Obie Platon – HUMANUTOPIA | Interview
In January 2016, Obie Platon (previously interviewed and featured) had his exhibition HUMANUTOPIA at the Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest. Read an exclusive interview with the artist about his solo show and recent body of work.
Do you consider your works controversial?
I create in order to covey a message. Controversy is not part of my creation process, but in the eye of the beholder. Indeed, I approach ideas and themes that some consider controversial, and this should not be an obstacle in bringing important topics into discussion, rather a mission because there are aspects which otherwise may remain unclear or of which people are not fully aware of.
‘The Spies’, oil on canvas, 125 x 249 cm, 2015
What happened in 2015 with the Saint George mural [more info] from your point of view?
I’ve always painted what I wanted. And it had its consequences, but never with such a social impact. I believe that the artist has the role to ask questions, even the uncomfortable ones we often avoid, to push the limits and create debate, fuel the evolution of the mind, make people think. The goal of the piece was to bring the scene into contemporary society, so into our present defined by so many aspects that distance it from an ideal religious symbolism. We live in a new society, yet it is striking how people refuse to acknowledge it.
What do you think an audience may have believed to be upsetting or unsettling in your recent exhibition since one of your works was covered – ironically, the piece referring to the Saint George mural? Tell us about this and your performance-manifesto in response to it.
What happened confirms that the Saint George mural response was not an accidental and isolated case. You cannot change people’s mentality over night. Of course, we continue to debate about freedom of expression and try to fight it failing to realize that this freedom is currently a utopia, out of our reach.
Video recap of the show and his performance following the covering up of his work.
How is the public limiting the freedom of expression? Or is it not the public limiting it, but rather institutions, authorities and so on? Do you ever limit yourself for the sake of applause?
There are always pressures, but through art you can protest non-violently, in dramatic and alarming ways. I’ve always had a set of principles and rules to follow. In lack of strong beliefs and vision you can easily become a product of and for the system.
‘Giuseppe Arcimboldo’, oil on canvas, 150 x 200 cm, 2015
Which is prevalent in your exhibition: the human or the utopia? What connects them?
Isn’t today a great utopia? There is a powerful contradiction between the current human condition and what man thinks of his role in society, between who we think we are and what we really are beneath the lies, the commercials, that applause you were talking about. My characters are actually representative for individuals, I do not create from imagination, but from what I experience and observe around me.
‘Street art vs Corporations’, oil on canvas, 400 x 150 cm, 2015
Why portraits? Of course, they are a natural representation on canvas of what your characters stand for in the murals. But is it something particular about your current focus?
In the past I created a set of fictional characters. As then, for HUMANUTOPIA, the characters continue to reflect contemporary society and my constant concerns with current social issues and contexts.
‘Contemporary War’, oil on canvas, 150 x 200 cm, 2015
The solo show took place at the Palace of the Parliament. How come, considering that you usually approach quite disturbing themes?
I think it is the perfect place to highlight the message of my works. It is the house of the people, but we don’t get to decide our faith here. It is where many political decisions shape the future, without people being truly involved in the decision making. So I see it as an opportunity to deliver the information from the actual headquarters, like an artistic protest from the inside.
‘Traces of Communism’, oil on canvas, 150 x 200 cm, 2015
And was it by chance that politicians just popped up at the exhibition? It seemed at least ironic to see the mixed public at the opening, so different, yet such an interesting experience, perhaps unprecedented at the Palace.
Well, I was in their home, nice of them to join. I noticed during the opening how the people actually reflected the characters in the works and vice versa. I wanted to create a surrealist utopia, it was part of my concept for the exhibition, but I didn’t quite expect to actually feel like it.
Speaking of palaces, we see the queen, the pope, the soldier and so many figures together. What are they doing in the same place at the same time?
It is all connected, some of these characters actually seat at the same table in real life, it depends how low or high their position is in the pyramidal structure. Either a queen or a soldier, they contribute to how the game is played and how it affects us and our planet.
‘The Queen’, oil on canvas, 150 x 200 cm, 2015
Is there something you would change in the exhibition if you had to do it all over again?
Since it’s pretty clear that the utopia goes better with freedom, perhaps I would add more bold elements to be probably covered up. Would be curios if they’d miss a spot.
‘Last Supper – Before and After’, collaboration with Irlo and Kero
[elements in the first work were covered without the artist’s consent]
Now that it’s over, what are you working on?
I am working on an international show, more info soon.
Images © Obie Platon. Read more about HUMANUTOPIA.