In this episode, Larry Mizell, Jr. hosts an extended conversation with multi-disciplinary artist and founding Black Constellation member, Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes. The two discuss not just Alley-Barnes’ work, but the pivotal art and community work of his parents, the engine of erasure that resounds throughout Seattle, and grander ideas around attribution, continuum, and authenticity. If every member of the Black Constellation is a star, Alley-Barnes is akin to gravity – an unseen force putting pieces into motion and holding disparate artistic worlds together.
Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes is a multi-disciplinary artist – a filmmaker, writer, designer, and founding member of the Black Constellation. His work has been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum National History in New York, and the Frye Art Museum in Seattle – including a series of exhibitions in collaboration with several members of the Constellation. He’s also directed music videos and short films for Shabazz Palaces, THEESatisfaction, and Porter Ray.
In this episode, Larry Mizell, Jr. hosts an extended conversation with Alley-Barnes. The two discuss not just Alley-Barnes’ work, but the pivotal art and community work of his parents, the engine of erasure that resounds throughout Seattle, and grander ideas around attribution, continuum, and authenticity. If every member of the Black Constellation is a star, Alley-Barnes is akin to gravity – an unseen force putting pieces into motion and holding disparate artistic worlds together.
Listen to a playlist of music from the episode and read the transcript below.
[MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Suspicion of a Shape”]
MAIKOIYO: This is to say nothing of intention, but to put that much thought into a desired result. That's not magic, that's product. And I have no problem with product, but there's a difference. Yeah. I'm a little more interested in spell
[MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Suspicion of a Shape”]
LARRY: Welcome back to Fresh Off The Spaceship. I’m Larry Mizell Jr., DJ and writer here at KEXP, and your guide in this podcast. Through each episode, we’re delving into the story of the Black Constellation – the artist collective that’s transmitted revolutionary sounds, sights, and ideas through space and time.
On this episode, we’re examining the artistry of Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, filmmaker, writer, designer, and founding member of the Black Constellation. Unlike what you’ve heard previously on the podcast, we’ll be playing extended, edited portions of conversations between Maikoiyo and myself. But don’t worry, my co-host Martin Douglas will join us again on our next episode.
We’ve been talking about the Constellation and it’s been handy to think of every member as a star, in a couple ways…but Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, and his role, both in the Constellation and outside of it—in a lot of ways is more akin to a force of gravity. An unseen, compelling force putting things in motion, holding worlds, and galaxies, together.
[MUSIC CUE: ODB - “Brooklyn Zoo"]
LARRY: MAB is a multimedia artist, curator, filmmaker, writer and designer, whose work has generated context for, incubated, and depicted, new realities—one of which being the Black Constellation itself. Punctuation, the gallery which he co-founded and served as creative director from 2009 to 2012, is among other things, the grounds upon which many of the members first came to know each other. It also spawned the line in the Shabazz Palaces song that named this very podcast. Maikoiyo’s created space, quite literally, for transformative Black art in the city of Seattle. He’s a brilliant creator, he’s also a curator par excellence, of not just art, but of people, of life.
[MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “The King’s new clothes…”]
He’s created in close collaboration with his comrades, whether crafting the song titles of Shabazz Palaces’ seminal album Black Up, directing music videos and short films for Shabazz, THEESatisfaction, and Porter Ray. He’s been recognized locally, winning Cornish College’s Neddy Award, and his work has been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum National History in New York, and the Frye Art Museum here in Seattle, Washington, where he curated a series of exhibitions in collaboration with several members of the Constellation which have stood as some of the most significant events of the last decade in the arts-cultural landscape of this city.
LARRY: Beyond that, he’s a father of two. Maikoiyo’s lineage points to the Constellation’s theme of continuum. The child of accomplished artists and educators. His reverence for the authentic resonates in his personal style, in his choice of compatriots, in his humility. He’s faced down some of Seattle’s worst aspects, in his art and in his physical reality, and alchemized trauma into brilliant art.
But before we get into our conversation, we thought it’d be good for you to hear from some of Maikoiyo’s peers about his work, what he represents, and the man himself.
ISHMAEL: Yeah, yeah, I mean, Maikoiyo, he's a very unique dude.
LARRY: That’s Ishmael Butler of course.
ISHMAEL: Yeah, yeah, I mean, Maikoiyo, he's a very unique dude. You know his experience, his family life, his exposure and participation with a... with just many facets of life, you know? And then you put his like talent of observation and like his skill, you know what I mean? And then you got a very unique individual, you know, Brilliant and a visionary, really, you know. And funny. A funny dude, man, with the comedy. For real. Which is always to me a sign of, you know, intelligence and I can rock that. That's the bro though, for sure. And. A unique got his own style, his own esthetic, you know, which is rare from the sculptures to live to the things that he makes from found objects, just like is wow, you see to the end, what a beginning that that comes from these places like that, you know, like this is brilliant.
LARRY: Writer, curator, healer, and Constellation family Negarra Kudumu has this to say about Maikoiyo.
NEGARRA: Maikoiyo has sort of always been a curator. Not sort of – has always been a curator. And that has been the way I believe in which sort of this teaching proclivity that both of his parents did and had have has manifested because in everything, in every conversation that you have with Maikoiyo, whether it's you asking him for something or him asking you for something, it's a lesson that's imparted. Like really and truly, I was not at all surprised to find out that Maikoiyo has a preacher in his family. Because this prophetic speech thing is a thing. And I have I have seen that manifest in real time.
LARRY: Acclaimed filmmaker dream hampton looks at Maikoiyo as not just a peer, but a confidant.
dream hampton: You know. Maikoiyo's one of my favorite people to complain to.
LARRY: Same, big same.
dream hampton: Like the curmudgeonly me, he has had a lot of patience for that me or whatever. And you probably, the big same is probably connected to this, too, maybe, I guess, is the part of us that are critics, you know? And a criticism that is the foundation of the criticism is not rooted in perfection, but rooted in a belief that things can be as good as they can be. You know, and for me, that is what Maikoiyo represents, right? I guess I've known him now for a decade, and I was always surprised at how much he knew, what a scholar he is. I mean, getting to know him more over the years, I know that that's his inheritance, you know his birthright given who his Mom and his Pops are. And how rooted he is in the PNW. Just that story for all of y'all, I remember Cat or Stas saying that to me, about the kind of people that end up in Seattle, the kind of Black people that end up in Seattle, are literally, you know, living a kind of life that they, you know, I don't want to invest too much in, rugged white folks, settler pioneer narratives, but there's this path that you went, you know? You could have gone to L.A., you could've stayed in L.A., you could've stayed in Oakland, you know? And so that path to go deeper into the woods is always an interesting one, and it's beautiful to see what it produces and with Maikoiyo, and Maikoiyo's also someone who will unplug, who you can't reach for a while and then he'll come out with these beautiful sculptures and masks.
KATELYN:…he flies under the radar, but he still holds a space of very serious esteem and likes a very sophisticated kind of high regard.
LARRY: That’s the voice of Katelyn Norris, director of the contemporary art gallery Koplin Del Rio in Seattle. She spoke to me about Maikoiyo’s work:
2:04Katelyn: He's been able to produce work at this very high level and somehow evade the scene, quote unquote. So in my role as the director of Koplin Del Rio Gallery, I'm out and about in Chicago, New York, et cetera. And without really knowing him or seeing much of his work presented here in Seattle, I would see him included in major institutional exhibitions. And I was always kind of shocked by, not shocked, i was, you know, lovely to see his work, but surprised that he was kind of existing in this space outside of the institutional construct, right?
KATELYN: When I got to meet him in person, I did tell him that he had ruined the Seattle arts for me, like the entire cultural landscape, because he set the bar so high with the show that he curated of Noah Davis and Khalil Joseph called the 'Young Blood' at the Frye [Arts Museum]. That was the first show that I saw after moving to Seattle, it's still the best show that I've ever seen in Seattle since moving here and one of the best shows I've ever seen. One of the best exhibitions I've ever experienced.
[MUSIC CUE: Noel Brass Jr. - “Cortex Overflow”]
LARRY: One of Maikoiyo’s best and oldest friends is the dynamic entrepreneur/label head/marketing executive Geoff Gillis. Geoff describes MAB as—
Geoff: A prolific connector. He's a radar. I'd say he's a sonar. He's prolific in the fact that he knows about things before anybody else does. I'm not sure how, because he doesn't normally spend tremendous time, you know, a lot of time plugged into the matrix. But he has a tremendous radar and a tremendous ear.
Geoff: He's always been ahead of the game when it comes to style, when it comes to culture in general, understanding what moves, what shakes and where to not be and how to not vibe in that same direction, how to stand out amongst a bunch of people who always stand out. I think that's kind of what has been our whole lives. Figuring it out without really even having to overthink it, you know. When everybody was going right, he was definitely going left
LARRY: Maikoiyo’s got a way of making a way, through which he and his people can find new destinations.
GEOFF: We speak about the future, Black future in general, about what's next. And I think that the concept and understanding that we all were around a bunch of Black futurists, in a way, that needed to kind of come together and create something that was a little bit more unified in a way. I think especially being here in Seattle, we all know how separated things can be, how isolated things can get. People work really good, but they also work really separate. So I think, you know, the concept of bringing together people's strengths to be able to provide a context for what we were doing and really just trying to tell a story and not let the people who control the media here in Seattle tell the story for us.
