Freedom means different things to different people. It might be an elusive concept, but can it be given a form? Wunderkammern’s Milan gallery is organizing a group exhibition entitled Freedom as form where four prominent street artists Faith47, Alexis Diaz, BR1 and Eron will try to assign it one. We did interviews with artists participating in the exhibition to find out more about this interesting concept. It is not easy to put a finger on the idea of freedom that has been thoroughly explored through the history of mankind by philosophers and intellectuals alike. As one of the most important principles of the humankind, the idea of freedom is today often overused, distorted or even exploited. Working in different media and styles and using different approaches, each of these artists will aesthetically research the collective and individual freedom, as well as where do these two concepts meet, depart, overlap or intersect.
South African artist Faith47 uses the street as her canvas where she can express herself, create connections, tell stories and initiate a change. She often deals with existential questions and involves herself in spiritual search of the world that surrounds her. On the other hand, Italian artist BR1 explores ways different societies and cultures meet, clash and overlap and make an impact on each other. His work is often centered around themes of migrations, women’s emancipation, racism, gender discrimination and tensions between modernity and tradition. The work of Italian street artist Eron is characterized by a delicate sfumato that provides an evocative aesthetic result. Emphasizing a certain form of sensitivity, he creates a strong, yet delicate visual impact. Finally, Alexis Diaz is famous for his depictions of the animal world. Coming from different species and habitats, these animals are combined into complex hybrids with extreme precision by his brush.
Each of these artists will embark on a unique journey to portray personal visions of freedom as an idea. To find out more, we have had a conversation with Faith47, BR1 and Alexis Diaz. They talk about works they will be presenting, their personal concepts of freedom, their visual identity, the power and responsibility of street art today, and much more.
Widewalls: Your work will be on view at the group show entitled Form as Freedom at Wunderkammern in Milan. Could you tell us more about the concept of this exhibition and the works you will be presenting?
Alexis Diaz: My concept is inspired by different elements that to me represent or inspire freedom. One is based on how I perceive freedom, how it feels like. Another represents freedom at its most historical choice. And another represents how freedom can be limited or restricted.
Faith47: The works I am presenting explore the notion of physical freedom, sexual freedom, freedom of movement, sensuality, touch. Freedom to find our own expression unrestricted by moral or religious dogma. The works fit into a larger series titled 7.83Hz which is the frequency that the planet resonates. I'm interested in how are we are affected by this frequency - how are we a part of this frequency and the natural world. A true look at our inner desires echoed by the powerful electric thunderstorms rolling over the earth.
BR1: The concept deals with a woman and her role in the society. In particular, exhibited works (paintings, photographs, sculpture and video) focus on the veil and how the veil can characterize the society, from Arab Countries to Europe. Furthermore, my works invite visitors to reflect on the role of women nowadays.
Widewalls: Freedom is a debatable concept, and yet one that is much celebrated and sought after. What does this concept mean to you?
Alexis Diaz: Freedom is such a big word :).To me it is not having limitations, having a choice. Freedom is not having a fear to make decisions or take risks. Freedom is believing anything is possible. No boundaries.
Faith47: That one should be free to do what you desires, as long as it harms no other.
BR1: Freedom means a lot of things. In particular, freedom is the condition in which a person can be free to think and act in the society. Freedom is the beginning of everything.
Widewalls: Street art and graffiti have moved from streets to galleries. How do you differentiate between the work you are doing in the streets and a more controlled setting such as a gallery space, while still maintaining your visual identity?
Alexis Diaz: In the streets I don't have limitations and I can reach out to the masses. At galleries I feel I can be more intricate, I can put more detail into my work. It's more personal. Even though these are two different spaces, my visual identity does not change. I use the same images, I do a large scale and reduce them into smaller and more detailed work.
Faith47: I tend to overlap the two, working on similar thematics that bleed from studio to street to printmaking and photography. I have two or three trajectories that I’m exploring and I allow them to manifest in the mediums that best suit the ideas. At the moment, I’m exploring video installation and returning to painting more hidden street works within abandoned spaces. I've started working on a new body of work for a solo show. The visual identity is not necessarily always in keeping the technique the same, but in the emotion and thought behind the work. Being the most important thread and narrative.
At the moment I’m trying to balance out my life with my work, to find ways of syncing the two. This is vitally important. For a life not lived is not a life at all.
BR1: When I create art I don't think where my art will be installed or exhibited. I don't divide my art in art for the streets and art for the galleries. I just create art. I love to do art and I act where I want, when I want and I don't need permissions to express myself. Then, if I receive an invitation from a gallery or an institution, I just need to find the good combination with my works, according to the curator's proposal.
Widewalls: Faith47, you often deal with existential questions in your work, where do you draw your inspiration from and how do you choose your subjects?
Faith47: I allow my work to reflect my personal investigation into humanity, into my own heart and into the fundamental effects of what it is to be human. There is no formula that I stick to. I find freedom in being open to new ideas and mediums. This is something that is evolving with me as my life and work simultaneously progress. I am inspired by the meeting of esoteric philosophies and science. By psychedelic explorations and the understanding that what we see is not all that there is.
Widewalls: BR1, you work deals with cultural identity and representation of Muslim women. How did you choose this subject and what kind of message do you want to convey?
BR1: I have been working with this issue for ten years, so I had the opportunity to convey many messages. I love to create a dialogue with people from other parts of the world, in particular from the Mediterranean basin and Africa. So I am looking for approaches to the life different from our globalized/standard life.
Widewalls: Alexis Diaz, your murals are a representation of surreal animal hybrids. Is there a meaning behind these carefully considered combinations?
Alexis Diaz: The combination of animals I use are inspired by the place I'm visiting at that moment. I use animals and their specific characteristics to represent what I feel in that particular place. I see them as a type of evolution in that specific ecosystem, inspired more by an urban ecosystem. I create animals that I believe would survive in the world surrounding it.
Widewalls: Since it usually occupies a public space and reaches a wide audience, what is the power and responsibility of street art today?
Alexis Diaz: My images are based on a very personal feeling that functions as a mirror for the spectator; each individual can interpret them based on their life experiences. Always respecting the place I'm at, respecting its population and incorporating what I believe will make the space more approachable. Also being very careful on the images I select. Each culture has its own symbols and its own beliefs, I always study the culture first and do my work respecting it.
Faith47: It's a double-edged sword. On one hand, it's providing a creative voice to a city that can otherwise be alien for many individuals. It gives it a human touch.
On the other hand, it has become something that seems to fit - albeit unintentionally - into the spread of gentrification. There is a tendency for street art to embody an easily digestible ‘cool’ factor, that has little content or message. There is also an opportunity to overcome that and raise the bar, for certain artists to evolve their work past that. I think we see that in the work of artists like Escif, Hyuro, Blu, Know Hope, Liquen, or Axel Void. Perhaps not always the most mainstream artists, but really holding down an ethos of the real effect and power that public art can have within a society.
BR1: You have a lot of power because your message can reach many people. The more strong your message are, the more you have a responsibility for what you question because many people don't agree with your message. A lot of street art and contemporary art realized in public space today is more decoration than good art.
What are your future plans and projects?
Alexis Diaz: My plans include a personal project, probably the biggest project I'll do next year. It will include interactions, documentation, sculptures among other things.
BR1: After projects in Melilla (Morocco) and Lesvos Island (Greece), I will continue to realize actions along the borders of Europe, in places where Europe seems to have forgotten what means a pity for a human being.
Faith47 - Mural in Manchester-2016. Courtesy of the artist.
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