Beautiful People: The Brujas Prove Collective Community Action Still Matters

Beautiful People: The Brujas Prove Collective Community Action Still Matters

The Brujas are an anti-racist, anti-capitalist, feminist political organization made up of native New York youth who hail from the Lower East Side, Washington Heights and Brooklyn. To promote their central values of "fire to the prisons," "fuck 12" and "fight gentrification," the collective produces streetwear apparel and programming that includes events like their Sucia Parties (summer - fall 2015), Fuck Summer Camp (2016), Anti-Prom at which Cardi B performed (2016) and the New Museum Scamming the Patriarchy Conference (2016). Inspired by Young M.A., GHE20G0TH1K, Assata Shakur, Silvia Federici and the Rainbow Coalition (the multiracial coalition made up of members of the Young Lords, Black Panthers and the Young Patriots in 1960s Chicago), the Brujas show that when young people get together to share space, creatively promote their values and celebrate culture and life, anything is possible.

Below, Brujas co-founder Arianna and fellow members Rebecca and Ripley respond to PAPER's Beautiful People questionnaire.

When (and where) are you most creative?

Arianna: It's funny because it feels intuitive to answer this by saying something like I feel most creative when I am producing music, Playing Bass or DJing, skateboarding, designing, or planning events, but actually my favorite creative space is when I am reading a book or writing. Words are my favorite creative medium because they are where I believe I can release my most most intentional and unique thoughts.

I love sports, streetwear, as well as visual and sonic mediums and have spent a lot of time developing my creative voice within those formats but if you sit me down to write or read, it's like my secret weapon / process. I was known by my professors for taking complex theories and philosophies and finding unique ways to apply them to the areas I had cultural expertise in. For example, at Oberlin I was granted a research fellowship to explore the relationship between fictitious value and labor, traditional marxist concepts, and the buying and selling market. I was able to use ideas developed in the 20th century to explain how young buyers and sellers are capitalized on by powerful streetwear companies. Making connections between dynamics within my cultural environment and critical theory is what really makes me tick.

How did you get your start?

Arianna: Many of the BRUJAS parents were creative influencers before Instagram and the inevitable decline of the arts community in the Lower East Side via gentrification. Our parents used to throw block parties, advocate for clean public spaces in LES including gardens and parks and play in a bunch of bands. The movie "RENT" was like legitimately our parents life and "KIDS" was like our older cousins and mentors actual childhood. We were grandfathered into the legacy of community organizing, music, and fashion in the downtown NYC arts scene. Though the creative imagination and spirit of our art was always present, it wasn't until I began to study the ways my peers were making moves, whether opening a skate shop (CASINO) or putting out skate videos, or cutting records and making music videos independently did I realize that I too could put forward creative work despite the majority of the art world being dominated by men. Working as SZA's bass player opened me to the commercial art world, which was a great learning experience, especially coming from an academic environment (Oberlin College) where there was literally no interest amongst students in marketing. Currently I have reverted to a more knowledge focused approach to my work that prioritizes the influence and historical context of NYC skateboarding and civil rights organizing.

What are you working on right now? Can you describe any current projects or activities?

Arianna & Ripley: Right now BRUJAS is gearing up to release our first completely Cut & Sewn line "EACH ONE TEACH ONE." The line will be accompanied by a syllabus for a course we developed titled "Burning Down & Dreaming Up", which is being launched on September 25 as an online course that anybody can take! The course focuses on how we navigate various institutions and how to prefigure the world we want to live in.

What is success to you?

Arianna: Success is growth. Success is wellness. Success is also falling down and finding the strength to pick yourself back up. I experienced a major hospitalization ( over 6 weeks), survived a few accounts of assault and abuse while in school and on tour and have arrived at one of the most wholesome and best times of my life.

Do critics matter?

Arianna: Absolutely, but just the ones you would choose to be on your thesis defense committee. Everyone should build and identify an advisory board that they can reach out to before dropping major projects, those are your critics, your best friends. Don't worry about the people who have ulterior motives that guide the formation of their opinions about your work.

Do you think about legacy?

Arianna: The only thing keeping most Anarchists from complete cynicism r.e the state of the world is the legacy of resistance they can situate themselves in. Sometimes it really feels like no matter how hard you try, how just your cause is, there is no point in battling a system that has seen hundreds of years of dominance with no intention of slowing down. The brilliant part of capitalism is its resilience, the way it is able to implode, combust, create contradictions and hurdles within its own inefficiencies, and still survive and adapt. I would like to see the same resilience on the part of civil rights movements, so many people fought before us, we have to do it for them even if there isn't a clear victory in sight! I think about the legacy of some of the first professional black skateboarders from NYC, like Ian Reid, Harold Hunter, & Keenan Milton. My favorites.