LARRY: That said, we thought it best to let MAB tell his story in his own words. Thanks for joining us.
LARRY: We should get some more background about yourself.
MAIKOIYO: What do you want to know, Larry?
LARRY: Man, so much. This is my opportunity. Born and raised in Seattle.
MAIKOIYO: This is true. Group Health Hospital. Got brought home to Pike Street in the Central District, called Madrona, which at the time was a decidedly more Black and decidedly more diverse neighborhood, both economically and racially.
LARRY: I guess more background on your background. You’re an artist and we're going to get into that and your background in that. Sure. The offspring of two artists.
MAIKOIYO: Yes, my parents, um, my mother and father uh, Curtis R. Barnes and Royal Alley Barnes, uh, were educators. Um, taught on the university level at the University of Washington, met there. Um, and then, uh, were involved in education at the high school level, too, at Garfield. Um, and, we're really, um, also very involved in what I think is more appropriately referred to as, you know, the Movement for Black Sovereignty.
MAIKOIYO: And I think that they, you know, thought of all those things as these kind of interwoven realities, not these disparate things. So, yeah. You know, art visual art as very direct and coded messaging as well, um. Was a huge part of, uh, the kind of ethos that, uh, they were part of and we're steeped in.
[MUSIC CUE: Space Afrika - “With Your Touch”]
Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes: Um, you know, people talk about the Black House and the Panther Party. Both of you know, realities and my parents were very intricately involved in from their inception here. Um.
LARRY: The Black House.
LARRY: What is that?
MAIKOIYO: It was a house that was literally painted Black-
MAIKOIYO: That the Central District that was the hub of a lot of, um. Again, uh, I--I, it's, it's always strange to me when we, I guess it's, it's necessary to refer to it as being counter oppressive. But the reality of all of these things is really about, um, internalizing a more, uh, holistic and realistic view of who we are.
LARRY: You know, that's something I really understood to some degree, but it was in my association with you, with Ish and everybody that I came to really understand it and not as so much as a reactive, you know, "damn the white man" centering that.
MAIKOIYO: Well, I think that's, you know, one of the, the great, um, rub of white supremacy is this notion that everything is centered from that point and then moves out like some, some set of spokes from there.
MAIKOIYO: Um, and I think, um, those of us who were able to grow up with a certain degree of, um, of knowledge of self being, you know, integral in knowledge of forebears, um, being integral to our upbringing, uhm. Don't come from a place of fear or awe, which can be, um, off-putting to those who do. Be they white, Black, Asian, what have you. Um, I think, um. There is definitely a philosophical difference, but almost a dialectic difference that you can pick up on when you're speaking to someone who comes from that kind of an upbringing. And I... It's not exclusively generational or regional, but I think that there are places that have had that had hubs of that kind of thought. Hmm. And there's places where that was squelched quite effectively in mass. And there are places where that have remained strongholds and that pushed on from that.
LARRY: In the very heart of Seattle’s Central District, next to Garfield High School, across from Ezell’s Chicken, stands the Medgar Evers Pool—named for the civil right leader, slain in 1963. In 1972, Maikoiyo’s parents, Curtis Barnes and Royal Alley-Barnes, completed the Omowale Mural—named for the Yoruba word that translates to “The Child Returns Home.”
[MUSIC CUE: Nailah Hunter - “Ruins” from Spells]
LARRY (cont’d): It stood at the pool entrance for over two decades, a visual representation of the African diaspora in the heart of Seattle’s historic Black neighborhood. I saw it the first time I ever came to the CD, lingering near the entrance of the brutalist concrete bunker that houses the pool. The Omowale mural was torn down in 1995, against the protests of the community, at the behest, perhaps, of the real estate developers who would subsequently drastically reshape the neighborhood. Today, looking online, you can’t even find a picture of the mural. For me, there couldn’t be a clearer exemplar of the erasure that seems to be second nature to this city.
MAIKOIYO: It was right in front of Medgar Evers pool. And it? Was 75 feet by 15 feet. Two panels. Painted in what would, I think on an art historical level, be referred to as more of the tradition of the Mexican muralist, as opposed to how most murals you might see now, which are more kind of the stencil all kinds of process of projection and a stencil. And it's, you know, it's a layer of paint and you stay within the lines and you get an image, whereas this is something that was handled in, you know, a multilayered, hyper painterly approach. But I think that what's under-considered is. How the project was funded and what it spawned. Because the one percent for art program that exists throughout the United States, which is how a great number of things are funded at this point in time, it is found its roots in that project really, you know, so it's always interesting for when you listen to sort of narratives around contributions made or how a thing you know how things came to be. But there was not a notion that city governments or state governments had any obligation to fund public art or the taxes that we paid into these systems should be coming back for notions of beautification within our spaces. But the Omawale mural, which was. I dare say, an ode to our our sovereignty, ode to what we had endured in, you know, what would be considered the the wilderness of North America and also a notion of what our future would look like. Stood in the middle of the central, literally, one could argue in the dead center of the Central District for 20 plus years until it was torn down without consulting the neighborhood or the community. Illegally, actually.
LARRY: The city do that?
MAIKOIYO: City did that. Yeah. Oddly enough, the parks department did that. Odd because.. odd, because at the time, my mother was working for the parks department.
LARRY: So that happened in the...
MAIKOIYO: I believe that was 94.
LARRY: Yeah. Yeah. Because I think I laid eyes on it.
MAIKOIYO: Yeah, and it had fallen into fall into a degree of disrepair, but it, you know, technically the nature of the contract is one that the, you know, the city did not own it. So you should theoretically have to contract or contact the artists about that, but there should have to have been any number of other things in regard. Regardless of what the community wanted. Yeah. Excuse me to do with the large public work that was sitting there.
LARRY: This, to me, stands out as like one of them. One keynote example of the engine of erasure that seems to exist here.
MAIKOIYO: I like alliteration.
LARRY: Yeah. A big fan.
MAIKOIYO: Yeah. The engine of erasure. Mm hmm. I like that one, Larry. I think that's... It's very apropos. I think that... I think I've referred to it as a penchant for revision. But I think that. The activity and the energy that goes behind an engine is very.. Is perhaps more accurate because it is very active. And I think very necessary to, um, continue to tell falsehoods, right? Like if there is, uh, artifact and remnants, then that starts to beget questions. Right? Um, and we've had a terrible history of that in this city. Architecturally. Definitely in narratives. But I think that... I wonder if that's not something that's much deeper and embedded into some, you know, more ancient curse or something.
MAIKOIYO: Gentrification is a is in a lot of ways an oversimplification of the level of, um, the degree of machination that goes into this end result where your neighborhood looks nothing like you remember it growing up.
[MUSIC CUE: Nailah Hunter - “Talisman” from Spells]
MAIKOIYO: But on a spiritual level, I think that, you know, that work of art was, you know, a talisman and a, um, a welcome and also a repellent to certain energies, and that has nothing to do with race or color or creed. So, you know, when the mural was being painted, you had, you know, shamans coming in and, you know. Uh, energy workers and sorceresses coming in and praying over it and blessing it. Um, you also had, uh, artists from all over the world who made, you know, pilgrimage to come and see it because, you know, again, 75 by 15 is not small.
MAIKOIYO: On a technological level, on a spiritual level, on an art historical level, you know, something like that not being preserved, um, or recognized in a certain way or the progenitors of it not being acknowledged in a certain way is consistent with that engine of erasure that you're talking about.
[MUSIC CUE: Nailah Hunter - “Talisman” from Spells]
LARRY: And of course, that's not the end of the story works generated by your parents.
MAIKOIYO: Oh gosh, no, hyper prolific. Workers in various mediums, but also people who I think really contributed even more when we started talking about the medium of the human spirit and people and. You know, my mother was an arts educator and still is an art educator into her near 80s, my father's now passed, I think transitioned a lot of that energy into helping, though I mean, consistently working as an artist, he transition a lot of that energy into helping people who were coming through an organization called the Conservation Corps and a lot of people who were considered unemployable, having been in a lot of cases very recently transitioning out of incarceration and teaching them skills. And he was very instrumental in those skills being more than just physical labor.
MAIKOIYO: And there was a great level of pushback because Conservation Corps was basically who the City Corps of Engineers and the parks department is used to do. All of the grunt work, which is fine.
LARRY: But my brother worked for the California Conservation Corps, which, you know, they're like volunteer fire people.
MAIKOIYO: Right? So again, go, do you know the either really backbreaking or really dangerous work for X amount of dollars? And, you know, but teaching people about notions around entrepreneurship or notions around, you know, higher skills on a technological level was not part of the environment that he walked into. So that was a huge portion of his legacy in his passing. But if you want to talk about, you know, painting and sculpting and working in textiles and all that stuff, there are both of them are. Gifted to say the least.
LARRY: Definitely recognized. And how was that transmitted to you and how does it come through your practice?
MAIKOIYO: I mean, I was immersed in it, you know, whatever genetic dispositions aside and again, that's that's, I guess, potentially a crapshoot.
LARRY: We've seen that.
MAIKOIYO: Yeah, sure. I mean, I don't I mean, and I don't, I don't think that I can hold a candle to either of them. If you want to talk about output or what they've done in a human to human, uh, interaction level, but I think that, you know, being, uh, immersed in the ways that I was and apprenticing within their studio spaces, but also being exposed to, um, their peers or the artists who mentored them in very kind of intimate ways. Um, it's something that I took for granted for a very long time because it just was my every day.
