The Coronavirus emergency is instinctively associated with “sanitary emergency”. However, the collapse has involved not only the whole world, but all sectors. Therefore, “emergency” is not only followed by the adjective sanitary, but also economic, social, political and cultural. Global crises that have put a strain on companies and each one of us, who in our own way have reacted to lockdowns, restrictions, distancing and more.
Even art, or rather artists have processed this sudden change of course of the world. Some have even worked on this period, turning it in subject of creation: this is the case of 8mail with “Postponed“, his first solo show in Italy – curated by Davide Rossillo and Alessandra Arpino – at Street Art Place, an online art gallery.
8mail is an artist from Brixton, an active member in the Graffiti Writing scene in South London and a contemporary urban artist who brings to Street Art Place his first solo show entitled “Postponed”: pieces made by chalk and charcoal that deal with a theme dear to him: protests. And more specifically, the reactions, emotions and empathy generated by those who create, defend, quell or oppose the turmoil. We wanted to know more about his thought and his personal.
“Postponed” is your overview about 2020 events and facts related to COVID-19 emergency. But, not only, it’s strictly linked to another topic really tied to you: protests. With what focus did you analyze the duo pandemic-protests?
Well, the show was originally planned to open in May 2020 and my preparation began in late 2019, before the Covid pandemic hit. As the show was postponed throughout the year, we witnessed the pandemic effect all walks of life including the publics’ ability to protest and demonstrate, and I felt this needed to be reflected in the work I was creating for the show. In the ‘Cops’ and ‘Riot Frame’ series there’s evidence of the pandemic in my work, with the inclusion of PPE and omission of crowds.
In your cardboards and canvases there are protesters but cops and who usually subdue them too. For “Postponed” you made also specific portraits of italian policemen. Who are the main characters of your solo exhibition?
I’m not sure the exhibition has a ‘main character’ per se, I think the work is about the public and authority. It’s a common issue around the world, from here in the UK, to Italy, to almost all countries, crowds take to the streets, sometimes peacefully, sometimes violently to say ‘We’re not happy’. Whether it’s a political riot, an environmental occupation or directionless mob, the physical embodiment of discontent and dissent is the focus.
What about “Confront”? Can you tell us something about it? What the piece is and what’s your goal about it? It’s seems like it wants to stimulate a sort of vis a vis heated debate with each single visitor.
‘Confront’ consists of an image of a protester etched onto the visor of a used Police riot helmet. When light shines through the visor it projects the image onto the wall – creating a sort of ‘face off’ between a literal shadow (the protester) and a hollow symbol of authority (the riot helmet). This seemed like an apt way to depict interactions that occur during riots and protests. There’s also a differential in a riot between the physical embodiment of the police (helmet, shield, batton, body armour) and that of the protester, which I hope is reflected in the physical solidity of the helmet and the ephemeral shadow.
I noticed that in your works often there’s a lack of an antagonistic part. Why? It’s seems that your focal point is in the action-reaction of characters and not in who they fight against. I read your interest in “uncivilised behaviours in a civilised world”. Am I wrong?
Yes, I think I would agree with you. We tend to live our lives in a very civilised way. The day before a riot, a police officer and rioter could be shopping happily side-by-side in the supermarket and only a few hours later one will throw a brick at the other. In a riot the civilised become uncivilised, the societal veneer slips for a moment and there’s a grey area of chaos. These grey areas and fleeting moments of behaviour are what interest me and inform my artwork.
In “Postponed” we see also “Las Tesis” series. It’s dedicated to the recent and last riots by women for their rights. They are from Greece, Spain, Kosovo, Guatemala and so on. Why they’re blindfolded? What’s your purpose about this series? It’s like a unison battle cry by them.
Las Tesis is one of the few series where I’ll identify to the audience who the images depict.On November 25 2019, Chilean feminists known as ‘Las Tesis’ danced and performed the song ‘A Rapist in Your Path’ whilst wearing bandages over their eyes (referencing Chilean police brutality which left thousands with eye injuries in 2019). The ‘Las Tesis’ movement caught my attention in late 2019. I often follow various protests and riots happening around the globe at any given time. Unlike many other protests the ‘Las Tesis’ protests/performances spread from country to country being almost identically replicated in various capital cities. It demonstrates how women who live continents apart, speak different languages and do not know each other are united through systemic oppression. I was able to attend and observe the ‘Las Tesis’ performance in Trafalgar Square, London, in February 2020 and speak to the organisers and participants. This series of canvases depict single participants from several of the protests/performances from around the world, which when exhibited together depict the real struggle many women around the world face.
How you choose subjects and topics of your works? Do you start from a photographic reportage or a sort of it to support your research and to read you up?
Research. There’s no shortage of source material. As we speak there’s protests going on all over the world from Myanmar, Germany, India, Venezuela and many, many more places- on a range of issues from health care and corruption to farming and civil rights. We’re living in an age of dissent and protest. I think there are a few causes for this. In many countries crises have become increasingly severe. Also, Liberty sometimes allows us (particularly in the western world) to take to the streets and protest, something that 200 years ago you’d have been killed for. The internet and the connectivity it brings has also helped fuel this freedom to rebel.
You came from Brixton, South London. It’s the political, economical and social history of UK related to characters and topics you research and represent in your art pieces? What do you think about current Brexit situation during Pandemic?
I think that the 2011 riots that happened in the UK had quite an impact on me, it happened at quite an important age where you’re entering the adult world and to see such massive displays of discontent here in Britain was pivotal.
You’re in graffiti scene since when you were 13 years old. What did you lead from Graffiti Writing to contemporary art? Are charcoal and chalk a sort of alter ego of spray can and markers?
Graffiti is its own form of dissent. When people ask why – there’s two quotes by graffers, much better than me, that I answer with. “…It’s basically proving that people have overcome certain fears and constrictions about how they’re told to live, and when you create a painting it’s a very symbolic charged example of people overcoming that fear and it helps other people realise that maybe they can also do something like that themselves, which is empowering for the individual” – ‘Fuel’ (of DDS Crew) and “I just do it because I think It’s fucking fun.” – ‘Sano’.