Mint Street Art Festival har vært en del av bybildet i KRS i noen uker nå, og festivalen har vært såpass hemmelig at det har vært litt vanskelig å få tak i hva dette egentlig er. Meldinger som «Følg med, med aktive øyne, i Kvadraturen og oppdag selv kunstverk som popper frem».

Men: En tirsdag i slutten av august fikk vi besøk av festivalens Artist in Residence, Sør Afrikanske NIMI, på HQ i Tollbodgata. Det viste seg raskt at mannen er et oppkomme av historier fra det internasjonale gatekunst-miljøet og bærer selv på en historie som kunne fylt en hel fanzine.

Med en liten time til rådighet, glemte vi hele intervjuet og bega oss ut på en reise i gatekunstens vidunderlige verden, mens NIMI lagde et verk som skulle ut i gatene før han skulle returnere til hjembyen Bergen samme kveld. Vi ble enige om å ta en prat på Messenger de påfølgende dagene, og resultatet av det, kan du lese under her.

Siden historien hans er såpass interessant, kretser intervjuet mer rundt ham og hans virke enn om selve festivalen. Derfor tok vi også en telefon til prosjektleder for festivalen, Ane Skjævestad, for å oppklare noen av hemmelighetene.

Av: Red.

Ane, kan du fortelle litt om bakgrunnen for Mint Street Art Festival?

– Festivalen er et resultat av at ikke det har vært så mye gatekunst-produksjon på en stund. Akkurat nå kjennes det litt ekstra viktig. I vanskelige tider som denne, er kunst viktigere enn noensinne, vi har behov for en slik festival i disse pandemi-tider.

Hun fortsetter:

Live in action: Prosjektleder i Mint Street Art Festival, Ane Skjævestad

– Det er jo ikke så lett å samle mennesker i denne perioden, og kanskje derfor ble festivalen litt annerledes og hemmelig.

I tillegg til å invitere en håndfull lokale kunstnere, var vi så heldige å få med oss gatekunstneren NIMI som Artist in Residence. Han er vant til å jobbe med vanskelige prosjekter knyttet til utfordringer vi mennesker har. NIMI er også utdannet arkitekt, og det er en fin måte å presentere gatekunstnere og vise at de er noen genier som mestrer å jobbe med moderne byutvikling. Det var spennende å følge hans vandringer gjennom sentrum og vi klarte å skaffe han akkurat de perfekte spottene han ønsket! Som arkitekt, ser han byen med andre øyne enn folk flest og forhåpentligvis er noen av hans verk med på å snu opp ned på mye av KRS’ opprinnelige måte å oppleve kunst på. Dette er jo også en utstilling som er åpen 24 timer i døgnet.

I tillegg til å være en habil gatekunstner, hvorfor falt valget på NIMI som festivalens Artist in Residence?

– Vi tror NIMI kan åpne mange dører til nye kunstnere som ønsker å virke i KRS, kanskje spesielt de rebelske utøverne av gatekunst. Ønsket er at byen trekker i en retning hvor vi kan oppleve kunst med mer brodd, gjerne politisk. NIMI har et stort internasjonalt nettverk denne festivalen kan benytte oss av i årene som kommer.

I forbindelse med festivalen har dere en ny pop-up utstilling på Mint Street art galleri på Lagmannsholmen i morgen, lørdag. Hvorfor er det attraktivt å trekke gatekunsten innomhus?

– Det vi ser med galleriet er at vi tiltrekker oss en stor gruppe mennesker som ønsker å kjøpe verdens mest ettertraktede kunstform, og vi liker godt at vi når frem også til den yngre målgruppe som ikke kjenner det tradisjonelle kunstfeltet så godt. Mange av dem opplever kunst i et galleri for første gang, og er gjerne førstegangskjøpere. Det er stor forskjell på det å oppleve kunsten i gatene og på Instagram, enn i et galleri.

Takk for det Ane! Vi setter over til Bergen:

Hi Naeem, hope your trip home was safe and sound. Guess it’s about time to kick off our little story – you ready?

Naeem Searle AKA NIMI. Foto: Raina Vlaskovska

– Thumbs up!

Great! You currently live in Bergen, but you’ve been spending a few days in KRS for the Mint Street Art Festival recently – how was your stay and is there anything in particular you’ll remember from from your stay?

– I think getting to know Sedin and Ane has been the best part of my trip. Their friendship has made me want to return.

Yeah I can relate to that. At Oh K-Town, we feel privileged to have such talents around.

You and I had time for a small chat before you returned to Bergen and I was pretty struck by your journey from South Africa in the late 70’s to present Norway. Do you believe your fascination for the art scene was awoken already before you left South Africa as a seven year old?

