THIS IS MY FORM OF ACTIVISM. I’VE ATTENDED PLENTY OF SANCTIONED, USELESS PROTESTS IN MY YEARS, BLOCKED IN WITH PRETTY YELLOW TAPE & POLICE BARRICADES, TARGETED FOR WEARING MASKS.. IN THE U.S. THATS NOT GONNA GET YOU ANYWHERE. – ABCNT
ABCNT’s art has a voice and its message is very present. His thought provoking pieces have appeared throughout San Francisco and all over the world. A version of the lioness was up recently on Valencia Street and his business bandit can be seen in Hemlock Alley. This is about a lot more than art. This is a visual protest.
Can you tell me a little about the origin or meaning of your name? How did you decide on it?
I STARTED WRITING “ABSENT” IN HIGH SCHOOL AS AN ALIAS.. LOOSELY BASED OFF THE CONCEPT OF ROLE CALL IN THE MORNINGS & THE DESIRE TO BE SOMEWHERE ELSE.. YEARS LATER CHANGING THE SPELLING MADE MORE SENSE TO ME IN TERMS OF HELPING PEOPLE REMEMBER ME.
I read that you were Iranian born. What part of Iran are you from? When did you come to the United States and what brought you here?
BORN AND RAISED IN L.A., I’M THE FIRST GENERATION OF MY FAMILY IN THE STATES. MY FATHER IS FROM BABOL, IRAN AND MY MOTHER IS FROM TEHRAN BUT SHE ALSO GREW UP IN LONDON.
When did you start making street art? What was it that got you started?
IT WAS AN EVOLUTION OF A FASCINATION WITH GANG GRAFFITI, STARTED TAGGING IN 1990, WORKED ON DEVELOPING STYLES, LATER CUTTING STENCILS, PASTING XEROXES, POSTERS..
Do you have an art and design background? If so can you elaborate a bit.
YES.. I’VE ACCRUED MASSIVE STUDENT DEBT FOR CHOOSING TO FURTHER MY EDUCATION AFTER HIGH SCHOOL. AS A RESULT OF MY EXPERIENCE, I CANT SAY THAT I NECESSARILY RECOMMEND ART & DESIGN INSTITUTIONS, ONLY IN CERTAIN CASES, MAYBE.. BUT MY ADVICE IS TO STAY DISCIPLINED, READ BOOKS, READ LOTS OF BOOKS. READ BOOKS THEY WOULDNT TELL YOU TO READ.. RESEARCH ON THE INTERNET & STAY OUT OF THE FINANCIAL SYSTEM, STAY OUT OF DEBT. WHEN YOU GO TO SCHOOL ALL THEY DO IS REFERENCE THE REAL WORLD SO STAY INTERESTED AND DONT GET COMFORTABLE. IF YOU WANT TO BE A DOCTOR OR SOMETHING ELSE THATS CRAZY SPECIALIZED, OBVIOUSLY YOU GO TO SCHOOL.
What type of pieces do you do? What types of tools do you use? Where can your pieces be seen? Do you do walls, installation, trains, sidewalk pieces etc?
MIXED MEDIA, SILKSCREEN, TSHIRTS, STENCILS, STICKERS, XEROX, PAINT, VIDEOS, ANIMATION, MUSIC; WHATEVER KEEPS ME BUSY.
I want to know a bit more about why you do what you do especially because I feel many of your pieces are social commentary on what is going on in the world. Are all of your pieces politically grounded? Where do you get your inspiration?
THIS IS MY FORM OF ACTIVISM. I’VE ATTENDED PLENTY OF SANCTIONED, USELESS PROTESTS IN MY YEARS, BLOCKED IN WITH PRETTY YELLOW TAPE & POLICE BARRICADES, TARGETED FOR WEARING MASKS.. IN THE U.S. THATS NOT GONNA GET YOU ANYWHERE. MAYBE ONE DAY IT WILL WITH STRENGTH IN NUMBERS, BUT THE STATE HAS A MONOPOLY ON VIOLENCE SO I CHOSE CREATIVE SUBVERSION AS MY MEANS OF CHANGING THE WAY PEOPLE THINK OR RELATE TO THE WORLD.
