Artist and community leader Prime has been a central participant in TEF Graffiti Battles, and was the lead artist for Water Writes project in Hawaii. Prime is a founding member of 808 Urban in Honolulu, HI.
Name: John Prime
City of Origin: American Samoa
One word to describe yourself: Polynesian
1. What Keeps you doing what you do?
Part of it is the freedom. The other part is the struggle… The freedom to do what I love to do, which is art. I can paint a landscape of the paradise I live in on one day, and paint a mural that addresses the sovereignty/cultural issues that have plagued my people since the illegal occupation of the US in 1893 the next day!
2. What advice do you have for new or young artists out there?
It’s important to know the history of whatever form of art you choose. I try to put it in past, present, and future form. For the young writers here in Hawaii, I always talk about the OGs and crews who have put it down for Hawaii from day 1 and how they have continued over time. That way they can decide from there, what path fits them best. We live on an island far away from the mainland. Even with the presence of the internet today, nothing can replace the oral history that is passed on from those that have been there.
3. How did art become a central part of your life?
Growing up, my cousins and I lived a very basic life. No toys, no tv, and on occasion no water or electricity..but there was always paper and pen/pencils around the house.
My mother was writing a letter to her family back home in Samoa. This stationary had a picture of a girl in a blue bonnet on the bottom right hand corner. To keep me busy and out of her hair, she tore off a sheet and gave me a ball point pen to write my own letter. I drew a replica of the girl instead and my mom kept it fora long time showing it off to everybody. I was around 5, but for me, it felt good to see the smile my art brought to their faces.
4. What/Who is your inspiration?
Today, it’s the kids! We could all take a lesson from the kids. They don’t know politics, prejudice, nor agenda. They keep things simple, and so should we.
5. Why is art crucial for the up and coming generation of youth?
Like so many other cultures around the world, Hawaiians taught the next generation through story telling, dance, music and carvings. It’s been our form of communication from the beginning. I think it is crucial that the youth carry on these visual traditions so that the voices of our past are preserved and not lost.
6. Do you have any painting “rituals”?
HAHA!! Good one! I actually do have one. I sit and listen to what the wall is saying. I also take in the energy of it’s surroundings. Polys call it the “mana” or the spirit. It is like surfing. The locals would sit on the beach and watch the currents, the conditions, and process everything before heading into the water. (we laugh at the tourists because they jump in first, then wonder why they are getting swept out to sea by the current)
When I returned to the writing scene in 2006, I would go to this one spot and just chill by myself for hours. I did this for about 6 months before I felt the time was right to hit it up. I said a little prayer of gratitude before that paint hit the surface.
7. How is your art linked to your struggle for justice?
Being that I am a kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiian), I represent a family lineage thathave served the first Kings of Hawaii. When the kingdom was united under Kamehameha I, my family continued to serve. Now, the situation is different, but I continue that legacy in serving the people of Hawaii through art. The art serves as a reminder to remain `ONI`PA`A! (to hold steadfast, hold on to your culture while moving forward). It was the last command of our Queen (Lili`uokalani)….
To see more about Prime’s work, check out this WaterWrites video