AFH Alumni Stories: Edition 01 — Mushen Kieta
Mushen’s introduction to AFH was brief — he ran into a family friend, Jason Talbot, Co-founder and Special Projects Director at Artists For Humanity, at a gas station. The day, July 9, 2005 is something he remembers with stark clarity.
“I was fourteen,” Kieta recalled, remembering how Talbot, along with his art, was a constant presence at his home. “I kind of looked up to him, so I showed him my sketchbook. He said,
‘You got a job? Come to this thing tomorrow and you have a job.’ And that was that.”
To fourteen-year-old Kieta, AFH was attractive for a number of reasons. First, it was a paid opportunity to make art. No stranger to creativity, Kieta had dabbled in video games, Photoshop, and web development since he was eleven years old.
It wasn’t until he was thirteen that he bought his first sketchbook with the intention of practicing drawing. Additionally, Kieta also wasn’t a stranger to AFH. Well connected to several original and integral participants through his family, it was a familiar setting.
“I just wanted to get better at drawing, get better at art, and sell more paintings.”
This drive for drawing and painting eventually gave way to a greater devotion to a different interpretation of art. While Kieta had experimented with several mediums during his childhood, he had always found a passion in videography and filmmaking. From making home movies with his brother when he was twelve to attending the Computer Clubhouse, an after school program at the Boston Museum of Science where Kieta learned to work in Photoshop and Dreamweaver, filming was always in the back of his mind until he took the initiative to bring his passion to AFH.
“When I was sixteen, a lady from Lesley University came to AFH and she talked to the kids about a program that they were doing,” he said, describing the Lesley University run program where teens would learn about film every Saturday. “I signed up for that and after,
I talked to Susan Rodgerson [AFH Founder] and was like, ‘Can we get a Film Studio?’ She talked to this guy, George Cox, who shot a video for AFH and they hired him to be a mentor for a temporary Video Studio. I joined and during my last summer at AFH, they made it permanent.”
The inception and creation of the Video Studio also produced Kieta’s most memorable client job — a filming venture for John Hancock — during his final summer at AFH. The job required a large scale approach that Kieta admired.
“It was a big event with big names. Usually we would film about twenty people but this was around two thousand people. It was at Boston University’s stadium and it was just huge. We were the only people filming and it was just like, ‘This is so cool.’
It was really what I ultimately wanted to do, making movies, so I had tunnel vision. All I cared about was filming and editing at that time.”
While many proud moments at AFH revolve around the creation of art, Kieta cites learning to let go of his artwork as a defining part of his AFH experience. Though much of his work consisted of self-portraits in various scenarios, such as on a one dollar bill, riding a moped, checking his watch, or waiting for the bus, Kieta remembers a particular painting he deems his favorite: a painting of several sumo wrestlers eating, executed in his preferred style at the time —thick, clean, monochromatic line art.
“When I was done with it, someone wanted to buy it and I was like ‘I want this painting, I want to keep it,’” Kieta said. “But I look at it now and I have no attachment to it. He explains, “I learned about progress. I now know that whatever I create, even though I like it, what I create in the future is going to be better. Because in order to be a professional artist, you have to be able to do that.”
“This growth, and being able to acknowledge that I was growing, was my proudest moment.”
Kieta graduated from the Snowden International School in 2008 and spent the next years between New York City and Boston. He began working full time and at the end of 2009, bought his first camera, a DSLR, as well as a laptop. This launched his ability to work towards learning how to use the camera, and he started to film and edit multiple projects.
“I watched an insane amount of tutorial videos, YouTube videos,” he said, explaining how he was self-taught. “But for the most part, a lot of it just came from thinking about what I was doing.”
Although much of the work he was doing were his own personal projects, Kieta found it validating and fulfilling to gain the experience. He later upgraded his camera and began a project where he documented the Berk High School football team, as well as an interview-based video for one of his previous mentors, Maggie Brown.
“It was about being able to show some kind of potential. I got good feedback from it, people liked it, and I got hired by an AFH alumni for a documentary through NBC.”
This documentary project, one that took Kieta from LA, to Minneapolis, to New York, and to Hawaii, was just the beginning for Kieta.
“It kind of made things feel like I was moving in the right direction,” he said. Shortly afterwards, Kieta began taking on more jobs and projects and began taking a more goal-oriented approach to his projects. Through this, Kieta was able to see how applicable what he learned at AFH was to life outside of the studio.
“AFH taught me everything I needed to know in terms of artistic skills, entrepreneurial skills, and being able to sell myself as an artist in order to be a professional.”
Kieta continues, “If I hadn’t gone to AFH, I would have had to learn those skills somewhere else or teach myself or come to some realization. It might have never happened or it might have taken ten years,” he said, speaking to the experience he gained without necessarily going to art school.
“Confidence, entrepreneurial skills, learning how to sell my work, learning how to talk about my work — that’s one thing that you go to art school for and you learn. I didn’t go to art school. I didn’t go to college, but you learn how to talk about your work at AFH.”
In retrospect, Kieta recognizes that AFH presented an opportunity that set him on the entrepreneurial path he is on today.
“If I hadn’t gone through the program, I would’ve given up a long time ago in terms of being an artist as a career. That very first summer at AFH showed me how you really can make money as an artist.”
This path — and this opportunity — is just a part of the AFH impact that Kieta describes. While there are the practical applications of being able to work as a teenager, Kieta places importance on the social connections made and the communities formed from his AFH experience.
“If you have a building that houses a whole bunch of teens, it spreads in a crazy way. I would give my friends drawing assignments, like giving them homework, trying to get them to become better at drawing so that I could get them a job at AFH.”
“I started seeing myself open up and stop being so shy. I got my first girlfriend at AFH, I just noticed myself more. I feel like that aspect of reaching out to other people, that’s definitely an AFH attribute.
Even though coming from a big family has some influence on the way I function with people, I’ll say that it’s mostly from AFH.”
Kieta currently resides in Boston, MA and is a freelance videographer. For a glimpse of his work, visit Mushen Kieta’s reel here.
This interview was conducted and written by Grace Yuh and Jane Elmets for Artists For Humanity.