MAIKOIYO: Um, and it is a type of, uh, privilege that I think, um. And you've been called Birthright, but I would consider it a privilege.
[MUSIC CUE: Beverly Glenn-Copeland - “Old Melody” from Keyboard Fantasies]
MAIKOIYO: Like, being immersed, there's, no substitute, I think, for that. Um, in regards to the possibilities that are available- In that space. Um, but that said, I think that, you know, uh. There is a, we don't live in a city that there is a great level of commerce or remuneration around, um, that as a skill set. So in both their cases, they worked, you know, classic nine to fives, even though they were world renowned for doing what they did, you know and do. Um, and I don't, necessarily I've, I've never been taught to think that um, your supposed brilliance at your artistic output is necessarily incongruent with having to do other things to make sure you make ends meet.
LARRY: Sure. It just seems like maybe in other places, it finds uh, commensurate remuneration.
MAIKOIYO: Uh, maybe more often, I think, you know, the notion that I mean, we live in a period of time where I think we see more people living as artists.
MAIKOIYO: But I don't think that even within that, you're talking about a large percentage of those who actually make art, even as you know, even though it becomes more and more popular and people refer to themselves very loosely as artists. You know, the great portion of artists and great number of artists make and make and make and aren't necessarily ever recognized or, you know, or remunerated for that, or perhaps in some cases, even care to be.
MAIKOIYO: So I think, you know, there are some degrees of assumed compensation. That aren't necessarily consistent with what it is that we're actually here to do. Um, and I think we made, that has been, been skewed by, you know. Capitalism in any number of other things, but, you know, art for art's sake is a very western notion, right? Design for designs, you know, for for the sake of, uh, visual consumption as opposed to its usefulness is very new. Um so. I think, yes, I think I know for a fact that if my parents were living in other environments where, you know, art consumption worked in a different way and the politics around art were different, that they would have probably had a different set of paths. But I think that. Uh, there is a, self gazing that comes from that, that would have perhaps. Not availed them to share a lot of who they were with the innumerable people that they ended up sharing it with.
LARRY: Right. That human-to-human work you're talking about?
MAIKOIYO: Yeah, I think that that's, you know, so I think that, you know, it's, it's an interesting, you know, you think about these alter- alternate realities where a person might have taken another path or, you know, got on X plane or X train and, you know, set out in a different way. But I think, you know, um. I think about, you know, locusts, I think about different kinds of gestation periods I think about, you know what I mean, like, you make a work, you may never be acknowledged for it or understand who it's affected, you know? I think personally, it's been a not a place of solace, but it's been a thing that I have to keep reminding myself about because I don't think that there is always a one to one or one to ten relationship as far as your understanding of what comes back to you, right? Or even. Compact enough timeline for you. Assuming you live, however, long will ever necessarily get that direct feedback from whoever ends up consuming it with their eyes and hearts and minds, right?
[MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Recollections of the wraith”]
LARRY: Pike Street is the main artery of activity on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. At the end of the 2000’s, a new space opened up on Pike Street that created new possibilities.
MAIKOIYO: Punctuation was a seed. Two acquaintances at the time had a space on Capitol Hill called Laced Up. And Laced Up, I think it was really important and under-recognized for its contribution to... It's always strange to refer to consumption as culture, but to culture. At some point in time around 2008, 2009, there was a necessity for them to pivot in the manner of how they were conducting business and a lot of my experience at the point in time was in curation and in brand consulting. I was asked whether or not I'd be interested in helping with a rebrand of that space. And there was a series of pivots that were necessary inside of the pivot. So what was initially going to be a rebrand of a retail space needed to become something that was? A little bit more nebulous, and that had a greater level of well, that continued the embracing of community and. People feeling welcome within a space, whether they were spending money or they just needed to sit down and shoot the shit. Punctuation, I think, turned into a gallery space and salon that we referred to as a mixed use space. But I think the thing that was noteworthy at the time was a physical space where visual art being made by people of color and women, who had not garnered the attention of traditional galleries in Seattle and a lot of cases elsewhere. Where, you know, people who, six months previous, would have been standing online for a sneaker drop, were now investing in their first piece of visual art. You know, I remember that quite often a question would be, you know, you know, someone would open the door and be like, "Can I come in?" "Why not?" "Well, I don't have any money to spend." And you're like, well, why would that be the necess-, you know, like the for lack of a better term, the price of entry, you know, but you come you came to realize at the time or I came to realize the time, just how unwelcome, and I guess I had always known that how unwelcoming the notions around the classic white cube.
LARRY: Oh yeah.
MAIKOIYO: You know, had been. Um, and how rarely and especially in a city that was becoming progressively whiter, in a neighborhood that was becoming-
LARRY: More cube. *laughs*
MAIKOIYO: Yeah, even more disengaged with its youth and the various peoples who had occupied it for quite some time. Um, it was a space where many of those people came and were able to discuss things like design and art and fashion and... love lives and any number of other things. Um, and it was done, I think it was, it happened again quite organically. Um and you know, I- it's like anything else, you know, you're so close to a thing that you don't necessarily reconcile it's impact because you're busy making sure that the lights stay on.
MAIKOIYO: But it was run collectively, and I think it's necessary to point out. JayCee Coleman and Kizha Davidson and Blanca Martinez and Kodi Perez and I mean Emnet, as long as I could, I mean. Maxwell, J. Maxwell, I mean, there's so many people that were involved in the situation who have gone off and had, you know, their own impactful careers and lives in these various other capacities, in education and in art and fashion and in, I mean, Intisar Ali. I mean, there's a lot of people that can name many mean nothing to those listening or may mean everything to somebody listening if they've actually interacted with those people. But I think the things that I'm. You know, I'm proud of our, you know, the fact that, you know, we showed Hebru Brantley early, we showed Kat Larson early, we showed Stacy Rozich early. You know, we showed Mike Watkins early. Mike Wagner. And I think that, you know, also. Having shows and exhibitions, but shows, I think, is a little more accurate in that scale. Um, and events where uh... people felt welcome and were able to interact on a very uh, there wasn't this upward gazing notion around the makers,
MAIKOIYO: You know? Um. And they were fun.
MAIKOIYO: And you know, we would have DJs and, you know, and it is the place that you know. Ishmael Butler meets Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White, and it is the place that you know, Otis Calvin deejays, you know, this event for this thing, and it is the place where, you know, so there's there's all these other stories that kind of generate out of there.
LARRY: Porter Ray Sullivan.
MAIKOIYO: And again, you know, you have Porter Ray Sullivan, who was intimately involved in working at Laced Up, who was this, you know, unbeknownst to a lot of people is, you know, who's you know, he's a visual artist as well. But you know, that kid helped hang nearly every show that we ever, you know. And he's not a kid, he's a grown man now, but you know, at the time, you know, he was someone who... you know, and again, and and Thaddeus and I mean, there’s so, there's a bunch of people I can think of who were, you know, in and around the space in different ways and would just stopped through because of their connection to what had happened, you know, was happening there previously being curious about what this new thing was.
MAIKOIYO: And you know, and they were coming in and being like, What is this? There's Black people running a gallery? You know what I mean? It was a space that, you know, was curated somewhere in the region, and I think it was 20 some odd shows and three years. Um, and it's, I do enjoy the fact that, you know, now, however, many years later, people will come up to me like, "Oh man, you know, it was the first time I ever did X, Y and Z, or it was the, you know, I had never seen this. I remember now." And it should also be said Ishmael Butler, Tilson – they invested time, money. They believed in this vision that, you know, it was brought forth and then contributed, and continued to contribute to that as well.
[MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Recollections of the wraith”]
So music was very integral to this, you know, and thinking about these things, not these disparate kinds of, you know, so when we referred to it as a mixed use space, it wasn't, you know, just another event space. And that's no knock on any of these subsequent places that also, frankly, very directly generated-
MAIKOIYO: By one degree of separation from Punctuation. It is the um, field of dreams notion there, but it's also a crapshoot. You might build it and maybe nobody shows up, you know, in this case. We built it and there were 500 people there. The first time we, you know what I mean? We did an opening, you know, and then there was, you know, we would have our openings, would have people spill it all up and down Pike Street, yeah, you know.
MAIKOIYO: You know, we start talking about the Black Constellation. It's, you know, if I was to answer it in a succinct way, I'd say it's, you know, it's the birthplace of that energy or at least the, the space that that energy was codified.
LARRY: Hmm. Fresh off the spaceship dipped in punctuation.
MAIKOIYO: That is a line from a song.
LARRY: That is a line.
[MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Recollections of the Wraith”]
LARRY: Punctuation was a space outside of the sphere of the “arts scene” as it was known, a welcoming place where young people, and particularly young folks of color, could hone their tastes for, and be exposed to, art and media they might not have encountered otherwise. It was an incubator that served as a bulwark against the age-old paradigm of Black artists needing to escape Seattle entirely to gain widespread acceptance within it.
