As part of the 009 graphics collection, we teamed up with Made By We to create more than just a graphic tee. With the artwork generated by Mada Phiri, the MBW Plain Tee features a quote and graphic inspired by the works of Emory Douglas, explores the frustration experienced when engaging with oppressive systems daily—and the healing that comes from being in a community. Check out our interview with Mada below to learn more about MBW, the design’s origins, and the impact this piece aims to have.
Shop the Tees here.
What is MBW?
MBW started with me and my friends wanting to have an outlet for our creative activities. We all have other jobs/school that takes up a lot of time. We wanted space to collectively create at our own pace, without any pressure. And we were already kind of doing that informally, so it was easy to make it real cause we have so many ideas. At the core of Made By We is the celebration of collective work and collaboration. Western capitalism prioritizes individual accomplishment but community has been at the core of any worthwhile or innovative movement in global history. And if the last two years have shown us anything, it’s that community is everything, and when you boil everything down, it’s actually all we’ve got. So we are really interested in centering community work in what we do, in as many new and cool ways we can think of. We’ve helped our friends throw a parties by doing space and visuals for that and we want to do workshops with our community and think about how we can link people together in the city sort of how TAIKAN does but on a smaller scale.
Walk us through what your creative process as a group is. What are the benefits and challenges that you run into with this method?
We’re all really really close friends before anything so in a productivity sense sometimes when we have meetings we’re smoking weed, chilling, listening to music there's not a lot of formality with the way that we meet. Honestly, our best ideas come from when we were hanging out randomly smoking. Someone will have an idea like “we should do something with that” and that's basically how most of the [projects] start off. It is just like randomly in the kitchen we will be talking about something and then one of us will have an idea, there's really no method to the madness but often times our best ideas come randomly in the middle of nowhere. It's a challenge in the sense that when you want to sit down and meet like it's really hard to just turn out creative ideas on the spot, but the beauty is that because we're so close, we're together like all the time so we have a lot of opportunities to have those kinds of random serendipitous moments with each other.
Talk about the Made By We graphic for Collection 009. Where did that begin and what's it all about?
Garret was wanting to do a shirt with more of a cause and a meaning to it, and this was in August, so it was pretty close to the protests for Black Lives Matter and the death of George Floyd. It was still very fresh so obviously, even as a black person myself it's really an important issue to me, and the place that I started with for making the graphic came from reading a post on @samutaro (an Instagram page that talks about culture etc.). Basically, there was a post about Emory Douglas who was a graphic designer for the Black Panthers, and I was just scrolling really loving their posters and the message. Just thinking about how these posters which were intended for uneducated poor Black people that often were not literate or political to understand a really important message. That's kind of the same thing as a t-shirt, maybe the audience is different now but it got me thinking about how I could make an impactful graphic where you could easily understand the message.
I took an original quote I found interesting, “whatever is good for the oppressor has got to be bad for us,” and started there. I had this painting I did of a cop with his head on fire, so I thought that given all the really intense emotion that we've been having lately, I would love to flip the quote like, “whatever is bad for the oppressor has got to be good for us,” because that's where we're at in the world now. We need to be thinking about defunding and all of those kinds of things where we’re actively taking away from the oppressor rather than thinking about “how does the oppressor benefit off of me.” So I took the picture of the cop with the head on fire and then I basically flipped it around and created somebody with flowers growing out of their head to help signify hope for black people for the future and for battling issues like police brutality. The colour scheme I chose is based on the Pan-African flag and that's basically how I got to the final design in the end. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.
The proceeds from the T-shirt are also going to go to the NAACP which does a lot of work with the Black community especially in America. It was really important to just make something that had a message and it’s good to know that the proceeds are going somewhere that matters because a lot of company's profit off of Black art/pain without even really supporting Black artists or Black people.
How has the inspiration and results of your work changed during the last year with the pandemic and a variety of growing social causes gaining traction?
