Evolution of Graffiti in Dedan Kasimu’s Art

By JR Valrey Black New World Media

Dedan Kasimu is one of the most solid and talented brothers that I met in the early to mid 2000’s when I was organizing with the Prisoners of Conscience Committee, and hanging out and organizing a lot with dead prez. Since that time, I have not seen my comrade much, since he hasn’t touched the west in a while and I haven’t been to New York in years. We connected through Facebook, and he showed me his artwork, which I was totally unaware of, and it amazed me. I love to see people explore and discover different aspects of themselves, work to master their talents, and then financially reap the rewards because of their mastery.  

I love the caricatures and bright colors, as well as the style he created and  uses to speak his truth. I was proud to see Dedan progress from the dead prez merch man, to a full blown reputable New York visual artist. It’s about that time for the West coast and the world to wake up to Dedan Kasimu’s talent, passion, artistic philosophy, and Black revolutionary politics.

JR Valrey: Who inspired you to be a visual artist? When did you decide that you were going to take your hobby and turn it into a business?

Dedan Kasimu: My name is Dedan Kasimu, my story begins in the mid 80’s in the Bronx, New York. Growing up, we couldn’t afford much. Through my uncle, who was a graffiti artist, I remember meeting all types of artists. I would witness them do innovative things such as draw inside blackbooks (a black book is basically a sketch book that graffiti artists use to lay down ideas before bringing them to the walls, trains, trucks, etc) and make graffiti mops (a mop is a specially/homemade marker that is designed to have a nib/tip to provide more ink/paint to the surface than a common store purchased marker). Unbeknown to me, it was my introduction into the world of visual art!  It gained my attention, and in turn, I learned about styles, artists & graffiti history. This was a time before video games and the internet, when we had to be creative to stay entertained. This is what inspired me to begin studying subway art and teaching myself to draw.

As I grew older, Hip Hop became more mainstream. I started to witness the marketing potential of graffiti art. Corporate companies began huge advertisement campaigns using graffiti guerrilla tactics to promote their labels and products. This could often be seen hugging the sides as well as the insides of buses, trains & stations. It became big business. So I naturally started to daydream about turning my hobby into a full time business. I later met the rap duo “dead prez” and started doing the t-shirt designs/merchandising for their brand. However, it wasn’t until recently, when the Corona Quarantine hit that I pulled myself out of my comfort zone and forced myself to do shit I should’ve done a while ago. So, I put my faith in my ability to make greatness happen and created my art site WWW.BYDEDAN.COM

JR Valrey: I met you around the revolutionary Hip Hop scene in New York decades ago, how does the graphics arts world and the music world in New York connect for you?

Dedan Kasimu: Yes, it has been a minute comrade. We met through dead prez back in the early 2000’s. 

Well, hip hop is a culture and art movement that was created by African, Latino, and Caribbean Americans in NYC. For me, hip hop culture is intrinsically tied to graffiti in everything from graphic design to fashion to sculpture. Graffiti provided the visual inspiration that encouraged other forms of creativity and expressions.

JR Valrey: How much does Black revolutionary politics impact your work?

Dedan Kasimu: Black revolutionary politics have impacted my whole life, helping me focus on racial pride and self determination. Realizing that everything is political, I advocate self love, healthy eating, ownership and being proactive in politics and community through my art. Artists should own and profit from all that we produce, not a percentage not a split, not a point but all of it!

JR Valrey: How would you describe your style?

Dedan Kasimu: Art style means different things to different people. I’m a self-taught artist (no art school) who creates the entire concept, style and artwork of characters from scratch. This often includes taking a deep look into the characters personality to develop a visual idea of physical features. I also experiment with a wide range of styles and techniques to achieve my distinctive look. I unconsciously borrow details from all the things I like, integrating them into my own methods and techniques. When it comes to art, my illustrations are packed with bold colors, playful figures and shapes showcasing my appreciation for NYC graffiti culture & my indigenous heritage. 

Art done by Dedan Kasimu.

JR Valrey: What do you hope people get out of your work after viewing it?

Dedan Kasimu: I trust that when people see my art, they see personal responsibility, racial pride, self determination, challenging the status quo and helping society. I want people to see that street art requires an incredible skill set and is far from being a renegade action or an unlawful act of graffiti. This is especially important during this time of a global pandemic, where museums & art galleries are closed! 

JR Valrey: How could people see your work and purchase it? How could they contact you? 

Dedan Kasimu: People can check out some of my original work on WWW.BYDEDAN.COM or find me on Instagram (@Chief_Dedan) for tons of artwork, sketches and updates!

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