Interview with Kazu Livingstone
Kazu Livingstone is a political artist and poet from Penang Island, Malaysia. His art was exhibited on five continents and he collaborated with various artists from around the world. This internationality is reflected in his art which comments on world politics.
We talked to Kazu about political art, his creative process and some recent events. Before reading the interview, you can take a look at some of his art (click on any image to open the gallery).
Do you think art has the power to change the world?
Activist art will change the world. But political art will not. I think art doesn’t tell you what you think, it tells a scene in an image, perhaps a dream where politicians are drinking tea, it shows you ideas but not ideologies, art will tell about unfairness in this world, but will not make a plea to change that. Art is free and doesn’t tell others who to obey… In opposition to that, activists ask you to follow them to a better world. They tell the world is corrupted, and, these activists will not sleep well till the day the world will see the light. They are wanting to change the world above making a piece of beauty hanging on a wall; contrary to questioning all the world’s negativity.
Did art change or influence some of your own views?
I am in a difficult position where I am not following a particular school of thought. Most “activists” are liberals, or conservatives. I don’t identify with any of them, I am searching for a golden mean to everything. I believe everybody is “right” from the left and right side of the spectrum, I think those are different systems that coexist on Earth, the universe has not only “one set of rules”.
Why did you decide to create political art instead of non-political art?
Because in the age of video games, the most difficult topics in art (therefore the hardest to portray and to succeed and not to offend, and to be loved by the art world) are a thrill to make… I enjoy pushing my luck and try changing the hearts of people… Yes I’m not after changing minds, but hearts…
Chilean political artist Ana Tijoux once said all art is revolutionary – if it’s not revolutionary, it’s not art. Do you agree?
Agreed. Art is the novelty of concepts. My point of view is you will not exhibit in a museum, if in some way you don’t change the world. A gallery is a paradise where “dreams” are framed one next to another. If you don’t make something new you’re not “progress”, you’re an agent of the “status quo”. There’s no problem to that I guess. But life is about change, and a “revolution” from one state, to another state of mind.
You create illustrations, photography, poetry… Do you have a favorite type of expression and why?
Romanticism. Expressing love to a woman, for me is about the best medium I ever had….
How long does it take you to create one of your works? Can you describe the creative process?
Three to seven days. I start a brainstorming, take a surfboard and ride the storm. My art philosophy is I cannot control everything. A piece of art is a journey, my original idea and the end result are not the same. I follow the flow. My subconscious plays a creative role in my pieces. I dream, and desire a better world.
The panda is a recurring theme in your works. Why?
Because pandas are black and white. Writing is important to me. I have a theory that the world is a poem under the hand of a beautifully minded writer/poet. A white piece of paper and its black ink is making me think of a panda. I think one day black and white will be the only thing that will remain of our Earth and known universes. Tiny geometrical shapes floating into space.
What’s the political art scene like in Malaysia?
I think our modern world and liberal societies are destroying cults, are destroying religions, and want to abolish different set of rules than the ones of freedom, whatever it might mean for some of us. I think as we’re destroying religions, people are bored, and more and more “we” need to replace that by “something”. And that thing is politics. In our democratic society, we’re cutting our countries in half, and more and more places in the world are at war because of that. About Malaysia, even if some westerners think it’s futile, and needless, Many of us Malaysians pray to our cults, and/or religion. It keeps our mind busy, and teach us “peace and love” since millenniums. Political art in my country is a little bit behind the curtain. And quite strangely I’m happy about that.
Who are your favorite Malaysian (or South-East Asian) political artists?
Mysole Baha has to be my favorite. I have profound respect for him. He helped me a lot. And trusted me. I hope I will not deceive him.
You criticized Shinzo Abe’s desire for re-militarization of Japan and contrasted it with images of Hello Kitty, Sailor Moon and geishas. In Tokyo a man burned himself to protest Abe’s government and mass demonstrations were held, but nothing changed. Protesters are ignored all over the world. Do you think there’s still a way to make governments listen?
Politicians don’t listen to us, and will not listen to anybody. We need to end the war mindset, by preaching non-action. The problem is governments want to look like they are doing things. Most of the times, these things are regressive. Therefore I preach non-action, meaning a “let’s not desire to progress society” if we think it’s gonna progress it towards new goals when in fact it’s gonna plunder it in a matter of weeks, or sometimes decades. It is important to act less, and dream more, wonder more, practice art and sexuality more. Love your loved one. Those who want to change the world think our governments will listen, I think it’s too late, and they will never hear me. But I love political art. I love the existence of the political system, but not the yelling, the tears, the protests, and the wars that follow.
As a Malaysian, what are your thoughts on the Malaysian plane being shot down recently?
Maybe no art piece will prevent a plane to be shot down. Activism might, but art will not. When we’re awake at the light of day, we’re obeying to the real world, its rules and sometimes its difficulties. But when we’re asleep, dreams obey to our hidden desires. What we need to do, is close our eyes, and desire a better world. Many people “think” or “would like” a better world. But we need to “desire it”, erect it with our heart, and help elect good individuals, spread peace with art, stay still and smile. I’m so sad this year was difficult for Malaysians emotionally. We’re becoming stronger everyday. I love Malaysia.