Unity and Community, One Board at a Time
An Interview with Jeffrey Cheung
In the vast realm of the art world, artists constantly strive to express themselves and make a statement. However, the pressures of the industry often force artists to conform and lose their individuality. Jeffrey Cheung, a talented painter, musician, and skateboarder, has navigated these challenges by integrating his diverse interests and beliefs into his craft. Through his art, Cheung has not only found personal fulfillment but has also created a space for others who have been historically excluded. His initiative, Unity, is a printing press and skateboard company that aims to support queer people, trans people, and people of color (QTPOC). By building a community and providing a platform for artistic expression, Unity celebrates the contributions of QTPOC individuals in diverse realms such as art, music, and skateboarding.
Embracing Multiple Passions
Eben Benson, in a recent interview, sat down with Jeffrey Cheung to explore how he maintains a balance between his various passions. Cheung describes how skateboarding, visual art, and music have served as outlets throughout different periods of his life. While he initially focused on skateboarding during his teenage years, he gradually shifted his attention to art and music. These creative outlets provide Cheung with an opportunity to express himself, albeit in different ways. Although managing his passions simultaneously can be challenging, Cheung finds that shifting his focus from one to the other helps him maintain a sense of freshness and prevent burnout.
A Personal Journey
Jeffrey Cheungâ€™s journey into the realms of visual art, skateboarding, and music began at a young age. Visual art was his initial focus, followed by skateboarding, and eventually music. While these interests were mostly separate during his younger years, they all served as personal outlets, allowing him to navigate the challenges of adolescence. Skateboarding, in particular, provided him with a means of physical escapism and exploration. Being actively engaged in art, music, and skateboarding from a young age has enabled Cheung to maintain a deep connection with these passions as he continues to support and empower the queer community through Unity Skateboarding.
A Commitment to Oaklandâ€™s Community
Despite the gentrification and loss of its creative community, Jeffrey Cheung remains committed to Oakland. Having grown up in the area and with family still residing there, he feels a strong connection to the Bay Area. While acknowledging the negative changes and displacement, Cheung emphasizes the existence of positive resistance and vibrancy within creative and queer communities. He draws inspiration from the queer skaters he has met and the community they are collectively building. By actively supporting queer and marginalized individuals through Unity and witnessing the support and resilience within the community, Cheung remains hopeful for the future of Oakland’s queer people, skateboarders, artists, and counterculture.
Expressing Through Art
Art as a Personal Outlet
Jeffrey Cheung candidly discusses his shyness and reluctance to verbally express himself. Rather than relying on verbal communication, Cheung prefers to convey his thoughts and emotions through art. Painting and creating queer visual art have been critical in helping him navigate his own sexuality and identity. By making his art public, he found a way to cope privately while also creating a sense of connection with others. Cheung’s comfort in expressing himself through art allows him to embrace vibrant and ambitious projects that might otherwise remain unspoken.
Parallel Spaces and Inclusivity
One notable aspect of Unity Skateboarding is how it fosters inclusion. By creating a parallel space for underrepresented communities within skateboarding, Unity challenges traditional norms and celebrates diversity. Jeffrey Cheung explains that the presence of queer, trans, and people of color in public spaces can subvert existing narratives and effect change both within and outside the skateboarding community. This growing movement has garnered support from prominent figures within the industry, including skate shops and influential individuals who recognize the importance of visibility and representation for queer skaters.
The Art of Personalization
A noteworthy element of Unity Skateboarding is the hand-painted boards. While many skateboard companies opt for printed designs, Jeffrey Cheung takes the time to personally paint each board, ensuring a unique and personalized touch. Although the process can be time-consuming and physically demanding, particularly given the growing demand for Unity’s boards, the act of hand-painting allows Cheung to empower his friends and queer skaters. The hand-painted boards hold significant meaning, symbolizing empowerment, and bridging the gap between art and skateboarding.
Supporting Queer Skaters
Unity Skateboarding goes beyond hand-painted boards. The initiative hosts queer skate meetups, where they connect with queer skaters in their area and provide boards, shirts, and other skate-related items to attendees. Additionally, Unity has organized skateboard giveaway days specifically for queer teens and QTPOC individuals. These efforts aim to support and amplify the presence of queer skaters, particularly within the skateboarding community where they may be underrepresented. By offering resources, spaces, and skateboards, Unity strives to create inclusivity and support for all queer skaters.
Changing Narratives and Creating Space
Tokenism and Genuine Support
When discussing tokenism within the skateboarding community, Jeffrey Cheung acknowledges that Unity has experienced both positive support and potential tokenization. While they have received significant support from individuals and the skateboarding community, they remain cautious of collaborations and media coverage. Cheung emphasizes the importance of aligning with like-minded and genuinely supportive individuals and publications to ensure that Unity’s mission and values are accurately represented and celebrated.
