‘M.I.A.’: Humberto Interviews M.I.A. on Her New Book
On Sunday OC, MoMA PS1, and Rizzoli hosted aCONVERSATION
between our dear friend M.I.A. and the museum’s director Klaus Biesenbach on her brand new self-titled art book. Maya and OC go way back; I met her for the first time at the NYC dive bar Max Fish in 2005, when she was in town to promote her groundbreaking album Arular.
From that moment on, a lasting bond was formed. In 2008, M.I.A. sold Oakely Run, her limited-edition line of super-bright, body-conscious clothing, exclusively at OC. And in 2010, OC co-hosted the launch party of her third album, /\/\/\Y/\
, at PS1.
Maya’s stunning and colorful 192-page tome, which isAVAILABLE AT OC
, chronicles her work as an artist and musician from her art school days to her albums, followed by the start of her N.E.E.T. label and the Vickileekx mixtape that gave the world a taste of “Bad Girls.” Maya’s exacting aesthetic vision and her self-reliant approach to creativity is something that we share, and it has always been mutually inspiring. I caught up with her about her book; find out what she had to say below.Photos by Matt Kelly
Humberto Leon: Let’s talk about the time we first met at Max Fish. I remember giving you a friendship necklace that my friend made for me to give.
M.I.A.: YES!!!!!! When I was at the Kenzo show, the handle on your Kenzo cookie boxes reminded me of it and I told your mum that. That’s how you literally roped me into being your friend, and our lives have been weaving in and out ever since.
HL: In 2008, you sold your limited-edition line Oakley Run exclusively at our stores, and in 2010 we partnered to launch /\/\/\Y/\ at MoMA PS1. What about our creative processes do you think has led us to intersect so much over the years?
M.I.A.: We can hang and you’re not scared of me. I think we are products of the same era, and we try to represent the multicultural face in a changing global clusterfuck. We can both come together, and it’s not competitive or brand, brand, brand. It’s more like an understanding and mutual respect.
HL: Through your music and your visual art, you created your own platform to talk about the Tamils, which no one was doing in the media until Wikileaks forced the world to acknowledge the Sri Lankan government’s crimes. In a similar way, Carol and I have always sought to create a platform for the brands no one is really talking about in order to tell their story, instead of stocking brands that are already out there and that everyone already loves. What has been the biggest challenge for you in telling the story of the Tigers?
M.I.A.: Before I made music, I worked in a shop called Euphoria in West London. Sadly they no longer exist, but they also had a similar vision to yours. It’s great that you’ve fought and won a battle against commercialization by maintaining your identity, but that opportunity doesn’t exist for everyone.
The Tamil situation was a case study in how backers choose what they are going to back. For example, more people were killed by Rajapaksa in a week in Sri Lanka 2009 than were killed by Kony over a 20-year period, but the media backed that situation and 80 million people saw Jacob telling a story on YouTube. But cellphone footage of a Tamil kid beamed straight from the killing field didn’t get measured by the same values.
HL: The war between the Sri Lankan government and the separatist Tigers is said to have ended in 2009. Is it really over? How is the post-conflict era being represented in the international and domestic Sri Lankan media, and how does it continue to affect your family?
M.I.A.: The international media are still kept out and Tamil people are still prisoners in their own home, or lack thereof. The gov’s describes what happened as democracy, but it’s in no way a poster for democracy. The Tamils don’t have equal opportunities in their own country, and they still live in constant fear of being abducted if they speak out. Here’s a VIDEO
on the UN debating Sri Lanka’s war crimes.
HL: Steve Loveridge’s forward reminded me of my friendship with Carol, which also dates back to our undergraduate days. Can you talk about how you’ve collaborated together over the years, and what that relationship and process is like? How has it evolved over time as you’ve grown in parallel?
M.I.A.: Well it’s the story of the tortoise and the hare; I run fast, but he wins the race. Then I do life and he comes, stays when I’m having drama, he disappears, then when I really, really need him, he gives me grace. HL: What was it like going to school at Central Saint Martins in the late 90s? Where did you guys hang out and see shows?
M.I.A.: Steve and I used to get drunk and sleep in the park a lot when we didn’t have money to get home. HL: What did your dorm look like?
M.I.A.: We didn’t have dorms, but my room was always mad R&B and everyone else hated it. We had another friend who graduated with better grades who later became a stripper, but when we were at college, we used to go to her stripping auditions a lot, so that’s where we used to get drunk.
HL: You contributed an original art piece to our own Rizzoli book, which came out in September and chronicles Opening Ceremony’s past 10 years. How did the work come about?
M.I.A.: At the time I wrote it, I wasn’t writing music but was just writing. I felt I’d seen it all and done it all. Now, I feel like I just started.
Humberto with M.I.A. and Spike at the OC 10-YEAR PARTY