MAIKOIYO: We were in a position where there was like an almost violently aggressive, hyper male, hyper white professional environment in the arts. And, I don't think it was said as directly as that initially, but that was, you know, what was going on in Seattle and with its penchant for erasure and its penchant for the sublimation of the root. You know, insert, Bam Bam, insert, you know, take your pick. The number of people who've ended up having to like, Do you know who Reggie Watts is if he doesn't leave here? You know what I mean? Do you know who Jimi is? If he doesn't leave here, right? They're not going to be any less brilliant. You know what I mean?
LARRY: But they got to go. Right.
[MUSIC CUE: KMRU - “Degree of Change” from Jar]
MAIKOIYO: But is that always a necessity and what can we do to, you know? Create structures that have more of a foothold in the proliferation of the brilliance that comes from this place and the narrative, control over the narratives that are necessary in the various means that they're necessary and bombardment that's really necessary for that story to be out there. So that is what that space was about. And I think on some level was very effectual in doing. I think there's a lot of people who grew from that energy, I definitely grew from that energy. I felt like it was really necessary to reach out to a cross-generational group of makers, because it didn't exist in any codified way here. And I think that there's a great history of it here, but again, usually it's de Barros telling the story about what was happening on Jackson and God love him but you not in the fold fam. You're just not, right? You know what I'm saying? And it's and that happens far too often and it turns into, you know, a operator game. Or operator, isn't that? Or telephone. Right. Where there's this degradation of the original message or a selective telling of the story that is hinged upon whatever ulterior motives might be on the part of the narrator, as opposed to those who are in the midst of it, recounting it real time and making bonds around that that are longer lasting, you know?.
LARRY: That's something Martin and I touched on just kind of thinking, you know, as Black music critics around that time thinking about how, well, just everywhere, but certainly here, we are spoon-fed white critical take/POV on everything, let alone just Black creative output. That is the default.
MAIKOIYO: Yep. But I mean and obviously now that media has become more, has flattened in certain ways and it's more egalitarian, supposedly, you know, like the notion would be that that improves. Right? But unfortunately, authentic critique and critical commentary has not stayed the course of being an actual practice. You tend to get a degree of sameness, a lack of qualified opinion in the now, even though there are far more voices. And I think we are in this funny kind of sweet spot that many people were still, though not necessarily Luddites, there was still some degree of gatekeeping that was afoot. So what we were doing stood out in a way because it was en masse enough, you know, and as you said, there's you there's, you know, there are. And to say, that said, we were quite lucky here because some of the, you know, ostensibly white journalists who would have been recounting it were actually qualified in a certain way. You know what I mean? It's just to say that sometimes their viewpoints are just hyper myopic. And I can say that because if you're interviewing me, I'm probably interviewing you. I want to know what is your frame of reference? What qualifies you to even be able to speak on it outside of your curiosity? And curiosity is enough as an entry point, but it's not necessarily enough to speak qualified.
LARRY: It's not stripes.
MAIKOIYO: No, I mean, fuck, do you even love words? I care about that for my writers. The writers I grew up on loved words. Not just the notion of their voice. Matter of fact, most of them will tell you, I need to get out of my own way.
LARRY: Yes, right.
MAIKOIYO: But so I think with this, what might be considered the golden age of interest in contemporary Black art, all of which I'm for, but not unlike critique, just because there's more doesn't necessarily mean that the quality, as you know, is at some apex point, per se. I think that there is brilliance afoot, you know, and I think there's. But I'm for even the mediocrity I'm for, even though I mean, at least on a philosophical level, I am for the opportunity for us to be able to be mediocre
LARRY: As much as anybody else.
MAIKOIYO: Yes, right. But I do think that there is an absence of critical thought to go along with, qualified critical thought to go along with, this robust rich, you know, insurgence of Black voice and creativity.
[MUSIC CUE: KMRU - “Space of Uncertainty” from Jar]
LARRY: Maikoiyo’s crucial reflections on the critical atmosphere are one thing, but what about his own life as an artist?
MAIKOIYO: The making has been continuous. And so, we'll call it the invasion of the spaces that were created to either hoard our makings or exclude us or separate us from the things that we were supposed to communicate with, I do think we had a hand in that and we did it in a really bold and brash way, as far as I'm concerned. A really beautiful way. And so, you know, because of the lack of, well I think this is important what you're doing, what you and Martin are doing here. Responsible critique involved connective tissue, involved research and understanding that there, again, these things aren't, again the singular genius, this light bulb that goes off, and all of a sudden, somebody realizes, holy shit, Kahlil Joseph is a genius or holy shit, Ishmael Butler.. No, man, like, that's not. They didn't start when, you know what I'm saying, Blowout Comb came out. And so I think that because ego and the notion of discovery is super important in the critical space, It's very rare that people want to do the necessary diligence to connect, you know, the ties that bind. So I think that, you know, the forays that we offered up in the aughts through the now and as far as I’m concerned, previous to that, but actively as a collective, it was a, you know, shot in the arm, if you will, you know?
LARRY: Absolutely. And I would love to talk more about that because what a game changing paradigm is what came to be known as part of the body of work presented by the Constellation at the Frye Museum here. That was absolutely a sea change, the things that happened there, as much as that first Shabazz show to me. I just wonder if you would speak upon those shows and how they came about.
MAIKOIYO: Hmm. Every once in a while, someone who's not supposed to be at a dinner party ends up at a dinner party. I think that in the case of some of the things that happened in Seattle, in contemporary art, there was this very interesting window in which a few of us people who would have been considered outsiders were being invited into spaces with people who were in decision-making positions. I was far more interested at the time in helping to solidify my father's legacy. And so when I found myself in those positions in, you know, at these tables full of museum directors from all over the world, really, but definitely the United States, I would ask this, you know, kind of give them questions like who here at this table is interested in a lost master, lost contemporary master, you know? At the time, hyper male, hyper white curatorial disposition or set of dispositions would be something that was contrary and 9 out of 10 times, there would be no interest expressed. But there is the tenth time.
[MUSIC CUE: KMRU - “Behind There” from Jar]
And in regards to the Frye, there was an executive director there at the time named Joanne Bernie Danzker, who, being, I think someone who considered themselves a firebrand and someone who was a trailblazer as far as being a woman who was a curator of a certain generation, the notion of something that was authentically different and multi-disciplinary was something that harkened back to what she considered kind of the golden ages of Renaissance in the previous century, so understanding that, you know, from an art historical standpoint, these things happen, you know, once every 100 years or so, I think she was primed to be looking for that and felt like she had found it. But I think that that had a lot to do with why that was an option at the Frye. Other institutions in the city had the same set of opportunities. They subsequently have shown innumerable Black artists, and I commend them for that, but they're yet in many cases, and they're doing much better. But I think that Seattle with its second city kind of unfortunate notions defers to brilliance from outside and or the outside canonizing whatever brilliance is here, and then they will celebrate it. So the Frye, I think, at the time was looking for brilliance within, what it would fancy brilliance and in survey of things that were happening here, and I think Joanne was a factor. There is a curator by the name of Yoko Ott, who is now deceased, who was a factor in that. You know, there were people who understood that there was something buzzing, you know, but it should be said that we had you know, in the popular culture realm, already made quite a set of statements before the institutional world was even remotely interested in what we were doing. But that said, there was risk taken because when asked, you know, if you were given a show, what would you do? I thought, well, I could say. I would do this, this and this, or I could say we would do such, such and such, and I chose we over I and think that's, in the case of the Frye, why that was the case. And one, it seemed like a lot more fun to do it with people who were, who I enjoyed working with. Two, I think that it was unquestionably going to be a more robust experience with all those parties involved. It was also just really strategic, but also notions around communal sharing of spoils are important, too. And it's important that, you know, younger people can see the viability of, and it's not as simple as representation, it's like, it's the viability of other options, you know? Doesn’t need to be you seeing yourself, it needs to be you seeing something different, you know what I mean, than what you're used to seeing. Because that's the thing that I heard most from people, young people of color after this. I mean, because there was a series of shows at the Frye that we were involved in in different capacities. But I think that what I heard was, you know, ‘I never felt welcome in these spaces’. Now, if you're into visual art, you go into museums, but if you don't think of yourself that way it’s not necessarily a space that you're going to go into, but us approaching it from a programming level that was multidisciplinary with a degree of cool associated with it, I think that that energy spread. I know that conversations that I had had in punctuation with Nicholas about the fact that he was interested in showing in spaces other than the spaces that were always reaching out to him resonated, you know. That, you know, having conversations with Nep about wanting to get the work back out there after a certain kind of, not necessarily production hiatus, but definitely a sharing hiatus, was important. Knowing that the sensibilities of Ishmael or Stasia or, you know, or Moni or Otis, were something that translated well into the institutional space. At some point in time, I started to think of, you know being a connector as an artistic practice, too. I think some of that is more subconscious than conscious, but I think that there's times when I've been prolific at that, there's times when I've been, you know, a hermit. But I figure if you're out there like, you know, and you have ears that you might as well spread the good news, maybe you got some awesome ass news to share.
LARRY: It’s energizing. Real quick about that series of shows. Let's just knock them down. What was first?
