Interview With J*RYU For The Little Lotus Project

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The superstar crew Army Of Snipers, a collective of some of the top names in the art & vinyl scene, have set their sights on Spinning Top’s humanitarian art’s program on the Thai/Burma border – the Little Lotus Project! For the second straight year, AOS will be teaming up with the New Zealand-based charity organization to lend a dozen pairs of helping hands to teach, create and inspire the displaced Burmese refugee children and document the amazing journey on film as a followup to Daniel Zana’s Vinyl Frontier. I recently linked up with the super talented sculptor and AOS artist , J*RYU (pronounced Jay-ROO) to get an inside perspective to this groundbreaking initiative and find out how you can show your support on Kickstarter.

WB: Yo yo yo! What’s up J★RYU?

J★: Hustlin and grinding Wheelbarrow, how are things?

WB:Things are slammin’ over here in the Kidrobot world.

J★: Cool cool.

WB: What’s up with this humanitarian art project I hear you and the Army Of Snipers are getting into, The Little Lotus Project?

J★: Yeah, we’re really excited about this project.  An organization out of New Zealand called Spinning Top has a program called the Little Lotus Project that has an art and music outreach program specifically targeted towards Burmese refugee children that have been displaced by the civil war in their country. These refugees are now living in terrible conditions in Thailand. And so the LLP was created to help these children be exposed to arts and music and hopefully help inspire and enrich their lives. Last year was the first year and Army Of Snipers had two crew members go there to help – Peap Tarr and Tanja Jade (Misery). They loved the experience so much that they encouraged more of us to see if it would be something that we’d be interested in participating in thus, myself, Woebots, Ritzy Periwinkle and Sheryo from AOS will be joining them hopefully for this LLP2 alongside Peap and a few other artists from NZ.
We’ve just created a Kickstarter page to help us with fundraising – all of the people involved are volunteers so we’re responsible for figuring out how to get there.  Our Kickstarter will hopefully raise enough money so that we can go and try to rep the scene, show that as artists, we have been blessed with talents and it would be rad to see how they can enact positive change in the bigger scheme of things.

WB:Wow!!!  This is quite an undertaking, culturally and creatively. How did the Army Of Snipers get involved with Spinning Top and LLP? Cause you guys have Snipers all over the world, right?

J★: Yes yes, AOS is an international crew that Woes put together that brings like-minded artists together in an effort to enact positive and quantifiable change with the opportunities that we have been given.  Each Sniper has their own hustle going on, their own projects and events – when we come together tho, we believe that strength in numbers allows us to be able to even greater good and maybe even bring attention to causes that we may feel personally connected to, such as the LLP
Peap Tarr (AOS Cambodia) and Tanja Jade (AOS NZ) were part of the first LLP
Peap is originally from NZ and he, along with Tanja, are pretty active in that part of the world.  They got hooked up with Spinning Top and were two of the inaugural particpants in the LLP.  They had such a good time helping out that when part 2 was being planned, they knew they wanted to get more of us involved.  Thus, this time we will have 5 Snipers there representing.

WB: That’s amazing! The video of the first trip looked like it made a huge impact on the kids lives there and put some smiles on their faces.

J★: Yes!  Absolutely.  These children have very very little to look forward to.
The Burmese civil war has been going on for decades there is no indication that it will end anytime soon. And with them now in Thailand, they aren’t considered citizens of that country so they live in refugee camps along the border, beside large trash fields where they hopefully can find recyclables and the such to earn a meager living

WB: So they are just kind of pushed to the side and left to fend for themselves?

J★: Basically, yes. Without the help of organizations like Spinning Top, it would be a much more dire situation.

WB: How does art and music help?

J★: Simple.  We go there, help the children through the use of these mediums, do some cool projects and then bring back the art work for sale to help raise money for the cause. With that money, it can be used to create ecosystems like gardens, clean water systems to prevent disease, and buy animals like goats that could feed a family. Yeah, this isn’t about just giving them money. This is a representation of the adage “…teach a man to fish” If we can participate in high-awareness programs like this, and then raise money through the sale of art, give them the money to use on sustainable solutions – we can empower a whole communities of people and
encourage them to become self sufficient while they await the situation in their home country to resolve.
The public will get to see what is going on once the documentary is finished.

WB: That’s pretty incredible that you guys are taking it to a new level this year. While inspiring them and giving them a hope with creating art, you are turning that into “quantifiable change” and spreading that creativity across the globe to raise funds.

