To you, oh, apathetic first-world country residents and two-faced politicians. To you, political and anarchist punks, activists, and artists. For all the political talk you do, and all the know-how you have, could you give up everything to move yourself to the Middle East in order to help peace along without having to resort to joining the military and “spreading democracy” with guns designed to spill blood? Honestly, at this point in my life, I don’t think I could.
But an artist who often goes by the name of Idiot the Wise has not only done this, he currently lives in Jerusalem and is fighting the good fight we all simply talk about. I became acquainted with him on the photo storage/sharing website, Flickr.com, where he posts pictures and images of his life and art.
I really enjoy seeing the pictures of his anti-globalization and anti-war messages show up on the walls and streets of Jerusalem. These images were in stark contrast to the views all Israeli citizens are said to have in mainstream media, and it intrigued me. His art questions society as a whole and while many of his contemporaries are “singing to the choir” per se, he is spreading his ideas freedom fighter-style, dispersing messages of peace right on the battleground.
The reaction to his work has been hard to gauge, as most of it is seen by locals, and, of course, street art is not legal in Israel, but other works, such as his contributions to the Face2Face project, have gained international press coverage. (The purpose of the Face2Face project is to take portraits of Palestinians and Israelis and to post them, face-to-face, in huge formats in unavoidable places on the Israeli and the Palestinian sides of the land, in essence to show that both sides have the same faces with the same fears and hopes as the other: http://www.face2faceproject.com/) As far as how long his art remains on the walls of Jerusalem, that is also hard to determine. Again, not only is it illegal to use public walls and streets for art, with the threat of tearing down, painting over, sand-blasting, and power washing it away always prevalent, but there are many environmental conditions that play into the life of his art. The biggest factor is sun. There is simply so much sunshine in Israel that even during the winter months the piece, unless properly sealed from the elements, quickly begins to fade or deteriorate to nothingness.
This interview was conducted in order to understand his motives and goals, his accomplishments and failures, and his inspirations and current goings-on. Maybe in the process, some of us will be inspired by this clever fool to walk the walk instead of just talk the talk.
Mr. Z: Where in the U.S. did you grow up?
Idiot the Wise: I’ll answer this question pretty simply. I was born in the prison – country – of the United States… I feel like two cities were responsible for my environments up until sixteen: Chicago and St. Louis, the south-sides of both.
Mr. Z: What are your ties to Israel?
Idiot the Wise: My ties to the present prison – country – of Israel/Palestine are politically non-existent, but, spiritually, I feel infinitely more connected with the land and actual people. I moved to Jerusalem about four years ago with the idea that this city could use a bit of inspiration and common sense. The one thing that has encouraged my growth the most has to be my experiences through the years with a good family. My present understanding of family and roots were given to me by good example by those I have met while traveling with Rainbow family. Rainbow tribal gatherings happen worldwide. Through these experiences, I eventually found myself here in Israel.
Mr. Z: How did you decide to move there and what do you feel is your purpose?
Idiot the Wise: Although we aren’t all ready for the challenges that could make things better for those who need it, it’s no secret that this area of the globe has its problems, especially when it comes to coexistence. The timeless lessons of peaceful coexistence were clearly illustrated to me in real life… maybe I should explain a bit about Rainbow gatherings. It’s just people, really. Like you or me, deciding to gather together by choice by the hundreds of thousands, sometimes. I have seen fundamentalist Muslims, Jews, etc., who in any normal metropolis or other setting (as opposed to being deep in a forest among a caring and tribal community) would never talk. And if they did, they would fight.
Mr. Z: What is Rainbow family exactly and what goes on at the gatherings? How did you happen upon the Rainbow family?
Idiot the Wise: At the age of sixteen, after being kicked out of my house for smoking weed, I had no idea where to turn… in the homelessness I found subtle freedoms but I was mainly trying to make it to the end of the one big shade of grey. And then one day I was working at a hotel as a poolside bus boy and a friend tells me that there are thousands of hippies in the woods just hours from where we were working and that we should go check it out. Neither one of us had any idea how this day would dramatically change our lives. Most folks haven’t heard of the Rainbow tribes only because they haven’t traveled wide enough to meet the family. Rainbow gatherings are simply gatherings of large (or small) amounts of people in modern times with basic tribal consensus and understandings. www.welcomehome.org is the website that has helped me keep track where the next gathering will be and if I can make it to the council meetings and scouting processes. In the States, I could travel almost all year with good family …artists… punks… anarchists… graffiti kids. Here, it’s more quiet and connected to the land but with a sharp two sides to everyone. For instance, that cool kid serving you free food in the woods could very well be at the gathering site for the weekend and is due back at his/her army post within a few days. Then there are deep cats who reject all that exists in the world here, too. My friend Sage is a man I am proud to call a friend and brother and although I have only met him twice. We sat and talked and cured medicine, smoked, and traded chillums with one another… like we had discovered and remembered one another at the same time. Peace does exist in the Middle East …in the hearts of a few brave rainbow warriors.