MAIKOIYO: There was a show called Moment Magnitude, which was a survey of work being made in the first portion of the first 10 years, basically of the 2000s by artists living in and around Seattle. That was the first show, and that exhibition had work, collaborative work by myself and Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White and then collaborative work by myself and Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire. Collaborative work with an artist name, Giuliano Mira, I believe, is how their name is said. But so that was, you know, kind of the entry point. From there, there is, so that's maybe I think that's 2012, so there's large scale video work in there, headdress slash jewelry and a couple of headdresses in that exhibition. Subsequent to that, it was a show called Your Feast is Ended. And another show called the Unicorn Incorporated, which were mounted simultaneously. The Unicorn Incorporated was a retrospective of my father's work. And Your Feast Has Ended, which was an abbreviated title for that, with the longer form being, Oh, Ye Parasites, Your Feast Has Ended, a title which was considered too aggressive and potentially off putting to, and this is not my quote, this is one of the curators’ quotes, the white Museum-going masses.
LARRY: Because they're parasites, we don't want to offend any parasites.
MAIKOIYO: I mean, look again, that's what I'm saying.
LARRY: We want parasites to come in too.
MAIKOIYO: My statement was open ended. It wasn't directed towards anyone other than parasites.
LARRY: hit dog going to holler right.
MAIKOIYO: But hey, that's how the individual in question felt. He can remain nameless, but you guys can do your research. Not a bad guy. Just he sees things how he sees things. But that said, so that exhibition was a three person show with Nep Sidhu, Nicholas Galanin and myself. And let's see here and there’s, and again, and in each of those cases, there was a lot of public programming. And you know, it was important to us that the programming was not designed by an external entity and that it was in lockstep with what the messaging of the exhibition was which caused a lot of upheaval in the institution, actually, like pretty major upheaval in the institution. Which, again, blessing and curse. Subsequently in, let's see here, 2016, yeah, 16, was an exhibition called Young Blood. That was the first museum-based exhibition, definitely outside of L.A., but technically, period, of the works of the brothers Noah Davis and Kahlil Joseph. Technically they had shown together at the Underground Museum, but in a classic institutional space it was the first exhibition thereof and I curated that exhibition. So I mean, I think that's the immediate, so there was, I guess, four exhibitions over this, what's four to five years, which is actually pretty high frequency for one, you know, group of people.
[MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Suspicion of a Shape” from Lese Majesty]
LARRY: As our conversation continued, Maikoiyo brought up a few topics that are frequently discussed amongst the BC – notions of authenticity and attribution, and of course, continuum. We’ll get to that right after a short break.
[MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Suspicion of a Shape” from Lese Majesty]
MAIKOIYO: So, you know, it's interesting because I think I have this conversation, I know that Ishmael and I have this conversation, I know that you and I have this conversation. I know myself and everybody who I consider part of this thing that we do, have this conversation about whether or not um, there is the reverence for the authentic anymore. But I don't think that it's ever going to be popularized or... um promoted if it is happening en masse. You know what I mean? Like, I think that that's the trap that we kind of fall into is this notion that acknowledgment by some external force or financial remuneration is the measure by which we can garner the success of a movement, energy. And again, I battle with that personally, I'm not someone who is unaffected by that phenomenon. But, you know, when you asked me what it was, we talk about support. That's where I, you know, one of the things I love about us is that there, whether we do it directly or indirectly, there is a reminder regularly of that.
[MUSIC CUE: Laraaji - “A Cave in England” from Flow Goes the Universe]
There are a lot of notions around what America has ever contributed to the world, and I've maintained for quite some time publicly and privately that the only thing, because I don't actually believe the jazz music can be attributed to the Americas, I think it's resultant of the continent. Um, I don't think rock and roll can be attributed to the Americas as a result thereof. So, you know, so I'm saying?
LARRY: Absolutely, like there’s the Blues.
MAIKOIYO: Like all those things are very-
LARRY: Because that's the answer, right?
MAIKOIYO: Yeah that's the, that's-
LARRY: a lot of ethnomusicologists, a lot of people... Jazz music. We wouldn't. Yeah, right?
MAIKOIYO: Right. But I think that's frankly a very Western notion that um, likes to compartmentalize as opposed to thinking about things in a continuum.
LARRY: There it is.
MAIKOIYO: But there is an American invention and contribution and the cult and culture of... And I'll put kind of a caveat in a, in a like a, if if I was writing it, I'd put it in a, in a parenthetic, "universal celebrity." This notion that we need, desire or should have recognition en masse. I think that's very American. And not to say that it has not proliferated... all these different mechanisms that we have for the proliferation of it, and I tie it very closely to, ironically, something that I love very much, which is, you know, the means of dissemination that is cinema and the moving image. But I think that, you know, and some people say, well, you know, would you narrow that down to social media and I’d say yes, but that started previous to that, you know? Um, and you know, misinformation and propaganda and all those things, they're ancient, I'm sure. But, the... Almost uh, the amplification of it, to the degree that we're at now I think, is something that is very much a resultant of a cultural society that has needed to function on that, that thing you coined earlier.
LARRY: Mm Hmm.
MAIKOIYO: The engine of erasure. Warhol’s notion of the 15 minutes of fame. The notion that things - integrity, authenticity, are, spaces where, you know, we would sacrifice for the sake of acknowledgment, I think, is a very new and very American thing. And so when you ask me, you know what I mean, is it something that has fallen out of favor in a certain way? I think that there are people who understand the same thing that I understand in that regard, and I don't think that there's just a few of us. But are we going to use the same mechanisms to relay that, that those who are engaged in the other side of it would? You know, so the notion-
LARRY: Talk to your front-facing camera on social media and explain it?
MAIKOIYO: I mean, yeah, I mean, again, nearly everything that is done on the regular, circa 2021 would have been something that would have caused nearly everyone around you to worry about your mental, spiritual integrity, 10 years ago, 20 years ago. Now that doesn't mean that it is inherently wrong per se, but it might be something that we want to examine a little bit.
LARRY: Yeah, that's real.
MAIKOIYO: Um, but I think that. Like anything else, there is room for alchemy within that. Um, and I think, you know, one of the things that I, I know was discussed and has been in a tenet of what we've done both overtly and inadvertently is the notion of using mechanisms that weren't necessarily designed for our freedom. Here are you and I speaking and thinking in English. To still morph these things and still use them for our benefit. How do you do that without sacrificing X amount of your spirit? Is the dance, right? Because I think it's safe to say, you know, I think many people will concede now that overexposure to most of these things, these mediums can be maddening.
LARRY: The word you've mentioned a couple of times is a word I expect will pop up: Continuum.
MAIKOIYO: Uh huh.
LARRY: What does it mean to you, especially in regards to the work's associations? The Constellation.
MAIKOIYO: I think that more than anything else, is it involves a removal of self. To varying degrees of success, because I think you have to acknowledge if you are genuinely talking about being part of any continuum that you are part of a confluence, right. There is this amorphous notion around energy and that you are a vessel at very best. The varying degrees of success, both in your ability to carry whatever said liquid is and distribute it…and be able to receive it. You know, if one was to imagine a vessel that had, you know, openings on either end, could receive and pour at once, and could expand indefinitely. But also, weirdly enough, didn't have a border of its own, so it could blend seamlessly, so maybe, um, single cellular or smaller? You know what I mean? Amoebas or something are a better example.
MAIKOIYO: Or, you know, things that can share a cellular wall or– I'm sorry, like a which?
LARRY: Like a river.
MAIKOIYO: A river. Yes, I mean, water is the, you know, it is the, you know, a river is a good thing because again, it, is it actually– where are the points of containment? You know, there are not, right…
MAIKOIYO: …because of stuff seeping into the beds and it's going–
LARRY: Yeah, and it's wearing it down.
MAIKOIYO: It's going– it's where it's, yes, it's constantly, you know, morphing and changing. So, I think those are the things that come to mind when I think about “continuum.” But as one who doesn't really think of time functioning forward to back, it's kind of difficult to think about it as, you know, as this thing that's, you know, the past and the future aligning and having this, you know? But I think that for those who think of time that way, then I think it's this acknowledgment of the fact that you are part of a through line, um, and a point of intersection at best. Whereas energy can't be stopped, I guess it could be redirected or it could be held on to in a manner that, you know, usually is pretty unhealthy. Um, I think Continuum is… if anything, antithetical to many of the other things that we hold dear. Whether that's the hoarding of information. The attempts to capitalize upon said hoarding and distributing it as we see fit. Um, I think that it absolutely is the acknowledgment of the fact that this energy comes from someplace – not going to necessarily say before you – but it comes from someplace. To be effective in any way, as far as I see it, in a continuum like notions of self have to start to be removed. Um. Hmm. It's a term that I started using curatorially in response to a point, because in my own artistic work, I kept running into the notions around futurism and people framing my work accordingly. Um, whereas I understand it from a art historical standpoint, it denotes these very staunch lines about where things starts and stops, and I think art history in the Western lens needs that because you need to be able to identify where a thing began.
LARRY: On that kind of timeline you were talking about.
