Bbrother is bigâ€¦ at least in Taiwan. Contrary to popular belief, Taiwan is not part of China, but rather a very small island off the coast of the mainland, home to about 23 million people. In a country that was relatively untouched by street art and graffiti until a few years ago, Bbrother is one of the most prolific street artists on the island. A man of few words, he says little about his work, but the pieces speak for themselves. Covering the crumbling and decrepit old walls of Taipei and many other cities in Taiwan are the subtle yet powerful expressions of his political statements.
â€œI take my â€˜artâ€™ out of the studio and on to the street because I am too lazy to hold an exhibition, and too poor to buy canvas. Painting on the streets is just the easiest way to do it.â€
Format: Can you briefly describe who you are and what you do.
Bbrother: I am 26, and graffiti is my job. The name Bbrother comes from the phrase in the George Orwell novel 1984, “Big brother is watching you.”
Format: What are some of the institutions you have worked with? Can you describe some of the bigger projects you have done?
Bbrother: I work with several NGOs, such as Amnesty International, and the Taiwan Association for Human Rights. I also work with some galleries and museums. I painted a huge mural (4m x 18m) in the Taipei Fine Arts Museum at the Taipei Biennial 2008.
I first worked for an for anti-WTO association, and then they introduced me to some other groups. I participated in an exhibition called CO6 Taiwan Avant-Garde Documenta which was held at the National Fine Arts Museum in Taichung. They wanted me to do a graffiti project so I made ten fake electricity transformer boxes and installed them on the street. It was like a trap to attract other graffiti writers to tag them. After a month I put those boxes in the museum, making the â€œvandalizedâ€ boxes into art.
Format: Who are your influences?
Bbrother: Inoue Takehiko, a Japanese manga artist, best known for the basketball manga Slam Dunk. Vagabond is Inoue’s ongoing manga, I think it’s the best in the world. And also LSB, I think he is the greatest street artist in the Northern Hemisphere.
Format: Can you describe some of the techniques you have used?
Bbrother: Basically I use stencil, charcoal, acrylic pigment, and crayon. I use kraft papers for stencils, that means at most I can only paint 2-3 times. But kraft papers are really cheap and I don’t really want to paint all over the city with one single image. Besides stencils, now I carry lots of acrylic pigment and paint brushes with me so I can draw some strokes and drippings. So it’s more like painting on walls, not doing graffiti.
Format: How much of your work is illegal or not commissioned?
Bbrother: About 73.8%
Format: Your work is frequently political. Can you talk a bit about the goals of your political work and the issues it addresses?
Bbrother: Right now there is an action in Taipei called the “Wild Strawberry Movement.” This movement is the biggest student movement after the Wild Lily student movement in 1990. Students are opposing police state and the Suppression of Human Rights by the Unconstitutional Assembly and Parade Law. Which can be better understood by checking out http://freespeechintaiwan.wordpress.com/
Format: Some of your stencils depict really violent scenes, can you talk a bit about those pieces and what source you used for the images ?
Bbrother: Apple daily is the most popular gossip newspaper in Taiwan. They are popular because they use more images than words. They don’t publish difficult articles about the education system or the crime rate in teenagers. They use bloody pictures of victims in traffic accidents, or stars having extramarital relations instead. To avoid being censored by the government, they make 3D images to simulate the events they report. Like a teenager chopping up his parents’ heads, or ten men raping a girl. The images are so powerful that they stir up emotions more than photographs. I think these 3D images represent the other reality which photos can not display. 3D simulated images combine reality and imagination. I paint them on the street to display the other reality.
Format: What was the first street art or graffiti you saw in Taiwan?
Bbrother: The first time I saw street art in Taiwan was in the 80’s. Protesting students wrote slogans like “Bad world for poor people” and painted some images on the street.
Format: In Taiwan, around 2005, there was a small community of graffiti and stencil artists getting up in the bigger cities like Taipei, Taichung and Kaohshiung. Where did you first get the idea to take your art out of the studio and put it on walls? Can you talk about some of the other artists you were working with early on?
Bbrother: LSB, and Emblack, both American, the latter, known for his straight edge anarchistic views, had an influence on these movements. I take my “art” out of the studio and on to the street because I am too lazy to hold an exhibition, and too poor to buy canvas. Painting on the streets is just the easiest way to do it.
Format: Recently, authorities in Taiwan have become very relaxed about charging people for doing illegal pieces and very little work was buffed. It seems like Taiwan has been a sort of a graffiti candy land for vandals. Is this still true or are the police finally cracking down the way the rest of the world?
Bbrother: I think it’s a bit harsh right now because the mayor Hau Lung-bin vowed to crack down on graffiti last month. The police are willing to catch some graffiti writers. I got caught one time, and spent the whole night at the police station.
Format: What do you think is the general attitude towards street art in Taiwan?
Bbrother: Most people just don’t care.
Format: You have landed some pretty good jobs and projects funded by the government despite the fact that you could face legal issues in other countries for doing what you do. How did you end up teaching graffiti in an elementary school?
Bbrother: It’s a hobby class, to develop students’ hobbies. Taiwanese kids need more hobbies. For the school, graffiti is a “hobby.”
Format: You have some paintings of some sexy girls that seem to be selling something. Can you tell us more about them?
Bbrother: In Taiwan, we have this thing that is sort of like a drug called betel nut or bin lang. Itâ€™s legal and sold at roadside stands by scantily clad women we call the â€˜bin lang princess.â€™ You know itâ€™s a bin lang booth if it has a fan of green fluorescent lights around it. Chewing betel nut is a bit like coffee or an energy drink because it causes a heightened sense of awareness. The nut its self is usually chewed wrapped in a leaf and mixed with tobacco. Betel nut girls are sort of like promo girls. They wear as little as they can to draw truck driver’s attentions. The sexier the girl, the more truckers she attracts and the more money she can make. They are not very common in the city anymore, but they in the southern countryside. They will always have their place in some part of Taiwanese culture.
Format: What are you working on right now? Any big projects or plans for the future?
Bbrother: I’m planning to stay in another city to paint. Anywhere not in Taiwan.