Amy Khoshbin is our favorite...
our favorite artist? politician? performer? …all of the above
To say that Amy Khoshbin’s approach to politics is unique is an understatement. How many other politicians do you know that crafted their City Council campaign speech as a rap/performance /participatory dance party performed in The Whitney Museum of American Art? But Amy did just that – and it’s not just a “performance” – she’s legit running for City Council in District 38 of Brooklyn in 2021. Can political empowerment for change and liberating entertainment be the same thing? Amy says yes!
After juggling our schedules we finally found a time to meet with Amy and learn more.
No Kill Mag: Amy – we are so excited to finally get a chance to sit down and talk with you. Before we dive into politics we want to ask about “Word on the Street” because I remember seeing these images around the city and loving them and wondering where they came from…
Images from Workshop on the Street in Times Square
AMY: Yeah, so that was in two parts. First there was the Workshop on the Street held in Times Square with Anne Carson which was a participatory banner-making workshop. That came out of the energy that was in response to the Trump election, and the Women’s March and all of the organizing that was happening. Anyone could come and create their own wearable protest gear with phrases made from colorful felt in the form of banners, sashes, capes… and we’d have a DJ present to make it fun as well.
The Times Square Arts organization really liked it and gave us a commission to create more work so we invited other female identified artists to participate. Carrie Mae Weems, Wangechi Mutu, Laurie Anderson, Jenny Holzer and Naomi Shihab Nye all agreed to work with us. And this became Word on the Street.
I want to add that the banners were fabricated by female identified refugees out of Texas and we were able to donate a lot of money that we received to these workers so they received as big of a commission as we gave to the artists – this was really important - to think about the way that labor works in our industry and a way to ethically move the money around that we received to support the kind of causes and people that we’re talking about as we make the work – the refugee crises is really huge obviously.
Now we’re planning on a nation-wide project where refugees are making their own banners and working with artists to help them design. Female identified artists and refugees together to get that messaging out.
Images from Word on the Street in NYC
Amazing! And your latest project is called The Opposite of a Weapon…tell us a bit about that.
It started developing after the Parkland shooting last year. I was in a Residency at Anderson Ranch in Colorado which is kind of similar to where I grew up in Texas in that there are a lot of rural areas where people are very gun toting… So, I started thinking “well, what is the opposite of a weapon?” I went to gun shows and asked this question to start that dialogue. I also posed the question on the internet.
From the responses, I made a series of iconographic line drawings. And then screen prints and little ceramic action figures. The whole aesthetic is very childlike because what we saw in Parkland is that there’s this younger generation of activists really standing up and speaking out against gun violence. It became how can we get this iconography into the minds of children and younger folks, to start this dialogue early. So that was phase 1. Which, leads to phase 2 …
I just got my tattoo license.
Ah…that doesn’t exactly feel like the opposite of a weapon…
I’m always thinking of different ways of connecting with people from different sub-cultures and creating these moments of political dialogue, so that led to people that get tattoos, that sub-culture: they range politically from Neo-Nazis to people who are super left. I thought having that skill (tattoo artist) and being able to tap into that community and perhaps create dialogue is really interesting.
Images from Opposite of a Weapon project
I take the opposite of a weapon and tattoo it onto the body, which is this violent act. And then we talk about non-violence, we talk about healing, both literally and figuratively, conceptually and then you have this iconography on your body that is a spark to create this dialogue forever.
And I’m also creating a series of soft sculptures that are like pillows. Cos that also in terms of content and form is the opposite of something dangerous and pointy, is something you can hug, is soft, so that’s the next project I’m focused on. And I’m creating a book to go along because the lines are, they’re line drawings for you to fill in, it’s going to be a coloring book. So again, interactive, engaging with the ideas in an active way. That’s my summer project right now.
While you’re also running for office – how does this all fit into all of this?
Yes! Running for office is an ongoing thing I’ve been doing, running for office in District 38 of Brooklyn which we’re sitting in right now .
How do we feel about this place in Brooklyn where we’re sitting right now?
Note:we are at Industry City – a sort of hipster office park separate from the predominantly Hispanic community just across the street.
Yeah, this is kind of a weird place. The Community Board for the neighborhood has done a lot of work in trying to block the rezoning that’s happening in Industry City. The developers want to bring in Hotels and Condos. We’re lucky our current city council member has worked with the Board really hard to block this.
You have so much going on. Why run for office too?
I am running for office because I want to demystify the process. I want to encourage other people to go down this road. I want to create a movement of folk that actually run -that aren’t just voting in a certain way but are actually trying to represent their communities on any level from the Community Board upwards. I’m an artist. I’m not representative of the population of the neighborhood. I’m a person of color, I’m Persian, I’m queer, I mean those things are also really important for elected officials but it’s interesting, it’s going to be an interesting challenge to try and speak to the issue of gentrification when I’m an artist who has moved into the neighborhood. Gentrification is so complex. There has to be a way to stop the spread or work with the spread, to figure out what are the affordable housing units and how do you repurpose that.
How do you hope to position yourself? You’re hoping to get radical activist community members involved in your campaign and beyond winning, what are you hoping to achieve? Or what if you win?
I know, that would be really exciting, right? If I win I feel the issue of affordable housing is one of the biggest issues for this neighborhood. I’ve been going to the Community Board meetings -and they have incredible leadership and they’re very organized and very active in anti-gentrification- so I feel that working with them to understand who are the players and how do we create something for those players in a way that is enticing for them but that’s also fair to current residents…it’s trying to find that balance. That’s the largest issue, gentrification, but also immigrants’ rights and having it be a Sanctuary. Where people aren’t afraid, where people aren’t afraid to speak out, people can be radical and be radicalized and not be worried.
How do we create those protections for folks within the community?
I don’t care if I lose. It’s just about going out there and saying “we can do this” ok you’re gonna lose but then you run again. That’s what it is; it’s a long game, queer rights, immigrant rights, housing rights, community rights, maybe I won’t win the first time, maybe I will and that would be amazing – I’m going to run to try to win I’m very clear about that but if I don’t, I don’t see it as a failure. The process is what’s important.
So what’s next?
This is what’s happening right after the summer: I want to do a YouTube series (stay tuned) about how to run for office as a layman. What do we do. Get your LLC together, this is how you get your team together, this is how you fundraise, and make it these really short 3 minute videos that are just snappy, entertaining, funny, colorful, to get people psyched, on a national level, because leading up to this presidential election everyone’s already overwhelmed and shutting down and ok whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen, right?, but we have to have this hope and this faith where it’s no matter what happens on that level we just need to stay motivated on our ground, on the local level, to keep pushing, to keep improving our lives from the ground up and that’s what this is about. It’s just keeping people motivated. Done, mic drop!