MAIKOIYO: Which is just absurdist. And usually some outsiders that, you know, later stage attempt again– contradicting myself, but yes, if we were talking about this linear notion, someone who usually... disconnected. Whether it's a revision or just their... I mean, it's just... made up. You know, which are honestly two different things for sure. Revision denotes, you know the truth and you're doing something different. I think so often we start talking about anthropological notions. We're talking about people just making shit up. "They did this because of this. And this is when they started this." And it's like, well, just knowing what we know about natural disasters, there could be a whole missing chunk of the necessary piece. Or you don't speak the language well enough or understand the intricacies of the language to understand this nuance. So you misinterpreted this when you, you know what I mean? And then. So I think, um, notions around futurism and I mean this other than a coined movement in art at a particular point in time, um, are usually pretty misnomaric because they denote that everybody is functioning under the same timeline, has the same experience of time, um, that there has not been, uh, movements that have, again, along this timeline preceded. That didn't examine many of these same notions. Um, and also it engages all these notions around fantasy that aren't necessarily... A part of... The dynamic. And in many of the cases, centers whiteness-
MAIKOIYO: In a way that is um... a lie. And I'm – per my upbringing, as I was discussing really early – that's not the way I was taught to think. And not the way that I've embraced thinking outside of those teachings. So, I think of time as more of a confluence of things that are moving in various directions. And so when I think of a continuum. It's the closest thing to, as you put it, water that I think you can, frame in regards to time. The me-centric nature of... the Western world, however, many last several thousands of years, has a lot to do with "me first" or "I discovered" or– You know, attribution, right? And I think the continuum, if we're talking about it in its purest form, removes attribution. And I know that attribution is really important for people, for a lot of reasons, but... If the work is actually the point, then...
MAIKOIYO: How important is attribution?
LARRY: Yeah. The impact of it.
MAIKOIYO: Hmm. You know, you're confidential. Sure. But I would argue that a lot of those messages would have, you know, they probably came to multiple individuals at the same time who was able to realize them in a fashion that they were spread out in the way they needed to be. Who's to say, you know, you hear people talking about being, I'm the influencer’s influencer, or I'm the– you know what I mean? That's a, you know what I mean, like skewing, you know, how gross we might consider the notion of being an influencer, as we put it in the now or the plug, as we put it in the now, like those are, there's an authenticity to that. It's like, yeah, energy came from someplace.
[MUSIC CUE: Niecy Blues - “Keep Goin’, Black Girl Ur Not Far” from CRY]
MAIKOIYO: But. And I think acknowledgement is important in a, if we're thinking of it as part of some grander spell. But not for the sake of vilification or idolatry, which is, I think, what it often becomes in the now, and I think the continuum removes potentially your thinking of things in the notion of continuum helps offset the kind of adulterous notions we have around attribution in the now.
LARRY: What Ish calls "me-mania".
MAIKOIYO: It's a good one, more alliteration. It's nice to hang out with people who like words.
LARRY: It's a beautiful thing.
LARRY: Yes, sometimes sometimes.
LARRY: Yeah, there is a… Things come from a place and a time and from people and everything, but yeah, if it's used to glorify oneself, it just kind of rings hollow because it didn't come from within your body.
MAIKOIYO: Well, not to contradict, but I don't know if they come from a place or a time, they come from the ephemera. It may be codified in a way that we can understand them in a given place or a time or in a particular way, in a given place or a time. And I think that is important for our... Post experiential understanding of the thing. But, you know, when people just say, they say, you know, you had to be there?
MAIKOIYO: That's probably actually true for nearly everything. Because even the recording of a thing is very different than – because, again, we're, we're sitting here, we're talking right? And people are going to hear this and they're going to have whatever. Maybe it gets chopped up, maybe it's uninterrupted. But, your facial expressions are lost in the moment. I think if you were even to break down what “epiphany” like breaks down to on some Latin level, it would probably literally mean, you know what I mean, "message delivered."
MAIKOIYO: From where? Who's to say perhaps there's some deification or something in there? I don't know.
LARRY: But that's the thing. It didn't. That person isn’t like, "I came up with this message for everybody". There, it's from on high.
MAIKOIYO: "I received it."
LARRY: Yes. That's the whole thing. It's not about me, even though a lot of times it ends up being about them, et cetera, et cetera, whether that's by their design or their, their folks. And that's something I've noted through the practice of everybody that's a part of this thing.
LARRY: When I see them doing their dance, whatever it is, I see them receiving.
LARRY: You know what I'm saying?
MAIKOIYO: Mm hmm.
LARRY: It doesn't feel like… Not to say that there's not some great degree of... thought, practice, premeditation that's a part of the delivery, but... everybody seems very open to that receiving. And is similarly generous in the creation. And that's the biggest throughline I ever see.
MAIKOIYO: Mm hmm.
LARRY: Besides a million other things: family histories, stuff like that.
MAIKOIYO: Sure. Sure. But I think that's – and, again, when you said that you wanted to talk about this, I was kind of like "I'm too close to this, to talk about this in a certain way. And I still maintain that. Uh, my perspective is… the perspective that comes from, yeah, a certain degree of proximity. Uh, and not the same one that someone else would, again, same proximity would have or a similar proximity would have. But I think that there is an acknowledgment across the board that there is a... the ability to get out of the way of me when the work's afoot. And there has to be a lot of focus on the notion of oneself in preparation for receiving said messages. In keeping oneself safe enough to even be allowed to receive said messages, it's a undertaking. Um, but I think that there is – because if we were to be also frank, there are people who have been in certain proximity and aren't anymore.
MAIKOIYO: And I think a lot of times, if I was to have to point out anything and this isn't, you know, if those people are listening and they feel a way, find me.
LARRY: Pull up!
MAIKOIYO: You’re welcome to. But I think that, you know, the “me” started to become the imperative. And whether or not that's other people telling you that, you know, "you need to pay more," you know, and perhaps I'm a fool because of that. I do believe in the notion of bodies of work, as opposed to explosive, uh, phenomenal impact.
[MUSIC CUE: Niecy Blues - “Painted Seats (For Domo)” from CRY]
MAIKOIYO: I do believe in durational mantric practice. And not to say that I always am, you know? If I was being absolutely candid, I feel farther away from that right now than I have in quite some time. But I think that… One thing that I always – whether or not my father is still speaking to me directly or not – I always hear is that, you know, "you're always in the studio." Whether there is a codified object or not. You know, and he imparted that to me, when I was, I had a, my daughter, who's now 22 years old, about to be. Um, I was at home with her and I wasn't able to go into my studio. And at the time my practice was oil painting and it was, you know, I was like, "How am I going to oil paint with this baby attached to my chest?" And you know, and I could go, you know, in the studio at night, but I would want to make things all the time. And I remember saying to him, you know, "Ah I just don't feel as connected to my practice because I can't just be in the studio whenever I want to now." And he was like, "Dude, you're always in the studio, you know?" And I remember being like, "You're tripping,” but he was right because I think that, you know, though one may turn the codification of item, I mean, of an object on and off, and there are people who have, you know, learned to be very, you know, regimented about output, um, I think that's a very um, kind of commerce-driven notion.
MAIKOIYO: …as opposed to how it actually works. Because, you know, something that you saw and have forgotten seeing, you know, on a conscious level, um, 25 years ago, may inform the thing you make tomorrow, you know? And I think that's uh, that can be something that's a little lost on us sometimes, you know?
[MUSIC CUE: Niecy Blues - “Painted Seats (For Domo)” from CRY]
LARRY: We talked about this before and you know, the idea of like what the mood board has kind of done to, you know, a lot of people's aesthetic. You feel like your work and work, your contemporaries within the Constellation been on the mood board for a lot of things.
MAIKOIYO: I mean, I know for a fact that that's been the case and it's been, you know, told to me by, you know, younger stylists, people who had no idea that I had anything to do with making a given thing, or what my role of it might have been. So I guess I should – I mean, maybe I didn't speak to the fact that I've also done art direction and costuming for other filmmakers and other people of whatever note that, you know, have, you know, reached whatever ascendancy. And, you know, I think that it's – filmmaking is interesting on whatever scale, because it's usually collaborative, and so there is a crew of people and so often people think of a thing is a given person's aesthetic, but generally it's a result of, you know, some set of conversations and a mutual agreed upon aesthetic ethos.
[MUSIC CUE: Noel Brass Jr. - “The Weight Lightened by Morning” from Broken Cloud Orchestra]
You know, so, the “singular genius” notion is a decidedly white, patriarchal reality. None of these things happen in this vacuum, you know, like I don't care what we're talking about, if we're talking about, you know, the 1920s and you know what happened in Paris, like for all the people you know about, like there's a confluence of realities. And quite frankly, the person who probably had the most influence on it is not somebody whose name is going to ring any bells. I think we've talked about at times the, you know, a skewing of attribution, but for a very long time, I was far more interested in, and still am to, you know, whatever the end product is. But you come to realize that there are people who are outside of the fold, who — and when I say feed off it, I mean this in the most generative and positive sense of the word — feed off of these things. So you know when you're 13 and you see a bunch of brown-skinned Black women walking through the wilderness on somebody’s, you know Twitter or whatever, you know what I mean? Tumblr, it impacts you probably differently than it impacts. You know you at 25 and you might internalize it, you know? So any ownership or a notion of originality that you or origin that you feel like you have, as you frankly, usually erroneous in the first place, but also why in the world did you even put it the fuck out, right? Like, why did you share it if it weren't for it to grow beyond the point that you know it left, you know? So I think that we've really effectively spread… had a hand in, along with others, a hand in spreading a notion of… a vein of black aesthetic that is, at this point in time, its own kind of visual language. There is a notion that seeing a black body moving through space in some joyous or naturalistic, naturalistic or mysterious for the sake of just our, you know, our lack of resolve as a given in the now plenty of companies for quite some time, but especially post the most recent set of movements for black sovereignty and safety have kind of appropriated for the sake of sales. I think one of my roles in this is as historian, in a way, you know, because I have a very clear memory about trying to tell people about why some of these things were important and getting pushback because it didn't sound like whatever else was being made, it didn't look like whatever else was being made or wasn't being put through the measures of what was already popular. But this is happening all the time, right? I mean, been uninterrupted, and that's why I prefer the term continuum. And again, it's another term that in my art practice, I didn't see as much, but I see it all the time now, and I'm glad that I see it all the time because I think it's more apropos. And can I take any credit for it? No. Because the word existed for, you know, for quite some time. But I think it's like anything else. I've tried to be, since I became conscious of it, try to be adamant about is that these are spells, you know, they're visual spells and they're, you know, there is incanting in energy and ritual that is involved in all of them and a blood price, frankly to all of them. And every spell don't actually go the way you want, either. So, you know, some of the oversaturation, some of the desensitization that comes from that oversaturation is also, you know, part of the price, part of the price, you know? But also, in my case, the price may have been, uh, a lack of the ability to capitalize upon it in a certain way, because it just wasn't my focus, you know? Again, this is to say nothing of intention, but to put that much thought into a desired result. Yeah. That's not magic, that's product. And I have no problem with product, but there is a there's a difference. Yeah. You know, I'm a little more interested in spell.
