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Interview with Melina and Peter Rodrigo

March 1, 2005

Melina and Peter Rodrigo create illustration and design that comments on their social and political surroundings. Check out their excellent website risewithus.com. Also see the poster images that Melina contributed to the NoRNC Poster Project here.
What political or social issues do you address in your work?

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Most of our work revolves around poverty, racism, corporate oppression, and the overall climate of the American culture. We often try and address a point of view more than a particular issue. If your work revolves around one particular issue, it not only dates that piece, but also limits your audience because anyone who doesn’t think that issue pertains to them will pass it by. On the other hand, if you base your work on a particular principle, and find a way to put that specific principle into a general context, you not only reach more people, but also still get your point across.

How did you get started in art, what politicized you?
We’ve been making art since we were children. As far the political aspect it was a series of things including personal experience, books, and hip hop music.
Could you name some specific books, music, artists, or experiences that inspired you to create social and political art?
Living My Life by Emma Goldman is an incredibly inspiring book. We enjoy listening to the music of Immortal Technique whose lyrics expose a great deal about the system.
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What is the potential power of combining hip hop with community organizing?
There is really no telling just how powerful such a relationship would be, but it is safe to say it would be monumental, as hip-hop is the most popular music at this moment. But in order to make it a true success, it would have to be something that honestly got everyone involved. You see a lot of hip-hop campaigns like Vote or Die and The Hip-Hop Summit that generate support and attention, but at the same time there is very little awareness being created in terms of what can be done beyond the campaign itself. This is not to take anything away from Puffy or Russell Simmons, but at the same time they got where they got because they understood the system and what they needed to do in order to overcome it. They didn’t attend a rally and become moguls through someone else’s campaign. They took fate into their own hands, and I think that’s the real power of hip-hop.
Right now we have a bunch of people (rappers, producers, CEOs, etc) who are not only wealthy, but also understand poverty, racism, and oppression firsthand. They now have the chance to use their wealth, influence, and experience to open doors for others. If you sit back and realize that some of these rappers have made over 300 million dollars for themselves out of absolutely nothing, you can only image how much could be overcome if we used these same independent minded people and the empires they have amassed to continue our progression.
What is your artistic process (do you work from photos, collage, illustration, graphics programs), what materials do you use?
We use a variety of materials including markers, crayons, spray paint, photos, ball point pens, and cloth. As far as the computer we mostly use Photoshop and Illustrator.
Is it displayed and distributed only on the web or elsewhere?
Our work has been displayed in group shows across the United States and Europe. This year we’ll be in some new places such as Japan, Israel, and South America. We’ve also had our work printed on posters, apparel, books, magazines, and newspapers. We tend to display a lot of our work online. The web it is a great way to reach thousands of people.

You have participated in shows in other countries. Was your work site specific or relevant in a global context? What was the response to your work? Did the experience differ from shows in the US?
Our work has been in a global context. This started with the realization that everyone outside the US hates Bush. One of my friends from France wrote me with this response the other day. He said, ‘Your work is like a new “eye-opener” that is understandable by everyone all over the globe…your zines speak a universal language.’
The experience has been different because our work has been received with great energy and enthusiasm outside the US. Inside the US we have faced resistance and censorship.
What are you working on next?
We’re focusing on our apparel. Issue 9 of the zine is almost complete. Also getting posters together for several shows including Paper Politics West and a tsunami fundraiser.

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What is issue 9 of the zine about, can folks get it somewhere besides the web?
The zine is autobiographical. Lately I’ve been obsessing over snail mail. So issue 9 has the theme of postal mail.
My zine is currently only available on the web. The internet has allowed my work to reach far more people than I ever would have dreamed.
As far as print goes each issue is made at a 350 dpi resolution. I received quite a few requests for a printed version. I’ve been working on researching printing and the various other elements that are required. I hope to make a printed version happen in the near future.
What are your thoughts on art in public space or sold cheaply vs. sold
or displayed in galleries?

Aesthetically we love the way work looks on the streets and in less sterile environments. We embrace the idea of it being affordable. However, art is work and some pieces can be costly to produce. Artists deserve to make a living.
Do you put art up on the street?
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Somehow it keeps showing up there.
Melina, could you talk a bit about your style (which is very unique, almost childlike), and why you like to use humor in your work?
I was studying design and found the computer to be too impersonal. I also was tired of all my projects being client driven. I wanted to express my point of view and wanted my visual voice to maintain a human quality. So I started drawing in a primitive manner. I use bright colors and lively lines to invite the viewer into difficult subject matters like war,religion, and poverty.
Humor makes things more approachable. I don’t watch the regular news it’s far too depressing. I enjoy the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. We laugh through the whole thing. And as Oscar Wilde said, “If you want to tell people the truth make them laugh otherwise they’ll kill you.
Melina’s zine is in need of sponsors and she needs help to sustain the project. The cost of sponsorship starts at $30 and includes having a banner space above the next issue. She would appreciate any advice you could offer! Contact her at Melina[at]RiseWithUs.com

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