Maceo Paisley | Tao of Maceo

by Anahita Safarzadeh

Los Angeles native, Maceo Paisley’s collection of essays on what it means to live a full life unpacks and invites others to reflect on their position in a chaotic world. The book, Tao of Maceo, written by the multi-disciplinary artist, designer, and cultural producer, hit the radar and within two weeks and pre-sold hundreds of copies.

Maceo career took him to national stages as a professional dancer, spoken word artist, and performance artist. Within the realms of the book, Maceo showcases his creative expression through movement, language, and imagery by turning what began as social media posts into a deep philosophical and personal journey to identify morality, love, and purpose.

Tell me about your project the poetry aspect.

Yes, so basically it’s a bunch of things. Parts of it are poetry and just give people a sense of the feelings that I’ve lived through and what I think is going on. The other part is unpacking my beliefs and what I think is important and what I think it means to be a human being. All about self discovery, self analysis. Trying to be a better person.

How do you relate this to your performative aspect?

The whole idea is that by using art  am better able to understand my whole life. I have an art practice which informs my life practice. Life is this big improvisation and through dance I become better in touch with my ability to adjust to any environment and adapt to any changes in my life. Whether it is a break up, or the loss of my mother, or something crazy happening on tv. In the same way I dance and move around and adjust music and rhythm and different people that come into my life, art gives me the opportunity to use those skills in my life too.

With poetry, how long was the process? Did you find as you finished a piece you changed as a person and it changed how you understood the work?

Yes. Think of it like different life stages. I am a young kid growing up at an event, and when I am older I look back on that same event and yes I understand it differently but I still have the same experience of being an eight-year-old. So you end up with, as I say in the book, I have multiple identities, like Russian stacking dolls. Inside of me and inside of us there is each different version of what we were, and each one of those builds up every day making who we are.

Do you ever feel like you ran into moments of shame and reflection, and how do you respond to that innately?

Yes, In the book I talk about regret and learning. For me, if I an look back on the lessons I learned and turn them into blessings, ok cool. This is something that I probably wouldnt do again, and that’s great. But, I look back o it and don’t regret it because it still made me who I am. The contemplations and self critic is super important, giving me opportunities to not make mistakes in the future, and learn before I’ve made the mistake in the first place. I think it’s about learning to love yourself and I think art gives you the freedom to try and do that.

Will you be continuing to perform this particular piece?

It’s going to take different iterations. There is the film portion called Dynamite which I did with a director Layla Jarmin. And it was composed and scored by this guy Michael Sempert. We have the film element still touring and going to film festivals. That piece is in the book. And, I have performance art practice that include a program called Untangling Manhood. A lot of that material is in the book, and I will still go around and perform at museums and also the film will be going and I’ll be doing readings as well. Plus the collateral: Photoshoots, YouTube videos that are all supporting it that there is a bunch of context for people to engage with.

Who is your collaborator in the performance.

Brianna Mims, she is getting ready to graduate from USC in performance or dance. She’s a great improvisation dancer and we worked together to create a piece that we performed to one of my poems, which we danced to, called Objects in Motion.

Is this something for the crowd to interact with or something more reflective.

This is something more reflective. You hit people with so much content that they’d process it in real time in a gutteral way to be less cerebral, more heart-centered. We went through it quickly, then Q&A, I think it was good. Tears were shed and laughs were had and I think people left with new ways on thinking of old things.

I feel like your work is more heart focused and less head focused.

I think it goes back and forth. If you’re a heady person then I’m going to try and bring you back down to your heart. If you are a hearty person and you’re always emotional then I wanna bring you into thinking about things more to be smart about it. That’s also what Citizens of Culture is about, the nonprofit that I run. If we can get both going, then we’ve got a good shot.

Can we talk more about that Citizens of Culture ?

Citizens of Culture is an arts nonprofit that develops critical thinking and emotional intelligence so we use art as a platform to open up important conversations about identity, relationships and work. We have a space in Chinatown where we do art shows and bring people into talking circles. A place to fight the loneliness you might see in LA sometimes. It’s cool and hip and we’re doing interesting things but it also has this passion behind it.

How do you see that project expanding?

We are going to grow and do more therapeutic programs to bring services into the artwork and then expand to do an educational program to give people the opportunity to learn new life skills: relationship and management and communication, or business and creative skills.

How long has it been around?

We’ve been at this space for three years, for two years before that we geared up the program. Five years in total, before that it was really just a blog I was running.

Who inspires you, who do you look up to?

The idea is that - I would say I looks up to Mr. Rogers. If I could be a cross between Mos Def and Mr. Rogers then I would be very happy (laughter).