J★: Yes!  Exactly. It is important that we take a moment to think about that. I was very blessed from a young age, my parents were supportive I had a propensity towards art, and to go from having my stuff hung on the fridge door to where I am now, it’s a bit surreal

WB: That’s such a rad and humbling way to look at it.

J★: And now to think that we can change the lives of some people that are in real dire need?  Crazy!

WB: Not everyone has that support structure to aid and encourage that creative spark.

J★: Yeah, it’s a blessing.  I know it sounds kinda hokey but really, when you think about this scene, how it’s about making cool things, and having people love them enough to buy? We’re really fortunate. But with AOS, one of our goals is to tie opportunities like LLP, with the talents that we were born with. We’re not the best painters, sculptors, designers etc. out there.  That’s not the point. The point is that if you do happen to have shine, that people know your work, that they appreciate your work and talk about it….let’s see what we can do to also raise awareness to good projects all over the world. If this project goes well, this will be just the beginning of what we hope to be a string of projects like this.

WB: Absolutely. All of us take for granted that creating art is natural, but take away a few of the finer things in life and one might loose that great form of expression each one of us are capable of.

J★: Yes.  Exactly and i understand that not everyone has the time nor means to do it easily. This isn’t easy for us either. I guess the point is that everyone can help do something bigger than themselves

WB: It’s really great that Daniel Zana will be rolling with you guys to capture this humanitarian art project for his follow up documentary to The Vinyl Frontier.

J★: Oh yeah!  That’s crazy huh? He got involved because we were talking about what we had going on and I mentioned this project and over time, we talked about the mission, etc and he seemed very keen on figuring out a way to help out. It’s almost a perfect followup to the Vinyl Frontier. In that movie, he introduced our scene to a bigger audience of people people that have no idea what we do, how we do it, etc. and with this followup documentary, the stage has already been set that there is this scene out there. Now what can they do on a broader scope with this particular type of art.

WB: Now you all are opening up the doors to the vinyl community to give back in diverse and creative ways

J★: Hopefully.  It is definitely uncharted territory in a lot of ways. You know how there seems to be a little stagnation in this scene the last few years. People come, people go in this scene but the hard core players are still in it.
Whether it’s because we like the comradoree or love doing what we do, there hasn’t been a huge influx of new people into it. For us to grow the scene in general, we have to continually find new ways to bring people into the fold, expose people to what we do.

WB: And I’m sure there are a ton of folks out there though, that have a heart and would love to support these efforts too. They just don’t know how to go about doing so.

J★: You know, that’s an interesting point but there are so many ways to help even in your local community.
Don’t forget that Kidrobot is putting your money where your mouths are. Thank you for being a sponsor – the donation of MUNNYs etc so that we can incorporate them into our programs in Asia will be HUGE.
these children have no point of reference when it comes to anything.  Not pop culture, not events, etc.  They have no idea who we are other than just artists.
So for them to be exposed to art while working on a relatively new platform like Munnys to express themselves?  Amazing.  It will truly be a transcendental experience for both the children and the people involved.
So a huge thanks and much love from all of us to you guys over there for being one of the first sponsors to agree to help us.  We are super humbled and thankful.

WB: Kidrobot is super stoked on helping this creative cause.

J★: For sure, we’re honored to have you guys as friends and supporters

WB: I see that you have some ridiculous incentives for contributors ranging from $5-$1,000. Including some custom 3-inch Dunnys by yourself.

J★: Yes – the trip is not going to be cheap so we wanted to offer up rewards in exchange for donations that would show our supporters how much we really appreciate their help. It’s funny, I hadn’t really seriously customized a dunny before NYCC and even then, they were on the spot drops. I started off like everyone else, buying Dunny and such and I love the platform still. So I figured this would be an opportune time to offer up customized versions by me of one of the most ubiquitous platforms out there.

WB: It doesn’t matter what platform or medium you sculpt, the outcome is always original and inspiring.

J★: Thank you so much, that means a lot to me.  I know that my style is gothic, a bit dark for the mass market but I hope to bring back some emotive and narrative elements and apply them to platforms or within OG sculptures. Because when you can create an emotional connection between a piece and the person that purchases it, I believe that I’ve done my job.

WB: Yeah man! That’s when you put the art in art toy.