Unity’s Impact on the Art World
Unity’s goals extend beyond the skateboarding community. Through Unity Press, Jeffrey Cheung and his team aim to create a platform and creative space for queer and marginalized individuals within the art world. By focusing on zine-making and hosting free print days and workshops, Unity Press empowers individuals to find their voice and contribute to a more inclusive artistic landscape. Recognizing the lack of representation and accessibility traditionally found in art spaces, Unity seeks to challenge norms and foster positive queer visibility in all aspects of society.
Celebrating Diversity and Visibility
Unity’s impact goes beyond its own initiatives. Jeffrey Cheung observes a growing movement within the skateboarding community, spearheaded by various queer skate crews and organizations. From Atlanta to New York, Los Angeles to Santa Cruz, numerous queer skate meetups have emerged, creating spaces where queer and marginalized individuals can fully express themselves through skateboarding. Unity actively supports these groups, both locally and in other cities, promoting their events, providing skateboards, and fostering a sense of unity. This expanding queer skate movement is inspiring and holds the potential to reshape the skateboarding community, making it more inclusive and celebratory of diverse identities.
Looking Ahead and Inspiring Change
Hope for the Future
Jeffrey Cheung remains hopeful despite the challenges posed by gentrification and loss of creative communities. He draws inspiration from the positive resistance and vibrancy within creative and queer communities. Joined by like-minded initiatives such as Lower Grand Radio and Take Care Tapes, which provide platforms for marginalized voices, he envisions a future where the art world becomes more inclusive and diverse. By actively supporting each other and creating spaces for marginalized individuals, positive changes can be realized.
A Personal Journey
Jeffrey Cheung’s artistic style has evolved over time, transitioning to cleaner lines and more gestural characters. While his artwork previously reflected a sense of chaos, his current style emphasizes shapes and forms while still retaining elements of spontaneity. The evolution of his style is a natural progression, influenced by years of drawing and painting.
If asked about favorite movies or albums, Jeffrey Cheung’s answers may not be predictable but are certainly intriguing. One film that stands out is “Happy Together,” a Hong Kong queer film from the ’90s directed by Wong Kar Wei. The rarity of seeing queer Asian main characters in films resonates with Cheung, making it a memorable favorite. As for music, Cheung doesn’t hold any definitive favorites but expresses enthusiasm when queer, POC, and womxn are in the spotlight.
Jeffrey Cheung’s journey as an artist, skateboarder, and musician is an inspiring testament to the power of self-expression and community-building. Through Unity, he has created a platform that celebrates and supports queer individuals in various artistic fields. By focusing on inclusivity, empowerment, and visibility, Unity challenges traditional norms in both skateboarding and the art world. As the queer skate movement continues to grow, with various initiatives and events taking place across the country, the future holds promise for a more diverse, inclusive, and vibrant creative landscape.
1. How can I get involved with Unity Skateboarding?
To get involved with Unity Skateboarding, you can attend their monthly queer skate meetups if you’re in the Bay Area or participate in events organized by other queer skate crews across the country. Additionally, you can support Unity by purchasing their hand-painted boards, shirts, and zines. Stay connected with Unity through their website and social media to keep up with future events and initiatives.
2. Can anyone join Unity’s queer skate meetups?
Absolutely! Unity’s queer skate meetups are open to anyone who identifies as queer or is an ally. These meetups provide a safe and inclusive environment for people to connect, skate, and express themselves. Whether you’re an experienced skater or just starting out, Unity welcomes you to join their community.
3. How can I support Unity’s mission as a non-skater?
Being a non-skater doesn’t limit your ability to show support for Unity’s mission. You can support Unity by spreading awareness about their initiatives, attending their events, purchasing their merchandise, or even making a donation to help sustain their projects. Amplifying their message and celebrating the contributions of QTPOC individuals in art, skateboarding, and music can make a significant impact.
4. Are there other skateboarding initiatives similar to Unity?
Yes, there are other skateboarding initiatives with similar aims and values. Pave the Way Skateboards, founded around the same time as Unity, and Catasstrophe Skateboards are both exceptional queer skate projects worth exploring. Additionally, organizations like Skate Like a Girl, Skate Witches, and Brujas focus on supporting womxn and queer individuals in skateboarding. These movements collectively contribute to a more diverse and inclusive skateboarding community.
5. How can I contribute to creating more inclusive art spaces?
To contribute to more inclusive art spaces, it’s crucial to support and celebrate artists from marginalized communities. This could involve attending exhibitions and events featuring artists from diverse backgrounds, purchasing their artwork, and amplifying their voices by sharing their work on social media or in conversations. Additionally, advocating for inclusive practices and representation within art institutions can help create a more equitable and diverse artistic landscape.