For the month of November, the featured artist from BAC’s Registry is Brooklyn-based performance artist Kilusan Bautista. Kilusan’s work includes theater, spoken word, poetry and multimedia. He is also the Founding Director and Performer of UNiVERSALself. We sat down and asked him a few questions about his practice.
Kilusan Bautista strives to build cross-cultural unity & personal empowerment through the performance arts.
Where are you from? How long have you lived in Brooklyn?
I was born in Long Beach, California and raised in the Mission District of San Francisco, California. I moved to Brooklyn on 8-8-2008, so 5 years and loving it! I’ve lived in Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights and now Downtown Brooklyn.
How long have you been a practicing artist?
For over 14 years I’ve dedicated my life to sharing my art with the world. At the age of 19 I was fortunate to begin touring the country as a spoken word artist with an Asian Pacific American group known as 8th Wonder. My debut as a playwright was in 2002 where I wrote about my Father’s story in overcoming drug addiction entitled “A Tuyo In The Sun.” And my current work, “UNiVERSALself,” is a solo multimedia production that explores my personal/cultural identity in Urban America. UNiVERSALself has taken me around the world, performing in over 60 venues and reaching over 20,000 diverse audience members.
Who or what influenced your decision to become an artist?
As far as I can remember my mother loved watching Broadway musical videos especially Westside Story & Grease. I saw the power in those shows because my mother would always end up crying and as a child I wanted to have that ability one day.
In elementary school, my older brother and his friends taught me how to BBOY in my grandmother’s garage which introduced me to Hip Hop culture. But it wasn’t until I was blown away by Denzel Washington’s performance in Spike Lee’s film on Malcolm X which inspired me to begin developing my voice, my speaking abilities and acting skills.
And lastly, John Leguizamo’s one man show “Freak” was the inspiration for my development as a solo performer, sharing my lived experiences with the world.
What do/did your parents do for a living and were they supportive of you becoming an artist?
My mother, Thelma Bautista, is a Sales Associate and she has always supported my development as an artist. I could count on my mother being present at my shows and in encouraging me to do my best.
My father, Anthony Bautista, was a former drug counselor and as part of his own drug rehabilitation he allowed me to conduct oral histories interviews with him which was used to create my first play “A Tuyo In the Sun.”
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California at Santa Cruz. I majored in American Studies with a concentration in Ethnic Studies and performance art.
What inspires you artistically?
I am inspired by the wonders of storytelling both onstage and offstage. I am inspired by the greats such as Shakespeare and Lorraine Hansberry. I am inspired by the stories told to me by my grandmother, my elders, by people who have endured struggle in life and have lived to testify the lessons learned. I am inspired by the collective human spirit.
Which other artists inspire you?
Joe Bataan, the King of Latin Soul, the Afro Filipino who is just an Ordinary Guy from Spanish Harlem inspires me to remain diligent in expressing myself and working hard everyday.
Lemon Anderson, Creator of County of Kings, a native son of Brooklyn, inspires my poetic sensibilities and daily hustle.
Dulcinea Detwah, the Coolest Kid of all Eastsides in the world, inspires me with her musical process and open heartedness that attracts collaborations from a broad range of artists.
What is your favorite place in Brooklyn to visit for inspiration?
I love running around Cadman Plaza Park. I laugh, I cry, I scream, I imagine the infinite here. There is a massive memorial in the middle of the park dedicated to veterans of World War II. It reminds me of my great grandfathers who served in The Philippine Army during WWII and they are the reason why my family was able to immigrate to America in the 1950’s.
Do you make a living from your art? If not, do you have a day job?
Yes, I am very fortunate to make a living as a freelance performance artist. I organize my own performance tours throughout the country especially in colleges/universities. I also conduct arts education workshops that concentrate on racial identity, race relations, creative writing and theater. I am an independent contractor with the NYC Department of Education, using UNiVERSALself as a literacy model for GED students in Brooklyn.
How did you get started presenting your work publicly?
In college the spoken word poetry scene experienced a great resurgence. Artists such as Saul Williams were taking the world by storm and I wanted to be a part of that world. So I began performing at open mics throughout the country such as the Nuyorican Poets Café in the late 1990’s. This led to my development as a playwright and producing my own work by any means necessary. As a result, my current work UNiVERSALself was premiered at the former Rebel Diaz Arts Collective in the South Bronx in 2010. But my vision for UNiVERSALself is to be produced on a Broadway stage as a pioneering production about contemporary Asian Pacific Americans in urban America.