J★: For real.  I didn’t start out doing art in hopes of creating a fan base. It was a very natural and organic way for me to express my personal style and the dark places in my head. Creating art based on what resides in you, and then letting the world decide if it’s for them…that’s just a very freeing thing. I understand art by design as well because my background is design…but for me at least, the art side of things is a way to express myself without many constraints. I have been very fortunate that it has seemingly been received well and that I can call many of the people in the scene that I look to for inspiration my colleagues. That’s the true nature of this scene anyways.

WB: It’s with these natural tendencies you possess that will take you farther than any paycheck will

J★: Yeah man, the money?  It comes and goes so quickly. Do you remember what you spent your last paycheck on? By teaching the children in Burma to create and express what they too are naturally feeling.

WB: They will be feeling the effects of this experience for the rest of their lives.

J★: Yes, absolutely! I liken it to this: remember when you were at school and you may have had to ride a school bus there. Everyone has missed the bus home before so you are waiting for your parents to come pick you up, but it may be an hour, 2 hours… That wait was interminable for whatever reason you wanted to get home.  Eat.  Play video games.  Watch TV.  Play with your friends.  etc. But even those 2 hours were hellish and when you saw your folks come, that feeling of relief was like none other. Now imagine a life like that, just waiting, trying to occupy your time, survive, learn, become educated, help your family without ANY indication that someone is coming to help or when. This civil war in Burma has been going on for, a generation. Now i’m not saying that we are going there to save them. No, not at all. We are going there to do what we can with what we have at our disposal and hopefully let them know that someone else is aware that they are in trouble. And yes, could they use straight money? Absolutely.  But let’s be honest, the world is desensitized to a lot of things and we’re in a down economy, there is a litany of options for us to donate to, why this one ??? Well, why not.

WB: That is a good question, and a completely reasonable answer.

J★: We have the chance to inspire a group of children to figure out a way to maybe use latent talents, that don’t need a crazy amt of investment, to figure out a way to help themselves. We are there to help and inspire, bring some money in, and hope that it gets the ball rolling with their innate desire to do well on their own. These are not lazy people.  If you take a look at the video, they are living in squalor. Sometimes the kids are pulled from the schools because the parents decide that trying to earn a living today so that they can survive the week  is more important than education, a base necessity for people to eventually flourish. One’s gotta think about that decision making process – education or survive the week.

WB: It’s a vicious cycle.

J★: And it happens all over the world. So hopefully, we use this project as the first of many. Perhaps this experience will open eyes to what else can be done in the bigger scheme of things that can enact change for those who really need it. AND having to do with something we all love – the art. It’s a win win!

WB: It not only takes the idea but the will to execute that idea. And to finally get off of your rump to make it happen.

J★: Yes, and I know that we can’t all be super monkish, dedicating our lives to causes. We have families, we have wants, we have needs….stuff to buy, things to eat, places to go.

WB: No, but we can at least do our little part.

J★: Yeah, for real.  $6 combo at BK?  Or eat at home for $2 bucks and donate the extra $4 to something you believe in. It all adds up and it all helps. If we are so lucky to raise all of the funds and we do go over there, you can be sure that we will represent our entire scene and show them what we are capable of.

WB: That it does. And it all comes back.

J★: There are only a couple of times when a large amount of our people are in one place, most notably SDCC, I often think about the people in this scene, my friends and colleagues and I wish they could be experiencing all of the events with me. When we go over there, we will bring all of you guys with us in spirit, that’s for sure and hopefully, it will be the beginning of many projects to come

WB: And we will be following you all on Twitter for live updates.

J★: For sure! @jryu @ritzy_p @angstwoes @sheryo @peaptarr @armyofsnipers We’ll be setting up a blog that people can check to follow the journey. I’m not 100% sure there will be wifi but if there is, we will post as much as we can and let people see what we are doing each day.

WB: That sounds excellent!

J★: When we return, be on the lookout for gallery shows where we will present the artwork of the children of Burma. We are tentatively planning a show in NYC, LA, and New Zealand.

WB: I really appreciate you going into the heart of the matter behind The Little Lotus Project and Army Of Snipers.

J★: Absolutely WB, thank you so much for taking the time.  Thanks also to Gabe there and Kidrobot for being a premier sponsor and friend to the scene. We’ll try to do you guys proud.

WB: It’s our pleasure homey!

With just over a week left on Kickstarter, you too can show your support here.

If you’re a store/distributor/brand and want to spread the love, contact Army Of Snipers for sponsorship opportunities.