This pandemic has made me reflect a lot about my values and the way that I perceive myself, especially spending so much time alone in an apartment with nothing else but your own thoughts. You kind of think about the way you approach life and how you treat your work and other people. The major thing that I changed especially after all of these social justice issues, is I feel like I'm really hyper aware of the people around me when I work and how my work may impact other people, whether those impacts are positive or negative. I am trying to bridge myself with other people when I create stuff because I think a lot of the time people can create and maybe unintentionally hurt other communities. Today I was looking at an article on a really popular fashion Instagram blog, and they were talking about cultural appreciation versus cultural appropriation. Honestly, the article was a horrible take and it allowed such horrible comments about the matter. I would never want to be the perpetrator of these kinds of things, and I want to be very intentional with my work. Dealing with this black lives matter shirt, I also thought about how I can support Black trans lives, Black queer lives, but then I had to understand that that wasn't my place or my time… if I ever wanted to do that it's better to support queer artists than to take that cheque. So yeah I think the pandemic has made me really hyper-aware of a global community while understanding myself and where I'm at and what kind of an ally I can be.
If you could incorporate more or less of something in your life right now, what would it be, and how would you go upon doing that
I think more time honestly, 24 hours in a day is just not enough time to get stuff done. I think something that I also realized during the pandemic is that I love having hobbies and I think that's something a lot of people realized. We suddenly had so much time for hobbies and all of these personal activities which I think normal work doesn't really allow us to have as openly and freely. So yeah I think having more time if I had more time to just do more things and make my work more versatile I think I'd be really cool. I love doing so many different things, the fashion, the music, the drawing, all this plus school. If I had more time it would be even easier for me to bridge them all together and help make them work [harmoniously]. If there were more than 24 hours in a day life would be a lot easier.
You just started DJing, how has that been going and where do you want to take it?
Yeah, DJing has been fun, I have always liked music and would be the one searching for alternative or obscure songs with new sounds and showing them to my friends. I've always been the music person in the friend group who's sharing new songs and stuff like that, so sometime in 2019 my friends were just taunting me like you should start DJing, you should start DJing… I honestly never thought about it before just because I didn't really think of myself as that musical in terms of technicalities. I just liked listening to music as a hobbyist, but then I bought a controller, and then the pandemic happened… I thought if I did start then I'm obviously not going to be playing any shows anytime soon so I kind of put it down for a bit.
Then in summer of 2020 is when I realized it [pandemic] was going to last a really long time, I just started learning more and more, and at some point, I was just addicted. I guess with the timing it was meant to be, it was one of my hobbies and I just had so much fun doing it. Now that the pandemic is starting to taper off, I’ve got to play some of my first couple shows, and again it's really addicting. It's a really fun and easy job to have on the side and do other stuff too which is what I love about it. My hope is first to open up the ears of Vancouver. I find a lot of people only want to listen to one kind of thing when we could be listening to everything at once! It doesn't have to be one genre, I want to do a lot of genre-bending in my set. How can I mix trap music with dance music with dancehall with techno with Jersey club with afrobeats… I want you to come to my set and hear a genre of music you have never heard before. It is also especially important to get more BIPOC people involved in the underground dance scene here, it is pretty dominated by caucasian white techno bros right now and I would love to just have more LGBT/BIPOC be a part of the DJ scene because those are the people that create these underground dance scenes.
Check out some of these sounds below, curated by Mada:
What goals do you have for the coming years of MBW?
Community work is one of the newer things that we've been doing and kind of loving, one of the things that we want to do in the year is throw artistic shows for young creatives to show their art. We also want to do movie showings to bring people, for example maybe some really obscure anime movie that you thought no one else was interested in and you get to meet other people who like it. Also, my friends in MBW also want to learn how to DJ now too and we’ve been wanting to have a workshop where people can get time on the equipment because it can be $7000-$12000 and nobody can afford that.