Travelogue: Day 1 in D.C. / In-House Studio Session with Mensa Kondo @ Columbia Heights 2/20/2014

On my way out of the NE wastelands of New Jersey.
On my way out of the NE wastelands of New Jersey.

I couldn’t get out of New York fast enough this morning. From the apocalyptic weather patterns to the constant hustle + bustle of attending show after show, being everywhere and anywhere at once, my work began to feel more like a hurricane made from the lethal drops of Chinese water torture. So, like any sensible adult, I took a vacation.

I decided to take up an offer with my father who was heading down to the nation’s capital to conduct some heavy business with a federal organ out of the White House looking to develop advanced technological grids throughout Africa through his company. I didn’t care so much for the glitz and glamor of Washington officials and talk of Obama’s mission on the mother continent, but rather appreciated the change of scenery. And off I went, speeding 80 MPH down Rt. 295 and into the infamous Delmarva Peninsula for the weekend.

Gentrification in D.C. neighborhood.
Gentrification in D.C. neighborhood.

We first passed through uptown D.C., home to some of the nation’s poorest citizens, gentrified within ghettos, antiquated in their limited devices and left to the Fates of abject poverty as a result of lazy legislation and fat cat politics. I hadn’t been down in Maryland to visit my family in almost a year, maybe two even, so seeing all of this was refreshing in the least morbid way possible. Reminiscent of the abandoned post-industrial towns of North Philly and Camden, the nation has a funny habit of showing its true colors in how they regard particular communities in terms of how little they maintain infrastructure and industry in areas populated by brown and black working class folk throughout the country’s most urbanized cities. While dazed in this revelation, we arrived to our hotel in Foggy Bottom. I then hit up my boy Mensa Kondo, a D.C.-native fine artist, to see if I could come through to chill with him at his spot and rap about his latest projects, plans for the year, and these super rare Yu-Gi-Oh! cards one of his after school student gave him that afternoon.

Overview shot of the iconography of D.C.'s metro station.
Overview shot of the iconography of D.C.’s metro station.

Hiking up to Columbia Heights was nothing short of a small feat. I learned much about the lack of relativity in metro transit outside of New Jersey and New York – of how the subway shuts down at 12AM sharp, no one looks or talks to one another, you have to pay to get out of the station, and those who are colorblind are practically up the creak when looking for the color-coded metro lines (Blue, Green, Orange, rather than NYC’s 1,2,3,A,C,E). But I learned some fun stuff too. The stations are beautifully crafted, a true semblance of art, craftsmanship, and Romantic architecture. Like Grand Central Station, the iconography of the interior’s design is both lofty and luxurious in a sort of modest way, revealing the careful brilliance of its architect. I thought to myself that I wouldn’t mind living in the area for a few months, but then remembered I would grow nostalgic of Harlem’s hustling streets, Williamsburg Yuppie townsmen, and Union Station’s 1st-class entertainment.

After about a nice 30 minute transit ride north from Georgetown, I finally navigated my way to the front steps of Mensa’s humble abode, his porch flooded with tuscan light from a dark lantern hung above. We journeyed into his cavern for a room, a very comfortable space for a young artist like himself to occupy, and settled down in the bedroom, misted with East Indian aromas of incense and cooking spices (he’s a brilliant chef, so I’ve been told).

Kondo and print maker rapping with each other over fun topics.
Kondo and Cloe rapping with each other over fun topics.

Wandering down the cool-toned basement, we descended steps into Mensa’s headquarters where I found his work station to be most impressively stocked with high-grade supplies and materials. A low-ceilinged, funky in design space, Mensa turned on some Digable Planets, throwing us back into a time machine set in uptown D.C. ’95, setting the mood for a laid back and chill evening. I spent some time catching up with him on his whereabouts, some of the work he’s been occupying himself with, his plans for upcoming gallery showings, his older brother’s burgeoning rap career, and miscellaneous topics ranging from spirituality to the various struggles of the left-handed artist.

I remember the day I met Kondo. It was Afro Punk 2013, doing a collaborative installation with mentor Coby Kennedy on the entire Red Stage in Commodore Park in extreme and languorous heat, on his birthday, and with a patience set in an unassuming persona I just couldn’t quite understand. He was my first real artist interview, speaking of graffiti as a “quiet hobby,” and thereafter our friendship grew from there. He’s an incredible visionary and revolutionary artist, compact with an eclectic eye for bold and fearless imagery – morbid, moving and gorgeous in one fleet of fine paints and charcoal all on an honest canvas. I comprehend his recent work as a “brilliant chaos,” and “heaven in atrophy”. A conscientious mind, his work can sometimes be seen as an angry articulation of a visual journal entry at a time of absolute frustration and turmoil. With potent detail, color balance and attentiveness – and sometimes a blatant disregard for color consonance – patience, ingenuity, love, care, joy, sadness, pain, aggression and spiritedness, all are engrained and embedded within the water colors, screenprints, and ink drawings of Mr. Kondo.

Work in progress. Finished product coming soon.
Work in progress. Finished product coming soon.

Be on the look out for updates on his whereabouts in and round the NYC and DC-metro areas.

For the visual re-cap of my exhibition to D.C. and quality time with Kondo in Columbia Heights, check the gallery below.

Peep the music player below for the soundtrack from my excursions into the DMV – Fool’s Gold Records artist, Black Atlass, and his latest project, Young Bloods EP, available for download on iTunes.

Get entranced, get committed, and go find some local artist to support.

In-Studio Session w/ Mensa Kondo @ Homestead Headquarters

Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C.

February 20th, 2014


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