Artist Interview: Keith KDub Williams

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Can you tell us a little about your piece?
Yeah, it’s about a connection that was made between a brother and myself in South Africa, a community of skateboarders in South Africa. I produce and build skate parks here in Oakland and The Bay Area, but more specifically Oakland. We’re beginning to build a kind of relationship, a kinship, together of brown-skinned folks who skate around the planet.

How long have you been involved in skating?
I skated when I was younger and then in 2005 I created a skate event called Hood Games and what we do, we started taking over communities, taking over streets, parking lots, bringing out a bunch of ramps. And we started getting pro-skaters to come to the hood to skate with the kids. But there’s also art making and fashion shows and music and everything.

So you see a strong connection between skating and art?
Oh yeah. Yeah, that’s what I like about the skate community. All the arts are disciplined and all art disciplines are in skate culture from the board designs, to the tracks, the wheels, industrial design pieces. The videos that guys make if they want to be sponsored. A lot of them have their own music that they make. And then of course the distribution, you have to get your work out there. And then there’s the popularity of the soft goods, you know, shoes, shirts, clothing. We have a lot of hip hop artists now that are starting to pick up on it and have skater themed albums and songs and things like that.

How have you seen the skate community change recently in San Francisco, with the theme of displacement?
I think it’s really interesting that San Francisco probably led the way with the most diverse skate community in the late 80’s, early 90’s through EMB and stores like FTC. They had a great roster of skaters of color and they displayed them in their ads, and in their apparel and videos. And the theme of it was really grassroots San Francisco. So many skaters migrated here from other places in the Midwest and the East just to be apart of this scene because it was so unique. People associate it with a Southern California surf thing, which a lot of the culture definitely is but street skateboarding San Francisco and New York kind of led the way.

Do you feel like skate communities of color are particularly vulnerable to what’s going on right now?
Well, I think we need to build for ourselves. That’s what I did just now– I had a wood skate park in Oakland for years and two weeks ago I opened it and we took a whole section and made it concrete. West Oakland, where I live, is definitely going through a lot of changes. I wouldn’t even say its displacement of African-Americans, you hear white folks moving in talking about being displaced from San Francisco. It’s all about economics. If you have an economic base then you can readily stay pat, but if not, you’ll be moved. So as much as it is about gentrification, its more about an economic base. Some folks felt before that, when they moved into San Francisco, they would be okay but there’s always people with bigger money looking to take over. Like with the Mission and what have you. It’s happening to Oakland now. So, for my skate park, I said, “We’re gonna be here. I’m gonna make sure we have something for these kids. Instead of wood we’re gonna make it concrete.”

What is the skate community like in South Africa?
I mean, the brothers are really organizing. [Pan African Skate Association] They’re really trying to unify and do a bunch of contests and things for the kids in the community. Which is the same thing I’ve been doing here. So, we’re beginning to build some kind of communication with brothers in the other part of the world, but especially there. It’s important to let folks know, and our kids know, that there are folks just like them doing their thing.

The good thing about skateboarding that I really like too is that even when I was younger, messing around in South Central LA, we’d hear about a spot–this was before texting and everything else–we’d hear about a spot or see a spot in a magazine and we’d find it and go look for it. You’d get your boys and you’d go. So I like the fact that it’s nomadic. And when you don’t have a team, or coach, or organization, it’s kind of on yourself to figure it out. For skaters its not a problem getting outside of their community and doing their thing. It’s about showing up and challenging yourself on this object, what’s gonna happen. That’s all it’s about.

Do you think the nomadic nature of skateboarding could be beneficial for kids right now who are being displaced? Do you see skateboarding as an outlet for those kids?
Definitely. I know so many skaters who come out to the park to skate to get away from things. Didn’t want to do this, didn’t want to do that, didn’t want to join a gang, didn’t want to follow a younger or older brother whatever, and [skating] gave them the opportunity to just be free and challenge themselves, you know. You put your headphones on and you’re in your own world. I definitely see that. I see it everyday.

About the Interviewer:
Elena Gross is a CCA Extern for SOMArts Cultural Center and a graduate student in the Visual & Critical Studies program at California College of the Arts.