presented a paper titled, “Kanye West as Fashion Impresario: Designing Identity through Lyrics” at From Peplos to Petticoats to Punk, SCAD’s Art and Fashion Symposium. Shantay rediscovered her love for the arts at SCAD. Her profound interest led her to volunteer as a Docent at the High Museum of Art where she spent two years performing tours of the museum’s collection to families.To view some of her insights on art, please visit: www.TheThirdEyeSite.com