– We were unable to visit art museums, most were closed to a non white audience. I think I learnt most of my hand craft from my grandfather. He liked to fix and building things around the community.

Exactly! Do you think maybe also the awful fact that you were not allowed to enter exhibitions and such triggered a young Naeem to explore art even further?

NIMI lager kunst ut av vinduet i Tollbodgata. Foto: Jan K. Transeth

– Yes I think I always strived to stand against the systems oppressive doctrine, but yes  mate, that was a defining part of the trigger that set me on that path. I struggled to write since school was also focused on repetition and not education, so it only seems logical that I would find my path with a more visual narrative.

Sounds plausible. I always figured oppression triggered the most interesting art forms.

– When a society condenses it’s creativity magic happens.

True story!

But then you moved to London at the age of seven. Small boy/ big city. I can definitely imagine that it was something else…

– Yes l it was, but not the city. More so that white people worked in the service industry willingly

What do you mean?

– First time I ever served by a white person. Freaked out.

I can just try to imagine the feeling…

I’m thinking, from what you told me when we met, London really gave you some sort of direction as a human being and an artist. You told me about Camden, about the rise of hip hop and the street art environment that you eventually became a part of in your teens. Can you elaborate a little on that?

Bildetekst: NIMI jobber under samtale om gatekunstens vidunderlige verden. Foto: Jan K. Transeth

– Sure mate. Of course, at that time, it was all about graffiti, standing up for your crew and showing you could represent. Breakdance – breaking – was dope. We were  engaged in dance battles every other weekend against local crews, trying to make our name. We  painted when we had some cash, otherwise you had to steal, but you got  caught a lot because you were so obviously in the wrong place.

These were car spray workshops, so getting paint was based around a good relationship with the makers of the cans. They would help you with your pallet and make it directly into a can. Strange uneven pressure though, on the cans back then. Only one type of cap. You used a Bic-pen insert attached to two cans to create  another colour. In our crew we had me, YoYo, Fugeone. He’s still  around. Kanz, sadly passed when he was 17, he was definitively the most talented writer back then and Parky. We knew Gnasher and Colt 45, but they ran with other crews. We had a lot of  fun, but what defines a movement is the mental change for a generation who had their own identity and not some re-animated retro like theme.

We were Fresh.

NIMIs verk «1000 unanswered letters» i Kvadraturen. Foto: Ane Skjævestad

We had pride and a way forward. The movement shaped us and allowed us to be individual and belong to a crew that respected us. We were loved. We had our own style and were not afraid to experiment. Fat laces on our high tops, split Lee cords. Hoodies and Kangol hat, tripple fat goose coat. The cliché of Beat Street, our favourite film. We were happy. We had arrived!

Ah, that sounds so nice – the shaping of an entire generation in many ways. But I bet it was pretty hard too, being out there on the streets of underground London?

– I think we were  too excited to care. We had found a non violent solution to being  cool without violent comebacks. And for a while, it lasted. You could out rap, out dance and paint your heart out. We ignored the hate. Hate was old fashioned.

That’s impressive regarding the fact that we’re talking Thatcher-times here. I was only five when she became Prime Minister, but I can easily remember pictures of some of the violence we were served on the TV-news at the time.

Where would you place your crew politically in the dense atmosphere that occurred? I mean, the unions being dissolved and all.

– I think we saw our parents worried, but we were just  kids. We  knew it was bad for our future but we were much like kids today – unaware of the long term repercussions.

Good point, you were actually just kids.

– Yeah. We had playground politics to worry about.

Speaking of..  Where do you see the up-and-coming generation of writers and the hip hop-scene right now? Any of the youngsters at the Mint Street Art Festival we should be aware of? Or anyone else in particular that we should pay a little extra attention to?

NIMI-verk i Kvadraturen. Foto: Ane Skjævestad

– I honestly haven’t been around the scene in your town, you need more street-artists  to begin looking into the political waves hitting us. The art is on the surface, but the emotions are bubbling under. A catalyst to trigger activity would be good. I hope to have more time in the future. Sedin and Ane at Mint have the potential to be that driver.

Word. We definitely need more politically loaded art – both in the streets and in galleries. The world is fast forward now.

Thanks Naeem, I think that was a brilliant ending, in case you don’t mind. But dammit, this is a fanzine after all. Famous last words?

– Planting your own cultural heritage is a way to encourage a younger generation..

Respect to you, buddy.

Pop-up utstillingen på Mint Street Art galleriet er åpen lørdag 5. september kl 12-15. Sjekk festivalen på instagram.