LARRY: How did you get hip?
MAIKOIYO: Way more interested in spell.
LARRY: How did you get to an understanding of that spiritual dimension of the practice?
MAIKOIYO: That's a good question. An examination of where an idea comes from probably has something to do with that like, you know, this esoteric notion of like, what the fuck did that come from?
[MUSIC CUE: Yves Tumor - “Limerence” from Mono No Aware]
How do I know how to do this thing that I never learned how to do? How do you know what I mean? Why was this thing effective in the way that it was? You know what I mean? Like, so I guess to some degree, there was some intellectualization about how a thing worked that helped to shine a light on that. I also think that interactions with. People who. I'm adamant that I've known before who. In almost serendipitous ways that, you know, weirdly enough, things like technology have helped confirm the simple the, you know, the simple, tiniest, you know. Kind of impetus of thought. You know, it's amazing sometimes what a group text can do. Yeah, for the affirmation of the spiritual. But I think finding your peers, but also. All of that kind of unspoken that starts to, you know, happen with a certain level of frequency when you do find your people in your tribe has had something to do with it. Having children, in my case, had a lot to do with that. So I think, you know, it's a. It's a litany of, you know, grocery list of things I would say if I was to. Be forced to, but it's also like if I'm being super honest. I don't know. Mm hmm.
LARRY: And it continues.
MAIKOIYO: Every day.
Speaker 1: Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes was a victim of a brutal beating in downtown Seattle, Washington, in April of 2005. Now he's come back strong. The city is behind him. And what does this all mean?
MAB: What does this moment mean for me? This moment is um, a celebration of the alchemic and healing power of art and like a discussion about um, police and litigious brutality. And an opportunity to celebrate being alive and here, after having been molested and beaten and having a lot of dynamics that I cared about changed, having my relationship with this person altered—
Speaker 1: Your daughter.
MAB: My daughter.
[MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Ham Sandwich”]
LARRY: I wonder how much you'd want to speak to this, but I think of your show to serve and protect.
MAIKOIYO: I was, uh. In the midst of bearing witness to illegal stop. Far as I'm concerned and search and frisk of a long term friend. When another officer was instructed to. Excuse me, grabbed me and detained me in his directives to do so, he chose to. Reach up underneath me and grabbed me by my genitals and attempt to slam me face forward on a police car, and I took exception to that, both verbally and physically. That turned into. Several other officers physically accosting me and me ending up on the bottom of four police officers who were restraining me at different points of time, my body whilst beating me uninterrupted for about five minutes. I guess that's how many years, 2005. So that thing you're referring to.
LARRY: That's the thing.
MAIKOIYO: Oh yeah, that happened.
MAIKOIYO: You know, I think of that, and then I got charged with a bunch of crimes. Of course. Yeah, felonies. Yeah.
LARRY: I remember that there was a mural across the street. I mean, I guess technically it would be considered mural. There was there was a depiction of your face as a really big wheat paste, big wheat paste of your face from the photo of your booking photo, I guess.
MAIKOIYO: Yeah, there's an artist named No Touching Ground who's government name, I don't know if it's public record what they go by at this point in time, but yeah, that was their offering some kind of a guerilla offering to a group show that friends and collaborators of mine had frankly, twisted my arm into doing at the space that we were collectively running, called Punctuation, and the show was called Serve and Protect and it was a bit of a entendre about the slang served being, you know, getting your ass kicked or your ass handed to you and then protect being what was actually done in the subsequent criminal and civil trials that I underwent subsequently. That happened in 2010, five years after the actual incident. And it was a group show and it was a bunch of people who I had collaborated with and considered friends and family and. And some of my work, the only time I ever showed any work at the space. And yes, I guess that there was enough of a coalescence of interest that that exhibition did get some press and in the nature of many of the things that we did there, there was a large number of humans attending the opening and then, I think, it was about half a block away from where the actual incident happened, and so it probably had its own, we're talking spells, its own confidential energy to that, but. I'm sorry. Was there a specific question outside of that? So yeah, that's that's, in a nutshell, the story is the short version of it.
LARRY: So that obviously affected your practice in at least the sense that you made some work in response to it. And amidst, yeah. So I guess there was speaking to that.
MAIKOIYO: Yeah, I mean, and I, you know and I think that. Yes, I did. I did. And a bunch of people did. And it was cathartic in its way, but also very odd to be in a space full of, I mean, what I did was provide. Peers of mine with various photographs from both the initial period of time was a Polaroid that was taken of me and the King County Jail. There was some mug shots that people had access to, A few other things kind of collateral materials and people made different things. As a result of that, and yeah, some of the artists in question, I guess, have had some ascendancy. Both my parents were involved in the exhibition. And yes, I did also make a couple of things myself.
[MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Reg Walks By The Looking Glass” from The Don of Diamond Dreams]
LARRY: At this point in time, Maikoiyo knew of the CD native Ishmael Butler. As a kid, he’d seen his work on the basketball court, during Ish’s senior year at Garfield, when they won State. He’d later know his work with Digable Planets. However, the two barely knew each other. MAB recalls that Ish had been cool enough to check out an exhibit he’d curated at Seattle Center’s Festival Sundiata, and he’d occasionally see him around, at Bauhaus Coffee or walking down 15th avenue. However, Maikoiyo recalls one moment in particular, right after his run-in with the SPD.
MAIKOIYO: But when I did get beaten — and I was beaten pretty severely, like I had a C collar on and I was I looked and I don't mean to make light of it, but I looked, you know, more like the Elephant Man than I look like myself. I was coming down the street on a crutch. It was like two days after it happened to me, maybe three and probably three or four. But I was, you know, conjunctiva of the eye, face all swollen. I come walking down the street and he's sitting in the window there and he runs outside and he goes, you know, “What the fuck happened to you?” And again, we, you know, we knew each other more than in passing this point in time, and I told him what happened. And he got upset, upset, like live, like more upset than any of my, you know, hardcore running buddies, more upset than the cat who had been in the situation with me, like I had to calm him down. And I feel like for me, that was when I was like, Oh, and this is my, you know, I'm saying I fought with this brother man, like, he gets it, you know?
MAIKOIYO: I never knew. I never heard about that. You know, I guess him seeing you after that.
MAIKOIYO: Yeah, he was he was livid, man. And again, like, that was oddly emboldening, because it's extremely emasculating and frightening and obviously traumatizing to be beaten, quite frankly, you know what I mean. I was beaten very severely, but to have somebody be ready to go and like, you know. Run up in the police station, who's, you know, an acquaintance, but not necessarily your, you know, your ace like that was very endearing, you know, because like I said, you know, it's it's been interesting watching all of all of us be so up in arms over traumas that we suffer as as fellow Black folks of late because I experienced something very different than that in my trauma. And I can count the number of people within the community and without, you know, outside the community who had an authentic level of empathy around what had happened to me. So that for me was very, oh, I'll never forget that. But yeah, he was ready to go.
LARRY: I can picture it. Yeah, we know bro's TTG.
[MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “20 Gear Science”]
LARRY: MAB and Ishmael soon became friends, hanging, smoking, talking about everything under the stars.
MAIKOIYO: And you know, I remember very distinctly asking him about tunes and. He would, you know, we would link up and he would share stuff with me, but he was really adamant about the fact that he wanted to make stuff that his name wasn't on. And he was getting a lot of pushback from people about that. And I don't know, I mean, for me, I thought it was brilliant because I was like, that's all the space and where I got the notion of anonymity. You know, so I don't know what years that puts us in. That's probably like two thousand and six, seven. You know, so yeah, that's probably. I don't know how he remembers it. That's how you know, Mrs. You know, it's a cool older cat who's like, Oh yeah, you're cool too young, dude, I see you out here. Oh, yeah, you know you, you know. And, you know, dumb shit like, Oh, I got those sneakers, you know what I mean? Like, right, that kind of silly stuff. But again, the kind of non-verbal stuff that you're like, Oh, OK, Young has got it. And I've subsequently felt the same as that's how me and Porter started hanging out, you know, but kind of, I'm the older guy, you know what I mean, like, it's just, you know, I think. Unfortunately, amongst — and again, blame it on the patriarchy where you want to blame it on — among men, there is such a lack of willingness to share information without like some weird hazing process or like putting people through the wringer of, you know what I mean, like having to prove themselves in certain ways and. I think that we had this opportunity to be. You know, share things like, “Oh, here's my father's work.” “Oh, man. You know, I walk past Omawali every day.” You know what I mean? Like, it's just kind of, you know, there was a the ability to have really interesting conversations about aesthetics and about women, about the parenting, about, you know, how to navigate being a co-parent as opposed to someone in a relationship with the mother of their child, you know, different things, you know? He granted me the benefit of things he had learned later than perhaps he would have wanted to, that I was able to apply early. You know what I mean? And again, in some cases, vice versa. I would like to think. And I think that, you know, you asked me really about Nep and Nick, or Stas and Cat like, that's what it is. That's the willingness to share. But again, he was an elder man who wasn't a sucker who was down to share and who saw me, you know, and also took risks on me and.
[MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Swerve..” from Black Up]
MAIKOIYO: I don't know what he'd say, I think that most of the risk probably panned out. You know what I mean? Yeah.
MAIKOIYO: A lot of it is just in like, “Hey man, how you doing?” Or, you know, something befalls one of us, and it's an experience that the other has been through already. So we offer counsel, you know? Or it's you know, it's that that wealth of communal knowledge that's, you know, available real time that I think is also a factor. Mm-Hmm. Bunch of sharing.
LARRY: Yeah, absolutely. I'm privileged to share that access to knowledge and example and emotional articulation, emotional depth.
[previous Shabazz Palaces cue plays out for a moment here, then fades out as Maikoiyo starts his story]
LARRY: I remember, back when Shabazz Palaces first came out, if you poked around their really mysterious website, you would find this hidden piece of writing. It was “Excerpts from Curse Words,” by Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes. I would come back to it often and try to discern its meaning.
MAIKOIYO: There's this story about a guy from here. Who’s like from here. Not he came here, he was like from here, right? And not going to get into all the what that could mean, but just understand the difference between “from here” and “came here.” Right? Who wasn't in love with being themselves.
[MUSIC CUE: Laraaji - “Mbira Dance” from Flow Goes The Universe]
So much so that when some people who aren't from here show up. He's enamored by their ways and wants to be like them. So he hangs out with them. And eschews all of the traditions of being from here. And unwittingly becomes a party to what we'll call an evil incantation that the newcomers have planned to set upon this land to destabilize it for the sake of their own less than we'll just call them evil plans, not less than evil, but evil plans. So the spelling question takes mass human sacrifice, so they incur the young man who's from here to lull everyone to sleep with an elixir so that they can be. Anesthetize enough to have their tongues removed as their tongues are. What's part of the necessary blood price for this spell? Somewhere in the course of. Helping these people fall asleep, this man's ancestor energy or his conscience comes to him and says. What you're doing is not right. You need to undo what you've done. And the only way he can think to stop the newcomers from being able to remove the tongues is by. Burning. This place to the ground. And that's. In a nutshell, the story of curse words and perhaps maybe a story about how the great Seattle fire starts.
[MUSIC CUE: Laraaji - “Mbira Dance” from Flow Goes The Universe]
LARRY: I just think about, you know, you proffering that as a possible genesis for the great fire of Seattle and just kind of thinking about those narratives, just thinking about the continuations that we live with. And I feel like a lot of times the part of the paradigm we live in in Seattle is a continuation, just like everywhere, certainly in the United States and all across North America. Continuation of slaughter?
MAIKOIYO: Well, I think here's the thing, right? So we do know without question that Seattle's history is like the Seattle, the company line story that you get told about Denny and Yesler coming and basically discovering this city and all these things is just erroneous. Like it was already flourishing. It was a city that was apparently one of the largest pleasure districts in all of the world, you know, like Shanghai is like the only other thing that was apparently even worth mentioning. There's a bunch of different names for the district in question, but it's, you know, kind of considered south or no north of what is our downtown and in through Pioneer Square. And it was ran by women. It was supposedly devoid of a lot of the things that people often associate with sex trade in regards to violence in any number of other of the ills that kind of these patriarchal notions around the sex trade have and it had been that had been the case for quite some time as a port. And that's obviously functioning. Alongside ancient indigenous dynamics, any number of other things and doing so in a manner that is. It's copacetic, right? Then you have the entry of these. To debatably three white men who are actually dropped by a guide quite a few miles south of the hub of the city and led to believe that they were left in Seattle proper with their actually, you know, at the time that would not be with this, you know, I am I'm not going to even butcher the name of this place or the various names that it had been called because like most places, it had numerous names.
[MUSIC CUE: Laraaji - “Being Here” from Flow Goes the Universe]
But the reality is that the people that this place is named after came along much later than this place had been functioning. And I mean, when I say later, I mean by potentially hundreds and or thousands of years in regards to even what would be, for lack of a better term, colonial interlopers. Whether you're talking about French, Russian, various Asian dynamics, people of African descent who would have been consultants or traders or any number of other, you know, I mean terms that we might use in the now guides. So this penchant for revision and erasure is the analogous notion that curse words references, you know? The removal of the tongue is maybe a kind of heavy handed reference to the of the disconnect and the. Removal of not only traditional ways, but also of languages that has been the hallmark of any number of colonial practices, particularly the ones that are indicative of how white settler violence has itself upon indigenous communities throughout, you know, Turtle Island, North America, however you want to, you know. Qualify this. And again, air quotes you can't see place, but it's also very much a reference to. So, oh, I guess I missed one part of that.
So the important part why and also why it's called curse words is that the individual who was inclined to. Be a self-hating or cultural-hating person and who is the narrator of the story is narrating this story on the back of a number seven bus to a little black kid. And at the point in time in question, he has attempted to kill himself more times than he can. Even remember at this point in time. All to off or not, he's been unable to kill himself because the price of his act of betrayal is the inability to end his existence. So perhaps I forgot that part, so curse words is a reference to one. The fact that. The city also has had the gall to, although it's a very anglicized version of it, name itself after the leader of a group of people that were decimated by and large through strategic systemic violence in its various forms. So again, it's layered. Oh no, it's again it was the story of a, you know. But I did meet a lot of interesting people on the back of the 7 bus, and I'm not going to tell you that this story necessarily didn't come to me. We are one of those people on the back of a 7 bus now. Can I prove one way or the other that the individual who may have relayed this if that person was to exist. Was anything other than schizophrenic on the back of a 7 bus now, but it's an interesting story.
LARRY: Yes, it is. I feel like early on into my life living in Seattle, somebody told me that maybe it's erroneous, that there was this instance of that leader that the city is named for. Basically cursing the endeavor. Yep. And that that is something that we're still dealing with and all the all the ways that we deal with, even like that second city notion you talk about and our self-image and our ability to like get things going out of here is something because we're under the auspices of this, this curse.
MAIKOIYO: I too am aware of this notion, but I think that whether that is was active, excuse me or not. You can't rot evil upon a place. I mean, and that's the other thing, so we talk about the decimation of of life. And so it's funny because, you know, you go to, you know, people always revel in like these rainforests and all these things here and don't realize that half of them are actually like, you know, this re-forestry. That's not because the actual trees that were cut down were here. You'd be talking about, you know, things of the diameter of redwoods. Right? You know, so what is the price of? Of the massacre of ancients in mass. What is that? Because if you, you know, feel free, do your Googles or go to an archive, check out how many men could stand on a stump. You know it you can't get an I-beam that's four feet by four feet from a tree, that's only, you know, so it's like, I think that it's kind of lost on people that, you know, there's been decimation here. And because of, you know, human beings notions around our self-importance when we think about, you know, genocide is, you know, just Latin-wise's references, you know, creatures that are corporeal in a certain way and technically human beings, but like the decimation of certain kinds of energy is under acknowledged and this place is was a sacred place and is on on a lot of levels still. But you can't destroy ancients without it having, you know, high degrees of very direct in this, you know, ancillary and collateral damage, so. Yeah, it's the price of industry. The price of supposed success. What is the blood price of that?
[MUSIC CUE: JusMoni - “Reckoning” ]
LARRY: Next time on Fresh Off The Spaceship, we look at the work of JusMoni… ‘
JUSMONI: We're all connected by this understanding that we work within a realm of continuum, which I believe for us means, um you know, producing work or producing a life that is really aligned with things that we know to be true. Um, things that we know to be true within ourselves, within our existence. Uh, and it's our reiteration of those things.
LARRY: This episode of ‘Fresh off the Spaceship’ was written, produced and edited by Martin Douglas, Janice Headley, Dusty Henry, Isabel Khalili, and myself, Larry Mizell Jr. Audio was produced and mastered by Julian Martlew, with additional audio editing by Janice Headley. We want to thank Sub Pop Records and the members of the Constellation for giving us permission to feature their music in this episode. This episode also featured music from Noel Brass Jr, Space Afrika, Yves Tumor, Nailah Hunter, Laraaji, and Beverly Glenn Copeland. We’d like to express our deepest gratitude to those artists as well as their labels, Wax Thematique, Dais, PAN, Leaving, All Saints, and Transgressive/PIAS. You can find a playlist of the music we included on KEXP.org. We’d also like to thank our volunteers, Alaina Clarke and Natalie Vinh, who helped us transcribe interviews for this episode.