Corey Bulpitt: Haida meets hip hop

by Yasmine Shemesh

Corey Bulpitt has always been an artistic person. When he was in Grade 3, he got in trouble for scribbling on the walls at school (an appropriate precursor for a future artist that would later be celebrated for his graffiti work). Scribbling evolved into finding creative ways to pen his initials. As a teenager, he attended Langley’s Fine Arts School and began tagging. “I remember just sitting in my room and coming up with AKOS,” he says of his tag name. “It stands for Another Korruption Of Society, which is kind of what I felt.” Bulpitt, adopted as a child, was naturally drawn to the expressive elements of hip hop, finding an intrinsic comfort in graffiti, MCing and break dancing. “I think there was something inside me that needed those things,” he says. “Once I found my Haida culture, I really understood why I was [so] connected to hip hop.”

Anxious to explore his roots further, Bulpitt travelled to Haida Gwaii at 19 and met his birth parents and his uncle, master carver Christian White. What intended to be a short vacation turned into a four-year apprenticeship under White’s wing. “I studied a lot of older pieces and became more fluent in a more traditional style of design,” he explains. “It’s a continually growing process to try and master the space and form.” Bulpitt, whose Haida name is Taakeit G’aaya (“Gifted Carver”), learned the teachings of classical Haida masterworks, monumental carving, oral histories and ancestral ceremony. Only once immersed in the crux of his heritage did he realize how deeply its parallels with hip hop ran. “For me, the cultures are really similar,” Bulpitt says. “An oppressed people, people coming from poverty levels, people that are broken.” The intentional smallpox epidemic of the 1860s devastated the Haida and nearly wiped them out entirely, leading to years of displacement, social injustice and dysfunction. “I think people get sick of [feeling like] that and bond together as a family, like a tribe,” Bulpitt continues. “Through those bonds create a new, positive generation.”

Fusing Haida design with street graffiti, Bulpitt makes a statement. He joins yesterday with today, building a contemporary aesthetic that uses hip hop as an utterance of his own personal journey and history—physically through his hand and metaphorically through what it represents. “When I’m spray painting now, with Northwest Coast style art, it’s like the movements create their own dance as I’m creating the piece,” he says. “It all kind of interconnects.”

AKOS, a collection of Corey Bulpitt’s reflective works, is on display at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art until January 25, 2015.

Published in print and online at www.beatroute.ca, December2014

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