Mr. Z: What did you hope to accomplish when you moved to Israel?
Idiot the Wise: Taking with me the lessons I have learned about community, communication, and respect, I hoped by moving here that these qualities could become positively infectious.
Mr. Z: Do you think your art—your street art/graffiti in particular—will be viewed by the main population as trying to infect the masses with a sense of community and respect? Or do you think it is simply viewed as art, or worse, a dirty stain on civilized walls?
Idiot the Wise: Here’s why I do public art: free and public expression to me is a byproduct of a society trying to free itself. I know that everyone will have a different idea of what it means and that’s what makes art a reflection of an infinite reality expressed in a finite world.
Mr. Z: Have you been successful in your goals?
Idiot the Wise: The large goals that I know can be achieved can’t be achieved by me alone, nor can they be accomplished in the space of only four years. In the time that I’ve been here, I’ve learned that even the most seemingly enlightened teacher or guru can only bring you as far as they have gone. Most of my inspiration comes from a strong internal reality and in seeing the strength of others involved in similar struggles.
Mr. Z: How did your goals change over time?
Idiot the Wise: At this point in my life I have two sets of goals in what I view to be two separate worlds. When I am in Babylon—among true friends and family—my goal is to get people out. My goal while not in Babylon is to simply celebrate existence and to challenge others to do the same. What would happen if we all lived like we meant it?
Mr. Z: What goes on over there now that you’ve been there three years? Do you have a day job?
Idiot the Wise: I’ve been in Jerusalem as an artist for four years now and after all this time and dedication, I finally feel like I’m pushing the boundaries I need to and expanding public communication through artistic means. Coming up here in the middle of March, I am hosting the Inspiration Art Exhibition sponsored by the artists along with the Inspire Collective (www.flickr.com/groups/inspiredlives).
Mr. Z: Who is the Inspire Collective and what do they do?
Idiot the Wise: Going with the stream of collective consciousness is probably a wise thing to do. There is safety in numbers. The Inspire Collective is you and me and that freckled kid down the block with a complex but draws Da Vinci-like graffiti. The Inspire Collective is something that speaks to all of us and continually asks us, “What inspires you?” The question is as deep as any Koran or riddle… and will take you to the center of yourself. Apart from the Flickr.com image website group, The Inspire Collective is randomly blogged around the world and is regularly featured on http://www.idiotthewise.com/.
Mr. Z: What is featured in the Inspiration Art Exhibition? How did it start? Did it turn out much differently than expected? Could you have done it without the internet?
Idiot the Wise: The Inspiration Art Exhibition is merely an idea whose time has come. This may be the first of a long series of shows you’ll see from the Inspire Collective. This exhibition has really come together with the help and genuine creativity of the artists themselves. Over forty-five artists from all over the world will be sharing their work and inspirations over three weekends and possibly covering a second city (if Tel Aviv will work out) for its third weekend.
Mr. Z: Could you have done it without the internet?
Idiot the Wise: The internet is the greatest tool I’ve used during this whole organization process. After so much work and preparation, we should have a truly “inspired” exhibition.
Mr. Z: Explain your McDonalds/World Trade Center shirt design for the readers and tell us the positive and negative comments you have been given about it.
Idiot the Wise: Okay, so I have gotten so much shit for this shirt and an equal amount of folks who love it. For those who haven’t seen the shirt, it depicts the McDonald’s logo arches as being the jet streams of two planes flying into the center of the arches which are stenciled to be the twin towers. The slogan says “Eat This” So, I guess I have been called anti-American and anti this or that… like, “Why aren’t you a patriot?” I am an
anarchist/romantic at heart but we aren’t talking about all that. It’s simply a stencil and some spray paint on a shirt. I see it as a challenge, as a view into the consequences of corporate and state power mergers. A society may deserve the kind of vandalism it gets, but not the kind terrorism they get from those who run their countries (prisons). This was kind of the thought process.
Mr. Z: How do we bring about peace in the Middle East?
Idiot the Wise: Ha! You really want me to repeat something everyone knows the answer to, yet they never will get rid of the root problem? So, like Robert Marley said, until the day that the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes, their will always be war and a rule of international morality will be but a dream to be pursued but never attained. It’s not all about race, but it is always war in Babylon. The exodus from this mentality is both spiritual and physical. Can you live like you mean it?