What You Know Bout Love: An Interview With Na’ye Perez

Na’ye Perez: What You Know Bout Love… on view at BRIC House through August 28, 2022. Courtesy of BRIC. Photo Credit: Sebastian Bach

On February 2, Haitian-Cuban artist Na’ye Perez introduced a new mural at BRIC House in Brooklyn, New York. The mural is titled “What You Know Bout Love…” and is named after the popular song by Pop Smoke.

According to the exhibit description on the BRIC House website, Perez’s vibrant mural features brightly colored streetscapes that “embrace resilience” and showcase Black presence in a Brooklyn neighborhood “through intimacy, love, and care.”

Perez, who received an MFA from the Pratt School of Design, has been described as a “constant observer” of both people and the streets he regularly passes through. “What You Know Bout Love…” features scenes based on a real New York block — where Flatbush Avenue and Duryea Place intersect.

Na’ye Perez: What You Know Bout Love… mural detail. Courtesy of BRIC. Photo Credit: Sebastian Bach
Na’ye Perez: What You Know Bout Love… mural detail. Courtesy of BRIC. Photo Credit: Sebastian Bach
Na’ye Perez: What You Know Bout Love… mural detail. Courtesy of BRIC. Photo Credit: Sebastian Bach

Perez included a variety of coded symbols into the mural to celebrate the multi-cultural communities that live in the Flatbush neighborhood. This includes a raised Black fist, a hibiscus flower, and back issues of Vibe and XXL from the 1990s. Viewers will also see images of Perez’s past work in his latest mural.

The foreground of the mural also features several images that illustrate the way acts of care are deeply embedded in the everyday existence of Black Americans — including those who call this area home. For example, he has included a mother braiding her daughter’s hair and a father feeding his kids a meal.

This is not Perez’s first mural to be named after a hip-hop song. All of his murals are titled after songs that resonate with him and contain messages about community and connection.

The mural will be on display at BRIC House through August 28, 2022. Those who want to attend can reserve their tickets here.

The following video from BRIC House’s YouTube channel also provides more insight into Perez’s work. The artist’s Instagram account also features some of his latest creations.

Interview With the Artist

Na’ye Perez portrait

You are a Haitian-Cuban artist working in Brooklyn. How did your cultural background influence your work?

I am a second-generation Caribbean artist, born and raised in the US. When I was younger, I used to lament that I was Americanized and lacked knowledge and ties to the Caribbean compared to my aunts and other family members.

Later in my life, I realized that this was not the case. The color schemes in my art are closely connected to my cultural background. My artworks are imbued with elements of Caribbean fashion, street art, and murals and share the same colors as the homes you may see in Haiti, Cuba, and other parts of the Caribbean and the greater Black Diaspora. The use of flora in my lino block prints and several Haitian phrases and references to history in my works are not random choices, either.

Understanding where my folks came from – the history of Haitian rebellion, anti-colonial/imperialist, and anti-capitalist history – and learning to question things beyond what was given to me served as background information while creating my art.

That’s why I focus on how our different communities are connected, how to bridge accessibility, and reclaim spaces or simply create our own. The diaspora connects in many ways. Plus, many shared experiences go beyond just Brooklyn or Los Angeles. That is why my work celebrates everyday life and the moments that make us who we are.

Tell us a bit about how you became an artist. When and at what age did you become interested in art?

I was born in Los Angeles, California, but I was raised between Columbus, Ohio, and Camden, New Jersey. I did not consider art seriously at all growing up due to life circumstances and the belief that fine art was only meant for the upper-class elite. It wasn’t until college (I attended the University of Toledo in Ohio for my BFA) that things changed.

At first, I wanted to become an engineer, but I decided to switch majors before my freshman year. Since then, I have never looked back. I was 19, and I didn’t know much about the art process or the formalities, nor did I care for them as much. My driving force was my eagerness to learn anything, intimidating or not.

To strengthen my drawing abilities beyond the random doodles of childhood, I learned photography, printmaking, and sculpture. I didn’t start painting until I was around 22 years old. I always aimed to share my stories in the best possible way.

My introduction to fine arts came through rap. I could connect to experiences and stories shared by my favorite artists at the time, such as 2Pac, Nas, and Kendrick Lamar, and I felt that I could do the same thing. Learning to combine different art skill sets and traditions felt natural, and going against the formalities of contrived art rules was important throughout the whole process.

If your artwork were music, what would it sound like?

It would sound like a playlist of vibes from rap music, R&B, compas, afrobeat, and more. I was influenced by many different artists, from 2Pac to Megan Thee Stallion, Wizkid and Tems, and Flying Lotus. They have all greatly inspired my art.

Fun fact about my “What You Know About Love…” mural: QR codes (unique to this painting only) are hidden within the artwork, and people can scan them for playlists curated by me and one of my friends on Apple Music and Spotify.

What is the role of the people, or “the crowd,” in your projects?

The “crowd” in my projects consists of everyday people. 80-90% of them are individuals I know; however, at times, I may get creative and stage something.

I typically transform my own experiences into poignant, tangible, and relatable narratives. These experiences could be from the past or simple observations of the places I have lived.

People who share some connection with me can see themselves within my work. For example, in my “What You Know Bout Love…” mural, there’s an image inspired by my mom braiding my hair and another showing my friends riding their bikes on the way to a friend’s house.

What makes BRIC a unique destination for an artist?

I appreciate BRIC’s commitment to the arts. This institution offers exciting and game-changing opportunities for emerging artists who work across different platforms: digital media, music, performance, and fine art. It creates spaces and organizes events that the public can attend for free (the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival is one such example). BRIC also allows artists to display their artworks for more extended periods, which is very different from the way traditional galleries usually operate.

What do you see as the role of an artist in society?

Art shouldn’t be an exclusive privilege meant only for the wealthy and upper-class people who can afford to visit galleries during regular working hours. People from diverse backgrounds should have access to various gallery spaces for free.

Additionally, people should not be limited to learning solely about predominantly white male artists who may have passed away decades or centuries ago. This limited perspective has shaped the beliefs and views of my community towards art. I want my community to be wholeheartedly celebrated and supported by both our own people and the broader public.

I know many artists who have worked as activists within their communities. We, as artists, must stop solely serving the interests of the art world and instead advocate for more accessible art for all people. Some of the artworks created are lost forever when they are sold and stored away in private collections. Nobody should feel disconnected, and certainly, nobody should be misinformed.

What artists have influenced your work the most?

I would say Carrie Mae Weems, Tschabalala Self, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Do you have a wild project that you dream of achieving someday?

I want to explore other mediums and art forms to share my stories. I have been thinking of creating maybe a sculpture or some performative pieces so that the public can participate in them; playing card games in a gallery space, for example, would be a great idea.

What other passions do you have apart from art?

When I’m not doing art, I enjoy writing and playing video games. But more importantly, I appreciate spending time with friends and people I care about. That is how my art is born, from those memories we create together—going to a party, playing cards, roller skating, talking about random moments of life. It’s important to me to be there for my community.