I DO WHAT I CAN. IN 2005 I STARTED A GROUP NAMED I-R-A-N (Iranian Rebel Alliance Network) WHICH STARTED ON MYSPACE [myspace.com/iranalliance] AS AN ONLINE RESOURCE FOR INFORMATION TARGETED TO YOUTH IN LOS ANGELES [twitter.com/iranalliance] RIGHT NOW SPECIFICALLY I’M CURRENTLY TALKING WITH SOME PEOPLE ABOUT ORGANIZING AN IRANIAN ART SHOW TO ADDRESS SOME MORE CURRENT ISSUES.
The Lioness image is very powerful and striking. What does it represent to you? What inspired you to make it? Are you looking to inspire something within the viewers?
WOMEN IN IRAN PUT UP WITH A LOT OF FASCIST BULLSHIT ON A DAILY BASIS, I’VE SEEN IT WITH MY OWN EYES WHEN I WAS OUT THERE. YET THEY STAY OPTIMISTIC, STRONG, CONFIDENT AND SHOWED UP IN FORCE DURING THE POST IRAN ELECTION UPRISINGS, FACING DIRTY BASIJI MILITIA MEN AND THIER BATONS, WOMEN GETTING BEATEN, ARRESTED AND MURDERED IN FRONT OF THE WORLD LIKE OUR DEAR NEDA. “SHEER ZAN” (LIONESS) IS MY SOLIDARITY PIECE DEDICATED TO THEIR STRENGTH AND SPIRIT. THE “ARAB SPRING” [SOME REJECT THE NOTION OF IT BEING A SEASON] HELPS THE IMAGE APPEAL TO A WIDER AUDIENCE AND CONSCIOUSNESS AS WELL. I HOPE IT INSPIRES PEOPLE TO STAY TRUE, STAND STRONG, STAY AWAKE TO THE WORLD..LIVING IN THE UNITED STATES ITS IMPORTANT TO SHOW SOLIDARITY WITH MOVEMENTS OVERSEAS, IT MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE WHAT WE DO HERE.
Have any of your pieces ever been put up in Iran? Are they known there?
YES, BRIEFLY. I HAVE PLANS FOR IRAN. FOR NOW, SHOUT OUT TO MY HOMEBOY “KHAMOOSH” WHO PUT IN SOME WORK FOR ME IN THE STREETS OF TEHRAN BACK IN 2009.
Can you explain the development of your business bandit and what it represents?
IT CAME TOGETHER ONE NIGHT ABOUT 8 YEARS AGO…I FELT LIKE IT EMBODIED WHAT I WAS TRYING TO BECOME. I WAS READING ABOUT ANARCHISM, GOING TO ANTI IRAQ WAR PROTESTS, COVERING MY FACE BECAUSE OF THE DANGERS OF BEING TARGETED BY POLICE, I WANTED TO BE A PROFESSIONAL ACTIVIST, BUT AT THE SAME TIME I DONT WANT FAME, AND PROTECTING MY FREEDOM AND PRINCIPLE MEANS REMAINING ANONYMOUS IN MY CREATIVE PROCESS.
What is your favorite piece of street art you have ever done and why?
I THINK EVERY LAST PIECE I DO BECOMES MY LATEST FAVORITE UNTIL I WORK ON SOMETHING NEW.
I am fascinated with the diversity of street artist. Some I have met work as full-time creative commercial artist by day and on the streets at night. Other artists have a 9-5 style job that is not artistic at all and street art is their creative outlet. What do you do from day to day? Does your day job have anything to do with art? Is this a full time thing for you?
I FREELANCE DURING THE DAY AT VARIOUS STUDIOS I’VE CONNECTED WITH OVER THE YEARS DOING ANIMATION OR GRAPHIC DESIGN. THATS HOW I SUPPORT MYSELF AND MY OWN WORK.
Have you ever gotten into any trouble due to your street art?
WE HAVE AN ORGANIZED METHOD OF SURVEILLANCE WE PRACTICE THAT HAS BEEN PRETTY FULL PROOF. ON DAYS WITH LOW CREW MEMBERS WE’VE DISCOVERED SWEET SPOTS DURING CERTAIN TIMES OF THE DAY THAT ALLOW US TO DO THE WORK WE NEED TO IN A RELATIVELY COMFORTABLE MANNER.
Do you have an upcoming project or show you want me to let people know about? What are you working on now?
BEST WAY TO STAY UP TO DAE IS BY CONNECTING ON twitter.com/ABCNT1 or facebook.com/ABCNT A LOT OF THE TIME THINGS HAPPEN SPONTANEOUSLY
The Lioness photos in this article are used with permission from ABCNT’s site. The photo of the Lioness posters that were up during the Iranian election is taken by Waltarrrrr.
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