In May 2015 during an impromptu trip to New York, I was gifted the honor of sitting with Joshua Kissi of Street Etiquette, Pierre of Street Dreams Magazine, and Armani White. I was accompanied by a friend who sought to attend the Veuve Cliquot Polo Classic held in New Jersey. At the time, I was just beginning my research into the development of the artist psyche, so I quickly booked an Airbnb for the first time in Bed-Stuyvesant, an area that I recognized as a hot spot for Black artists. Upon reaching what one may conclude to be the grounds of a new Harlem Renaissance, I quickly created an itinerary that would allow connections with as many creatives as possible in order to immediately begin conducting my research. I'd contacted Armani myself after being sent his recent visual release, "Stick Up," that had landed him a new manager and a write up on Pigeons and Planes. Pierre, I'd come across after searching for good camera shops to purchase film from during my stay. He'd just so happened to be doing his first photo walk sponsored by Canon for K&M Camera store, and agreed to meet up with me on the day after. The connection to Street Etiquette wouldn't be made until my last two days in New York by way of a mutual comrade. In hindsight, I received these opportunities much too soon. I was early in my research and development period and had only done a few sloppy interviews on a completely unrelated topic. So in short, I hadn't the slightest idea what I was doing, but didn't dare pass on the opportunity to become acquainted with anyone who might be able to make a solid contribution to the recitation of the artistic journey. We agreed to meet Josh at Saraghina, a thankfully warm and stylish Italian restaurant off of Halsey St. It was perfect for the day considering that the city had just been met with a cold front in the middle of Spring and I'd declared myself in desperate need of a homely setting. As we approached, I clumsily snapped photographs of him in a way that I had been unaccustomed to, feeling like something akin to the paparazzi. He was dressed in all black, with a hooded raincoat, leather cap and what looked to be running shoes. It was a rather athletic style that I'd discover later derived naturally from all of the traveling he'd been doing. He was much softer than I thought he'd be and greeted us with warm hugs and a smile. The welcoming reminded me of the depths of acknowledgment that I'd only become familiarized with in the company of those with Nigerian roots. It came as no surprise that he was of Ghanaian descent. After entering, we were brought to what might be regarded as a darker section of the restaurant. He requested a table in the corner next to the window, wishing to be cast in more light. After becoming further acquainted with his more reserved demeanor, I was instantly countered by a feeling of intrusiveness and decided on scribbling broken sentences in my journal for a less invasive approach.  Again, I could not have been more ill prepared in my line of questioning, so I relied heavily on broad subjects that would eventually cascade into a more tailored conversation. I first inquired on his current position and how he'd come to journey to such an important role in the current art scene. He was 24 at the time that we became acquainted and was growing in popularity for his work, leading half of the Black creative agency and fashion/art hub known as Street Etiquette. The youngest in the family, Kissi had been encouraged to become a doctor of medicine and follow in the path of his sister in being a successful college grad. He attended college for a few years before dropping out, noting the amount of focus he was unable to maintain during classes. He recalled that his mind would often wander while stuck in the classroom setting. The information had never resonated with him as much as what he gained while observing everyday life. He was getting by as a C average student then. He and Travis Gumbs, the other 1/2 of Street Etiquette, met in high school and began a fashion blog that he perceived to be created luckily in a time when Black blogging had not yet grown in the popularity that it has today. The blog would eventually be picked up by a talent agency and molded into the career platform that it stands as presently. He recollected that he had not grown into himself until he had done so as a creative and that his art had allowed him to become more in touch with himself. This would introduce one of the main themes that guided my research, the creation of an identity through art. At the time, he had also become intertwined with matters of a new relationship in which he found himself in love. He said that this had resulted in new feelings of vulnerability that he used as a strength in his then current work. "Love has a way of opening us up in ways that we would otherwise never experience." I reflected on my own brushes with the nature of expanding due to the conception of vulnerability and was inclined to agree with him. Love had become my favorite topic over the years, so I digested his words with the conditional enthusiasm of a hopeless romantic. Upon being asked where most of his inspiration came from, he responded that he had been recently challenged with the idea of art as a part of the family structure. He held a high recognition for the art relayed in the work of parenting and the lives that we interact with on a day-to-day basis. He confided that much of his success had been the result of being relatable. "If you have the ability to relate to people, you can succeed in any work." This interview is one that I have carried with me on most if not all of the interviews that follow and can be regarded as the beginning to a more personal agenda for my research into the journeys and artistic gazes of people of color. To the reader of this first introspection, thank you for being here and sharing in this with me. I hope that my clumsy human efforts will persuade you to navigate through your own passions. Should there be any movement that you are hesitant to take due to any fears or insecurities, you are capable of anything that you are willing to work for. You are worthy of your own brilliance. I am here for you. You are loved.



Dorthy RayComment