We've been here all along.
For two decades west coast street artist Votan has tested his wits and imagination in a battle with America's Indigenous consciousness.
MagiciansHouse: For a graffiti-loving activist with designs on turning The System inside out, you seem pretty Zen. Have I got you all wrong or are you as angry as you ever were?
Votan: No, I never create out of anger. Although things can tick me off like any normal human being, I try to transform that energy into clever creative information.
You like lashing out with provocative slogans, juxtapositions of history, snark, pop culture and indigenous teachings. Would you rather be creating completely original compositions or is it more artistically satisfying to hijack the media that already exists and manipulate it into carrying your own message?
I like doing both.
Creating from my inner self helps me grow as a person. Hijacking makes it more of a collective. Both are extremely necessary in an ever growing selfish society. The wit of taking what's out there and transforming it to address issues that appear crippling is rewarding in itself.
Sometimes we take things too seriously and it's great to mock our reality. I've learned that things always get better, if you want them to.
You've been in the game for a while now. Are you beginning to see how the choices you've made and how the voice that you've carried has filtered down into the next generation who's coming along? Do you sense a change of approach evolving in the new batch of upcoming activists compared to your own?
Definitely! Just like my generation was inspired and influenced by the generation before us, I see we have influenced many. Especially in crossing Indigenous boundaries. We were taught that in so many ways. I see how now our street art has influenced many to share the same sentiment.
NSRGTS is now almost 20 years old. Got any plans for that upcoming anniversary? What should fans and customers expect to see from NSRGTS in the coming months and years?
Dang, it's true! We're almost 20! We're definitely going to make something happen. We've worked with many organizations and amazing human beings that we can definitely rock a spot!
Being the very sincere artist and activist that you are, what does "Success" ultimately look like for you?
I've been told everyone's definition of success is different, and I must agree. Every time I feel unsuccessful, I think back to a year from today. Where was I? What was I doing? Am in a better place or situation? If I am, which happens most often, I feel successful. If I don't, I get to work to keep me feeling successful.
In comics, last year we had the very first Indigenous Comic-Con, this year the first completely Native and Indigenous comic book store opened, and we see similar collectives on Kickstarter producing comics via terrifically funded campaigns. In terms of comics, have we arrived? Are we finally here?
I think we've been here all along, but now we are starting to truly believe it and live it. Put it into action. If we do some deep researching, I bet we can find some native artist, influence or inspiration in comics from way back.
What are you working on right now?
I'm working on several mural projects, new designs for the brand, raising four boys, going back and forth from New Mexico with Leah, my girl-companion-sidekick-accomplice. Thank you for this interview and for supporting my work. Peace, love and blessings!
Get your hands on Votan's designs at the NSRGTS Storenvy site.