Dancers and humanitarian activists, Spidey Guster and Crystal Castillo-Guster, collaborated recently with photographer Brienne Michelle on an underwater photoshoot to embody the calls for justice of the Black Lives Matter movement as protests encompassed the globe last May putting a louder voice of solidarity behind the movement than has been seen in recent history. After the shoot, Spidey posted one of the pictures they took to social media and captioned it, “I’m trying to tell you, but I’m being drowned out.”
Crystal and Spidey run Zulu Dance Foundation, a hip-hop dance program for kids in California, Texas and Hawaii, based on the Zulu Nation principles of peace, love and unity. The foundation sponsors Listen LA, a Los Angeles based organization that strives to give people of color a platform to share their experiences. With this partnership, the couple has helped organize protests for the Black Lives Matter movement that use art as a medium of peaceful expression. “We’re professional dancers. Dance is our passion. We did a protest where we had dance performances and speakers,” said Crystal.
Familiar with Brienne’s underwater work, Crystal and Spidey reached out to try and coordinate a photoshoot as another method of getting out the message. “Bri’s known about our Zulu program. She knows our hearts; she knows we’re for the kids. We’re all about peace, love and making the world a better place,” said Crystal, “I was like ‘Yo, you think we could do something with Black Lives Matter using the water as a (way to symbolize) rebirth? A new uprising is coming.’”
“My primary concern was to bring to life and give a visual voice to what they wanted to say,” said Brienne. “The artistic element — we’re in an environment where somebody can’t breathe — was not lost on me. This country has been drowning in racism for a long time. I like the idea of, maybe this time, we’re finally going to get to the oxygen.”
Currently, the couple is organizing a gallery (exhibit) for the photos. “I wouldn’t say it’s a form of protest, we’re not going to march, we’re just trying to let people listen to black people’s stories,” said Crystal. Spidey, Crystal and Brienne all vocalized how important they believe it is for people to truly listen to black voices.
“I don’t know how important my voice is. I haven’t had to live under this for 400 years. I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to hear what black Americans are saying and amplify that,” said Brienne, “It still blows my mind that it is controversial to say that black lives matter. If we can’t even agree on that, how are we going to reform the way that policing is done in this country or change the judicial system?”
In the past, Spidey’s dad was involved with the Black Panther and Nation of Islam movements. “My dad says, ‘You have two ears, one mouth. Two ears for more listening, one mouth for less talking,’” said Spidey. Crystal and Spidey recently filmed a documentary about his experiences.
“We’ll be premiering that at the gallery. It’s showing his dad, my father-in-law, protesting during those times and hearing Malcolm speak. Now his son protests where it has gotten better, but the issue is still there. We’re going to show that at the gallery as another form for people to listen, through film,” said Crystal.
“What my dad was saying, from his time to now, is we need to love each other more. That’s what we need more than division. Instead of trying to figure out who’s right, who’s wrong, we should all love each other and then go from there,”
Both Spidey and Crystal appear in the photographs. However, Spidey, being black, was the focus of the shoot to better capture the pain and injustice that affects the black community to this day. Crystal and Spidey acknowledged that some people simply don’t understand or recognize the issues. The two hope that their art and the photographs will help more people understand, by showing them something beautiful that has a deeper meaning.
“My husband is obviously black. Things with police encounters that he’s unfortunately been through, I don’t think are okay. It affects my heart because I know the amazing person that he is,” said Crystal.
“I can honestly say I haven’t been this vocal since I’ve been alive. For me, it was like time’s up, I have to <be> because I need to know what side I’m on. People are like, ‘there’s no side.’ There is a side and I’m choosing to be on the side of what I call my ‘black ohana.’ I’m Hawaiian. In Hawaiian culture when something’s wrong you speak up. And our black ohana is hurting so I’m going to stand with them.”
WORDS BY ANISHA KOHLI