Rebecca: The idea of legacy is extremely important when it comes to the future of social change and civil rights. My dream is to make it through school to become a history teacher. I want to teach the youth what I can about the certain legacies we have been institutionalize to believe, along with the harmful falsities they are taught through. Pieces of cultural history have most definitely been destroyed and re written in the favor of white supremacy, though legacies most certainly can be re written through education of the newer generations.

What advice do you have for someone looking to break into your industry?

Arianna: I was lucky enough to find a few mentors who saw how hard I was hustling for my vision. It really pays off to work or intern for people you admire. We don't really operate in an industry we operate in a community that is extremely creative. We need help breaking into the industry HA !

Did you ever give up (or want to give up)? What were the circumstances?

Arianna: All the time. Health issues, cyber bullying and infighting, mean girls & gossip. I usually turn inwards and focus on books and composition.

What trends in your field do you find most exciting / are you most optimistic about? What about your field is frustrating? What would you like to see change?

Arianna: Commodifying subculture and political ideology is nothing new but some of the disillusionment around the revolutionary potential of social media, editorial, and markets can be frustrating. Deep structural change on an economic level will take more than branding & images to achieve.

What was the first moment you knew you were going to be able to do this as a job – not necessarily your first big break or success, but the first time you thought, "This is it, this is my career"?

Arianna: I was behind stage seeing Earth Wind and Fire perform at Bonaroo in 2015 and I was like, this is it, this is where I want to work, is this my life?! I am excited to continue working in music and cultural organizing.

What's been the biggest choice you've had to make in your career so far?

Arianna: Taking a job touring while finishing my last year of college at Oberlin was a risk because I was compromising some of my ability to focus on school, which feels way more secure than the music world, which notoriously recycles and exploits people. The work experience was important however I regret not taking more time, growing up is trash (I ended up using all my credits to graduate early).

What is your morning routine like? (What time do you get up? Are you a coffee or tea drinker? Any breakfast routines?)

Arianna: Figure out what I can change around in my day in order to sleep more.

Ripley: Roll out of bed, drink coffee and pull a tarot card, grab some fruit, pack a change of clothes (you never know where you'll end up!), 100 strokes of a brush through my hair, and then head out the door.

Rebecca: I try to keep my house as green as possible so watering and minding plants (alongside my three cats) are some of y first priorities. While drinking bustelo I blast some music and do my morning sweeping/mopping/dancing rituals, smack my face with some agua de Florida and keep the day pushing. Burning some palo santo and gathering my thoughts with prayers to our mother help me through my many difficult days. Mornings can be rough for some of us!

What are you most excited about for the future? (Can be about your career, your personal life, the world - anything.)

Ripley: Working with my friends and comrades on projects that bridge the gap between the political and the cultural. Opening my heart to love. Excavating my trauma. Loving my friends even bigger and stronger than ever because of my open and healed heart.

What are you most worried about for the future?

Ripley: Our collective ability to work together across difference to address the multitude of ways that this societal structure is built to marginalize and control and dominate and discipline. To be honest, climate change is the largest crises facing our world, which has been and increasingly is affecting black, indigenous, and poor communities disproportionately. It's more than worrisome, it's mortifying.

Are you good at giving advice? What is the best advice you've ever given?

Rebecca: I have always noticed that people and friends throughout my life have come to me looking for advice- even though I never have my own head screwed on quite so tightly. Even in regards to our group, I could be completely disconnected from a specific project but the other members will always reach out to me for my opinions on everything from politics to event specifics or even how I feel about the new designs other members are working on. It feels great to be apart of a team that will always consider the different perspectives we all hold. I don't think I could speak on the best advice I have ever given, though I know the diversity of my life story is what draws people to my input.

What makes a person beautiful? What makes you beautiful?

Arianna: Kindness, softness, vulnerability, honesty, pure intentions for one's actions that don't involve social climbing and ego-boosting.

Ripley: Beauty as a concept is dictated by norms. No other way to put it. I wish I could be the kind of person who is like "everybody is beautiful!" but really, norms of whiteness, thinness, cis-ness, able-body-ness, and the like, they structure our understanding of beauty. They dictate our material conditions as well. My life is as much structured by my proximity to these norms as everyone else's; however, I do, in my day to day try to confront and dismantle these fundamental understandings.

What are you most proud of?

Ripley: My ability to be a good friend, which often involves having hard and painful conversations.

Arianna: Going so hard all the time at everything.

Image via Annie Powers