First, I want you to introduce yourself to the readers. Who is Estria Miyashiro? Where are you from? When did you get your start in art?

I started in ’84. My friends were breakers and we saw graffiti on things like the Jelly Bean album and in the movies Breakin’, Beatstreet, Wild Style, Style Wars. Our first piece was with an airbrush and a can of compressed air. We climbed into a canal and tried to airbrush the word ‘fresh’ on raw concrete. People stopped to watch, no one thinking it was illegal. We got to the ‘R’ when the air ran out. It got us juiced enough to get spray paint and try it again. That was the beginning of a life-long love affair. I also want to mention the X-Men and TOP – my old NY crews.

What attracted you to graffiti? What made that your chosen form of artistic expression?

I don’t think I had a choice. I think the medium chooses you. I do love stuff that defies the norm so that was probably my attraction to writing.

You’re considered one of San Francisco’s pioneers and a fixture during it’s Golden Era of muralist and graffiti work. What does it mean to be a pioneer? Do you feel burdened by the responsibility of being a pioneer?

I think all creators should pioneer and to continue to explore, in their medium and in their life. We have to take chances and share the lessons with others.

How has graffiti scene changed from your start in the 80s up to now? Do you feel the generational gap is too big or do the two sides build with one another?

I’m not qualified to speak on this one. Don’t really know the current scene.

What is the Estria Foundation? Can you please describe the group, what it means and share some of its history and mission statement?

The Estria Foundation was founded to raise awareness on critical environmental and human issues through the creation of art. We started with Water Writes, an 11 city series of murals from the Philippines to Palestine to South Africa. We learned two things: that access to safe drinking water for all was the #1 issue on everyone’s mind, and that sometimes it was more important for on-the-ground work to be completed rather than making the mural. That grew to Mele Murals, which is an on-going series of murals across the Hawaiian Islands. This was formed because we believed that teaching youth was the long game for a real lasting change. What is unique about that series is we find cultural and spiritual workers in each area that guide us. We teach meditation and grounding and through that, we get our concept for each mural. The goal is to connect students more with where they are so that they become guardians of their place.

Is art an important political tool? If so, why? And do you feel artists have a responsibility to use their art for political means? {this question is meant to deal with the make $$ vs. make a difference mentalities}

Most definitely. Writers are scribes and visual storytellers. You can choose to make money at art. I think it’s more important to embrace the role of the storyteller in society. We must push for what is pono (just, balanced). This is why whenever imperialism happens, the victor eliminates the loser’s ties to the past, to their land, to their culture and ancestors. They come in the night for the artists because we spread the truth.

Can you tell me about Mele Murals and their importance to the cultural and artist scene in Hawaii and abroad?

Mele Murals is a way for disconnected members of a community to come together in learning and sharing. We bring together kupuna (elders), kumu (teachers), artists, haumana (students), cultural practitioners, and business people. Together they heal the land, and on a spiritual/energetic level, the murals often become centers of healing and creativity. Hawaiians are about 10% of Hawaii’s population now and many are homeless. Yet our culture continues to be the dominant way in the islands. The murals are experiences to connect more people with that and to cement our stories (many of which are not in print) into the fabric of the communities. Returning tourists want to learn more about Hawaiian culture, and the murals are a great tool for that.

You do a lot of great outreach work; helping young people get involved in art and finding a way in this world. What would say has been your career’s highlight in relations to art?

The whole point of my work is to teach wonderment to children. If they become inspired and connect, I have done my job well. One person told me how he used to be in a gang as a young teen. The mural in his school yard made his gang realize it was not right to conduct their activities on a school campus. He said the mural had a direct personal relationship with him. It contributed to his leaving the gang and becoming a community activist and union organizer.  If I get to be a part of even one more story like that, I’ve been blessed.What advice would you share with anybody reading this who may be struggling, not only artistically but on a personal level too? What would you say to help give them some perspective on life?

I cannot stress enough how much meditation has changed me. It’s one thing to silence your mind, as that improves your focus in all things. It is another thing entirely to become grounded and connects with your ancestors and guardians. To have your own direct, personal connection with the supreme raises your vibe to enlightenment and love. Meditation has given me faith, allowed me to grow, to forgive others and myself, to shed the ego, and to listen to the world around me. It has helped me to embrace my role and given me answers for the path I’m on.

This quote by our last queen has so much ‘ike (wisdom). Only through meditation have I been able to begin to understand it.

“To gain the kingdom of heaven is to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen, and to know the unknowable – that is Aloha.  All things in this world are two: in heaven, there is but One.”- Queen Lili‘uokalani

Last question before we go. Is there anybody out there you’d like to recognize or show appreciation to for supporting you over the years?

Thank you to my mom and grandparents for always supporting me and my crazy ideas! Mahalo to all the writers out there who put the voice of the people on the walls! My old NY crews the X-Men and TOP.
Mahalo to Matthew for this opportunity to reflect on my own growth and to share a bit of my story.

To follow ESTRIA MIYASHIRO head to his Instagram