|Symbiosis on Street Art Barcelona|
Nice little article with some personal stories about my portraits
The people from Street Art Barcelona asked me to write some stories about my portraits to be featured on their site, so I decided to select a few photos and write some anecdotes and details about them, about the way we made them, and about the artists who are portrayed. You can click on the image above to read the article, for those of you who don't speak Spanish, here's the English version:
Symbiosis started as a way of censoring graffiti writers and street artists worried about staying anonymous in pictures taken while they were committing acts of vandalism and other pseudo-artistic misdemeanours. But, after some time, I realised that it is also a great way of showing a more personal side of artists whose work can be seen around many places, but who stay behind the scenes, in some cases near anonymity. Street artists who decorate the streets without permission, graphic designers who create designs for brands without being credited in the final campaign, illustrators who work for newspapers, tattoo artists... It's easy to find their work on the streets, on billboards, on newspapers, on magazines, or on the skin of some people; but it’s not so easy to find information about the artist behind it. In many cases, the only thing we actually know about these artists is their work.
Now I want to talk about a more personal side of these people, by sharing some of the stories behind my pictures. Anecdotes and details that tell us a bit more about the artists I’ve portrayed.
When Turkesa told me she wanted to be portrayed tattooing, I thought it was a fantastic idea, but I told her we needed to find someone with a tattoo originally made by her. It wasn’t a good idea to take the picture faking she was making a tattoo really made by someone else; it wouldn't be respectful for the tattoo artist who made it. She totally agreed on this. Luckily, in the studio where she was working by that time, Inkdelible, there was another tattooist called Fran who had a rose made by her on his arm. He kindly agreed to be included in the picture, and he happened to be a truly expressive guy, I asked him to pretend he was in pain, and the face he pulled was fantastic. Actually, this is one of my favourite pictures of all times.
For Mr Kern’s portrait, we decided to take a walk around the hood to find a place he could tag to use it as the background for the picture. We found this glass on a narrow street around the Raval, and thought it was highly appropriate. Unfortunately, as soon as he started decorating the glass with his name, a pretty pissed off guy came up telling us it was the window of his studio. I told him Mr Kern was an artist who had travelled from France to show his work in a gallery in Barcelona, and that he was writing his name on the glass to use it as the background for a picture we were going to take. I also politely suggested that we could clean up the glass when we were finished taking pictures if he gave us a wet cloth, because the marker he was using was water-based, so it could be easily cleaned. He looked at me with a “do-you-think-I’m-going-to-believe-all-that-bullshit” face and then just walked away. He will probably never know that everything I told him was true…
I normally take my pictures at the artists’ studios or houses, but Albert was on holidays in Barcelona, he lived in Menorca when we took his photo. So I asked him where he would like to capture his portrait, he told me “In the dirtiest toilet we can find”. I just loved the idea, and we where at the old quarter, so it wasn’t especially hard to find a dirty bathroom. When they saw us both going into the toilet wearing my camera backpack and spend around half an hour inside there, they looked at us with a slightly weird face, but nobody asked anything. Anyway, if the waiter had asked and I had told him we were taking a picture for a project of artists’ portraits, he wouldn’t have believed a word of it.
Luckily, I had my marker with me, although we decided not to really paint the bathroom walls to avoid problems like the ones we had with Mr Kern. Albert held it as if he was painting and kindly sent me many illustrations a few days later so I could place them around the toilet using Photoshop. He had the fantastic idea of adding his mobile number, as if he was offering his services as an illustrator around filthy bar toilets as some kind of creative gigolo. Nowadays, many people have to sell themselves out to get some work accepting the requirements and rates offered by clients, which are getting lower and lower. Nobody has called offering some work yet, but the phone number is real, if you don’t believe me you can send a whatsapp to verify it.
Sometimes, while preparing the setting for a picture, we spread all the artist tools, paraphernalia and little things around the room to create a nice atmosphere. Normally we place around some spray cans, comics, computers, dust masks, brushes, paint, markers, toys, ashtrays, drugs, and other miscellaneous items. For Danjer's portrait in his studio in Zaragoza, we decided to use a moribund-looking skull to replace his head, and we wanted it to look as if he had spent the whole night working; it was the perfect occasion to spread all his creative tools around the room. Every time I do this, I ask the artist if there is something special for him or her that should be included in the picture, normally they say yes and they take out one of their drawings or a toy they specially love. But Danjer did something no one had done before: he came up with an illustration made by someone else he had framed, he showed it to me and told me it was from a good old friend of him with whom he had opened the tattoo studio, and who had died some years ago. I found it very thoughtful to include this illustration amongst all the things, so that his friend could be there with him even though he wasn't there anymore. It was one of the most touching moments I lived while taking a picture, it’s nice to travel to Zaragoza to meet up with a tattoo artist you have never met before and suddenly discover, with just a little gesture, that he is a wonderful guy.
Maria Elena Stellato is a feminist activist artist I met in Naples when I visited the city to show my portraits at L'Asilo, a self-managed artistic space found in the old quarter of the city. In fact, she hosted me at her house, a whole floor of an old building she shared with my good-old friend Giovanna and other girls. They spent most of their time in the shared kitchen drinking coffee, smoking, and conspiring to destroy patriarchy and capitalism. I decided to join them in various of these anti-patriarchal conspiracy sessions heightened by caffeine abuse; and carried away by the excitement of our debate, I suggested to make a portrait of Elena and fuse her with one of her African women sculptures to reclaim the relevance and importance of women in pre-Judeo-Christian cultures.
After some hours of discussion and coffee drinking, we reached the conclusion that when humans worshiped Earth as a goddess, which had all the feminine virtues, before monotheistic religions forced everyone to believe there is only one god and he is a man; people had a much more sustainable and environmentally respectful way of life, because they considered our planet as something sacred, as their home, and therefore they took care of it. The problem with the patriarchal system we live in is not only inequality between men and women, but also the lack of respect for all things related with femininity; not accepting or appreciating the relevance of femininity in its broadest sense, with its capacity to host and sustain life.
The most peculiar thing is that all pre-Judeo-Christian cultures worshiped the Earth as a goddess who represented femininity, and the Sun as a god with all the characteristics of masculinity. They considered our planet as mother Earth, although some of them called her Gea, and others Gaia o Terra; and the Sun as the father God, called Horus or Ra by different religions. Even though these cultures were very distant in time and space, thousands of miles or many centuries, they all adored the Earth and the Sun, and were aware of the fact that life couldn't exist without any of the two.
When monotheism arrived, the importance of God the Father, the Almighty, was exaggerated, while the relevance and role of the mother goddess was completely neglected, relegated to obscurity and set aside, becoming virtually invisible. Systems and beliefs based on superiority and lacking equality are not good and create an unhealthy way of life without respect which, in the long term, can be very dangerous. By considering Earth as a mere object containing resources to consume, acting with a superiority complex that makes us think that everything exists to be used and consumed by us, putting men in the center of the universe, we act in an egocentric way that is not only dangerous for our planet, but also for our own survival. Because we are destroying our habitat and consuming the resources we need to survive. We have forgotten our own fragility and our complete interdependence with our environment. We consider ourselves superior to the rest of living organisms, but we are totally dependent on all of them. If we continue going down the way of brainless consumption and resource overexploitation, we are going to end up becoming extinct as a result of our own actions, and that would be something incredibly stupid to do for an animal who considers himself the most intelligent in existence.
For all these reasons, this is a portrait I feel especially proud of, because it reclaims the importance of femininity in the broadest sense of the term, to avoid forgetting its relevance and its fundamental role in life conservation.