Interview with Cbabi Bayoc: on masculinity, fatherhood and using art to create new perspectives
I first discovered Cbabi when I spotted an amazing image of Lauryn Hill on Pinterest which he had created and have since fallen in love with his ethos. Cbabi (pronounced Kuh-bob-bi) Bayoc is an artist who has always known, and lived, his calling: creating art which reflects his love of music and family. This was in fact the reason he changed his name in 1997 from Clifford Miskell to Cbabi Bayoc. He wanted a name that would remind him of his purpose in life, when said. Cbabi stands for Creative Black Artist Battling Ignorance and Bayoc (which he waited for his wife to discover) stands for Blessed African Youth of Creativity. Cbabi wanted to have a last name that included the attributes of the wife who he was going to bear children with because the last name, he felt, should reflect both parents and not just the father. This is an exciting interview based on the sheer fact that he is an embodiment of self-creation and progress through his art form. This interview seeks to find his principle motivations and how he maintains a passion for his art as a male artist.
Cbabi stands for Creative Black Artist Battling Ignorance and Bayoc (which you and your wife discovered together) stands for Blessed African Youth of Creativity. How would you define identity and how has your identity influenced your art?
I think it is very important to have a sense of self. To know who you are, what you are passionate about, what makes you happy and what makes you sad. True living starts with an understanding of what you want to be your mark in life. With my art, I think it is vital to create work that black youth find an interest in. They are such a neglected population when it comes to the arts of this world. Understandably, many of the arts are limited to those that can afford the luxury. But exposure doesn’t have to cost. So I am very mindful of my audience and purpose when I pick up the brush.
There are still many challenges that black men face in society, what motivates you to succeed despite these challenges?
There will always be obstacles. But I truly believe in the notion that “What one can achieve, so can another.” There are too many examples of black men that have overcome tremendous odds to not believe that you too can get the upperhand in life.
Family is central to your current collection of artwork which reflects the beauty of fatherhood. What does it mean to be a Father?
Being a man that owns up to his responsibilities. Not in just the financial sense, but that is crucial in this capitalistic society. But also in terms of enabling your offspring (natural or adopted) to feel like whole human beings that are unconditionally loved. Giving them life lessons, affection and support in becoming who they are supposed to become.
There has been many speculations in the media that “Black Love” is dying i.e. the black family is at breaking point and black women are struggling to find partners to love. What are your views on this? Is it merely a media construct used to distract us or is there some truth in this?
I believe there are enough mates to go around. Everyone is not ready to be in a relationship. For those that are, they have passed their potential mate many times over. We are a picky society. I take most of it as hype.
In line with the above question how would you define “black love”? Does love really need to be defined by racial identifiers at all?
Not at all. I think folks need to be accepting of who they fall for and know that there will be some things that will surprise you. But If you can love someone unconditionally and look past skin, more power to you. I want my kids to be happy. I don’t care what race the person is. If they love them, good enough for me.
The love and respect you have for women is evident through your artwork. Would you consider yourself to be a feminist?
I have a long way to go to consider myself eligible for membership in that club. LOL. I think I am close though.
Can art be used to assert social change, particularly with regards to family and gender politics?
Art has been used for propaganda forever. It most definitely can help facilitate change. I believe once art is attached to a message. Whenever folks revisit the art and put in context, it has the potential to re-germinate the seeds of change in their mind. The next step depends on the actions of the individual or group.
Which of your pieces do you feel expresses the essence of who you are most accurately?
“With Love.” A piece I did early in my relationship with my wife, Reine. It is a brother playing an upright bass. The instrument is my wife. When I am doing right and we are in tune, beautiful music comes out. When I am off and not in the right space, it’s a mess. I am working at getting consistent with my ability to stay in tuned with my wife. Because in my world and that of my children, that is all that matters.
Do you create based on your own loves and passions or do you keep in mind the desires of others?
Most of my work is based on my own desires. When I work for others, I have to put some of myself in it to make it through. When I paint with the whole intent of pleasing and getting paid, I fail.
How does masculinity shape the art world in your opinion? If at all.
Art like most things in life, have been dominated by males. But it doesn’t have to be. It comes down to exposure. There are some powerful women in the “art world.” And that will continue to grow.
What does it mean to be a man? (in a spiritual & artistic sense)
No longer being a boy. Excepting responsibility for yourself and those you vowed commitment to. Living an honourable life and being able to admit mistakes and work to correct them because you and you only need to own up to them. Don’t really have an artistic definition for manhood. But I do feel it comes from a different place to paint fathers and kids, as opposed to a woman painting the same subject. Because of where society is, the subject has a feeling of sincerity in our desire to be more present and that I too feel a need to be part of the change.
"Our future is bright" is a painting of me and my sister and my dad. He is crying because he is troubled inside and in the near future will make a suicide attempt. He didn't succeed but did succumb to complications that led to pneumonia which ended his life. We were young. It is bigger than our story. It is a sad truth for too many. But it definitely has defined me as a person. Our future is bright but my mom could do so much. Really, the source of the rays has to be our divine inspiration to help us find our truth. It's an ongoing struggle, but very doable.