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Each canvas in the series measures 60 by 33 inches, but the statement each makes looms way larger. Arizona’s SB 1070 law, which many feel encourages police to racially profile Latinos, takes America a large step towards fascism. Ultimately, the decision to allow America to turn on the come-one-come-all philosophy that once made it the most progressive country in the world rests with we, the people. And it is the people whose minds Chuck D seeks to move with By The Time I Got To Arizona, his limited edition fine art collaboration with notorious Los Angeles creativity house SceneFour that was released to the public March 4th and has rapidly become their fastest-selling piece in a line of artwork that includes collaborations with RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan and Bootsy Collins. “This statement of artwork is maybe reminding people that they gotta have more of a voice,” says Chuck. “We can’t rely on the people who are scrutinized – quote unquote ‘illegal immigrants’ – to speak up, because they’re terrified by some sort of terror law that has been enacted upon human beings. And the United States has bogarted their territory under the Manifest Destiny principle which basically doesn’t speak to human development as far as sharing the planet. Where do we go with that? Make a statement in art, and hope that they will stick.”
Few figures in music are better suited to tackle this topic than Chuck D. From the moment he stepped on the world stage in the ‘80s with Public Enemy he has crusaded relentlessly in the name of America’s oppressed. Arizona in particular has drawn Chuck’s ire in the past, from Public Enemy’s 1991 song “By The Time I Get To Arizona” which slams the state for not recognizing Martin Luther King Jr Day, to last year’s “Tear Down That Wall”, the musical counterpart to the art piece. Chuck stresses, however, that he doesn’t consider Arizonians bad people. “I think [all this] is a coincidence over the last 25 years. For years [Arizona] was a refuge for a lot of people to take their attitudes, build a space apart from each other, and just go down there in a different type of climate and kinda sit still without having to capitulate to other beliefs, just like a lot of places in the West. So I think a lot of those beliefs happened to travel with people wanting to get out of areas where they didn’t really feel like living with people as much. It was a latter-day coincidence that Arizona turns into the Alabama of now. Arizona is a beautiful state, people know it’s beautiful. I think the people who are actually taking these attitudes in the wrong places, they actually know it’s beautiful too and they want to keep it.”
Each canvas in this limited series of 300 is signed and numbered by Chuck, comes with an authenticity placard, and bears an aerosol stencil of the Public Enemy logo. Hidden within the piece are more than 30 various figures, lyrics, and messages for viewers to find, making it an artifact that reveals itself fully over time.