Street artist Joaquin Lamar Hailey, better known as Chor Boogie, has another personality: Love Man. The idea came to the San Diego-born artist two years ago while on a spiritual, medicinal journey in Gabon, Africa. He had been "back on the lesson," he says, doing drugs and living a toxic street life after 13 years of sobriety. But his wife, performance artist Elizabeth Bast, was determined to heal her partner. The couple traveled to Gabon for a spiritual ceremony involving the medicinal root iboga. After ingesting it, Hailey entered the spirit world. He destroyed his deeply rooted negativity, threw it in a trash can, and set it on fire. Love shot out of his third eye, cleansing him of the desire for toxin and inspiring him to create.
Tomorrow night, Hailey will premiere "Hieros Gamos" at Macaya Gallery, an exhibit of works inspired by this quest.
"After a while, you can see everything [in my work] getting lighter and lighter. You can see in some of the paintings that I put hearts in them; those were literally parts of my superpower," the artist says.
Hailey's father comes from Africa, and his ancestors practiced Bwiti, a spiritual discipline of the forest-dwelling Babongo and Mitsogo peoples of Gabon. He reconnected with them that evening in 2014.
"They say, 'Once a Bwiti, always a Bwiti.' So I called upon my ancestors, and this pyramid just pops out of the dark, blows out, breaks the walls down, and on top of it is a ten-foot-tall Bwiti shaman. His skin was made of galaxies and stars, and he’s holding his hands up and something lights up," Hailey says. "He’s looking at me with bright eyes and a smile, and he brings it down, and inside his hands, he has a heart."
Hailey felt compelled to grab the heart. He took it and asked himself, "Now what are you going to do with it?" He opened his chest and found an empty space where a heart should be.
"And I was like, Oh, shit, so I put the heart in, and I can literally feel it fusing together," he continues. "And then this cup appeared. It was a bright color, shining bright beyond glowing — it was like the sun. I grabbed it, and I poured it on the heart and turned the heart into gold. So now I have a golden heart."
The 37 year-old has the words "Bwiti Jedi" tattooed on the back of his neck, "iboga" on the right side of his neck, and a simple heart under his left eye. Love, he says, is the guiding force behind everything he does. Nearby is his Hieros Gamos mural, an ode to David Bowie that Hailey calls "a love vision" and definitive of what "hieros gamos" stands for (it's Greek for "holy marriage").
His wife Bast and fellow performance artist Lady Eternal Love will join Hailey for a burlesque performance celebrating the divine feminine energy that saved his life. Inspired by his marriage, the exhibit "Hieros Gamos" aims to show how sexes can come together and create as one, celebrating the inner congregation of logos and eros, reason and creativity, sacred and profane, and passion and peace.
"Iboga used my wife as an example, forming into a beautiful golden woman bursting out of my negativity, and it was telling me: 'Yo, women are the flowers of the Earth,'" he says. "They're so close to the Earth, they give birth."
Every piece in his exhibition has a strong female power. Some of them are pre-iboga, while others are iboga-inspired, beaming life force through rainbow-soaked glasses. Hailey relates these two experiences because during his 13 years of sobriety, he felt his work was still soulful and dimensional.
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"I don’t say I fucked up, because I didn’t. I say I went back on the lesson. And I corrected it, real quick because I had a lot to lose, including my life — my life and my wife. When I went back on the lesson, a lot of the artwork started getting dark. People loved it, but it was dark," he says. "After iboga, it lightened everything up. And I was like, I’m not painting that dark shit anymore. It was like I'm painting nothing but love on the wall."
Behind him on NW 36 Street lie five crates filled with spray cans representing every color in the spectrum. Hailey will likely use all of them to finish his mural.
"We are in living color, you know what I mean? We live in color on a daily basis, so why not? Colors have healing attributes — it's color therapy," he says. "No additives and preservatives, all fresh flavors."
"Hieros Gamos: A Vision of Feminine Power"
Thursday, March 24, through Friday, April 22, at Macaya Gallery (145 NW 36th St., Miami). Visit macayagallery.com.