Ahead of his new show, we have an exclusive interview with Unga of Broken Fingaz Crew, by Hyland Mather, director of Andenken Gallery.
Hyland Mather: Hey Dude, How are you Unga?
Unga: I’m good man, just starting the day on the lake.
HM: The new work for ‘You Will Die Today’ is looking very wonderful. What’s it like prepping for a show that’s just you and not the whole Broken Fingaz crew?
U: Thank you. Well it’s something new, I’m still getting used to it, and I’m used to whatever I do being multiplied by four at the end, so obviously I have to do a lot more, because it’s only my works this time… I’m also used to being able to consult and get instant feedback from the crew, which I don’t have now but it’s a fun experience, it’s nice to do something new.
HM: You and Kip started Broken Fingaz crew. Give me the story of the origins. Where did you come from? How was it born? How did the crew grow towards the current four-person unit with Deso and Tant?
U: We started when we were 15, we just went out and started bombing in Haifa without knowing anything because there was literally no graff and what we saw was only through magazines… Then, until 2005, it was pretty low key, and even though we started as writers, we never really restricted ourselves to only graffiti, under the BFC name we did posters, and organised parties… Later on Tant and Des joined and kinda gave it new energy and we started to take the mural thing more seriously, trying to build our own language.
HM: The whole crew came for a show we did last year in Amsterdam with the Israeli Funds Vood De Kunst and the Amsterdam Funds Voor de Kunst. I remember being pretty blasted away with how focused you guys were. A very efficient unit of creators. Do you think having a solid and functioning crew like that is a way to help each other focus? How competitive is it inside the group? What is it about the other dudes that you love, and what pisses you off about the other boys?
U: Yeah, people are surprised by how focused we are because we smoke a lot of a weed. But like anyone who takes his craft seriously we realised that if we want to do this for a living we have to treat it in this way… We have a really good dynamic inside the crew, I can’t imagine any other three guys I could have worked so intensively with. Tant is the most disciplined person I’ve met, so if you sit and work next to him, you’ll do double of what you normally do and it really helped me because i have ADD… Deso is good for giving proportion about life, it comes naturally to him because he’s been through a lot of rough shit and he just accepts it and doesn’t bitch about it like most people would… And Kip is the wild card, being with him and seeing how many fields he spreads his creativity to is really inspiring, how to not be afraid to try new shit and not to limit yourself. Recently we shared one towel in India for two months, I guess those moments are the ones that you kind of miss being alone at home with your girlfriend.
HM: You’re down in Guatemala right now, I saw some pics of the house you’re at. What a crazy hideout my friend. Is it the kind of thing where it’s too nice to focus on making, or are you finding it a nice creative environment for getting art done?
U: It’s definitely the nicest place I’ve ever stayed, it’s so nice that it kind of sucks because i know that from here it’s all downhill, but no it’s perfect for creating, I wish I could always work in a place like this.
HM: Growing up in Israel, really front and centre in the conflict between Arabs and Jewish people, how do you find the Guatemalan people in general? Are they peaceful, are they factioned? I know they had a relatively short ‘civil war’, only 30 something years, which is nothing in terms of the conflicts on your home turf. Is there any kind of temperature of unrest that you feel down there? What’s poverty like where you’re at?
U: I can not say I know shit about their history, but the people here are definitely much calmer than in the Middle East. We were here through their election which definitely looks very corrupted, and the president is in jail…but their problems seem different to ours, it’s mainly about poverty and the narcos, but overall I wish the people in my country would less aggressive on a personal level and live life a bit slower like they do here.
HM: You served a brief stint in the Israeli military. What did you learn from all that? I mean, I know you, and I don’t see you as a soldier, but did the service affect your work?
U: It’s a really complicated topic, which I have no problem talking about, but it would need a whole discussion to really get into it. If I really try to sum it up I would say that I don’t regret doing it, but if I had to go now with the way I understand the conflict now, there’s no way on earth I would agree to take part in any way. When you’re 18, you’re stupid and you mainly do it because all of friends are going and society makes you feel that if you don’t go you’re selfish… I definitely feel I learned a lot about how the system works, I lost my teenage naivety, and in this sense it did shape my view on life and therefore I’m sure it comes out in my work.
HM: You’re making, or rather, making with the help of some of the locals, some weavings for the upcoming show at Andenken. From what I know, Guatemalans are descended from Mayan peoples. Working with the locals, how old are the methods they are using to help you produce these weavings? Are they literally ancient practices? Is it funny for them to produce the kind of ‘pop’ imagery you’re making…or is it simply ‘weavin is weavin’ for them?
U: They are actually Mayans and the language they speak is the ancient language, they wear traditional dress and live a very traditional life… The weaving is also something they’ve probably done for a lot of generations. It was a really cool process, first they weave the cloth, then I drew my designs onto the fabric for them to embroider, and then it’s like giving a design to a printer, only it’s this crazy printer that gives it a “folk” filter. It was really funny for them to sew these kind of designs, when I turned up with a big naked fat dude for them, they were pretty amused…but after three months working with them we really bonded and I hope we’ll keep working together even when I’m gone.
HM: Along with the Mayan heritage, Guatemalans are known to be primarily Roman Catholic in their religious persuasion. How do the locals take to you, an Israeli of Jewish heritage? Does it even register?
U: They don’t care. This is something I always found in Mexico, even though they’re really into Catholicism, they don’t really care if you’re not.
HM: Talk to me about the work in ‘You Will Die Today’, the upcoming show at Andenken. I specifically asked you when we decided to book the show ‘let’s have more of those fat dudes’. What’s up with the fat dudes? Where do you source the material for these marvelous works? I sound like I’m being sarcastic, but seriously, I love them. Very human, and also very comic. Who are these fat dudes?
U: It’s a big question who are they and why do I paint them.. I don’t really have an answer it’s mainly because I enjoy drawing them and people seem to like it so I continue… I think when I started them 10 years ago or something it was a bit more as if they represented for me lonely and decadent creatures, but with time they became more agile, I think I started to like them more and they became more likeable, and whereas usually fat dudes are shown in a certain light, I wanted to make their character more complicated and sympathetic.
HM: There are also the weavings I was mentioning before. Did you have some kind of epiphany that was like , “OMG, I need to have some of my stuff weaved’? What is the deep and inspiring philosophical plan behind this new method for making?
U: It’s something i always thought was really cool and when I came here and saw all the weaving and embroidery they do here I thought it’d be amazing to use it for the show, so I did a few tests and then figured it would work for the series i had in mind, of combining traditional and folk styles with my own.
HM: Unga, I’m really excited for you and your lady to get to Amsterdam. I think we’re gonna have fun and I’m very proud to be hosting your rad work at Andenken. Are there any parting thoughts you want to put out there? Advice for the kids? Shoutouts?
U: Well thank you so much for inviting me, I’m really excited to be back…and thanks for asking questions that are more thoughtful than the usual ones… Shoutout to Ghostown, NO WAY and the whole Haifa posse!