3rd June 2015 Written by Leigh Lemay Arts

Calling all SINners: Join the Global SIN, Art without Boundaries and POWer

Belaxis Buil is a Miami-based artist who studied at the New World School of the Arts (University of Florida). Graduating in 2006 with a double major in Dance and Sculpture and a minor in Art History, she graced the Dean’s List and has been a professional artist for nearly a decade. She is the founder of a recently formulated artist initiative entitled, SIN and has worked with organisations such as Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), North America, and Mexican enterprise, Servicios y Asesoria para la paz, (SERAPAZ; Services and Consulting for Peace).


Leigh: What inspired you to start up SIN?

Belaxis: I was interested in finding artists on a global scale that were producing work that was confrontational and controversial; that raised questions relating to social and political events. It was also a way for me to start motivating other artists who aren’t creating works of this nature, to become engaged in what is happening in the socio-political realm. I wanted to create a universal network of artists, predominantly on the Internet. SIN’s intention is to enter the virtual realm with a technological agenda, rippling into the far reaches of cyber space, then presenting the works to political organisations, infiltrating the creations with ideas similar to those of political discussion[sic]. The uniqueness here however, is that the created work would be conceptual, honing in on unbiased visual imagery. The stance would be unbiased because I would not want any party, entity or community to feel threatened, forced to become involved or blamed to [sic] a reoccurring concern, but more so see and feel the experience creating conflict. By engaging a person to become wrapped in situation, perspective and opinions shift and evolve.


Leigh: Why have you chosen the Internet as your major platform?

Belaxis: The Internet is global, it is visual, it’s easily accessible and it’s fast. We reside in a hyper-stimulated technological world and because of this, it is an effective approach to discourse relating to important social matters.


Leigh: Why is it important to have a collective like yours operating in the art world?

Belaxis:  I believe that SIN is an important addition to the art world because the focus point is a bit more extensive than just fine arts [sic] hanging on a wall or standing as a 3-dimensional piece in a home, collection or institute. It is work that addresses politics, religion and social issues per se, so it becomes an historical piece that changed history [sic]. Further, I want to create a bridge between the community and the powers that govern us, so that we can start presenting issues as imagery that are not based on just one voice. People have the tendency to drown out words when there is too much being spoken, but when they concentrate on images alone, they’re more likely to pay attention to what is being said.


Leigh: What was your most recent project?

Belaxis: My most recent project was being a part of a group exhibit called, Alternative Comtemporaneities: Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZ) at the MOCANOMI (Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami). Curated by Richard Haden, approximately 50 artists from Miami were selected to show their work. TAZ “alludes to creating temporary spaces that elude formal structures of control…thus creating the foundation for authenticity and spontaneity”. It was a very radical exhibit that received a lot of attention because of MOCANOMI’s history of political upheaval in the last yearand a half or so. It was also an important exhibit because a lot of Miami artists have a supposed reputation for not being outspoken…but I don't think I have that reputation.


Leigh: What is your next project?

Belaxis: Let’s just say; Morocco, people and…


Leigh: What do you hope to achieve with SIN?

Belaxis: A project-based organisation who is eventually an important sector within the government structure. SIN would ultimately become an innovative diplomat, who would visit a conflict in order to do field study and analyse the situation via performance research and social art practices. Hopefully SIN would master the craft of conceptual dialogue to disengage tension.


Leigh: If you could say one thing to the governments of the Western World, what would it be?

Belaxis: If I could say anything to the government, I would not say anything at all. Everything has been said. I would just ask them to look and listen.


Having finished my degree in Fine Arts only six months ago; I still struggle with where in the art world my place should reside. Who am I as an artist? Am I a painter? Am I a photographer? Am I conceptual? Do I care about sales, or am I in it solely for expression itself? Do I create what the majority lean towards, or do I create whatever the hell I want to? Perhaps the biggest question of all for me, especially after contemplating my interview with Belaxis Buil, is, 'Do I have something to say?'

I can’t help but recall the moment at art school, when in front of the class, my professor urged another student not to be political in their work. It was an artwork about their native country and the associated atrocities being committed at the time. While it’s true that perhaps not all of us could relate on an experiential level, it was certainly obvious to all that the artist was passionate about their subject.

Aside from empathising with the general humiliation that can be felt when a teacher’s critique is not what you want to hear, I remember feeling torn between the impartiality expected from students of institutionalised art and the undeniable sense of being chastised and contained. If artists are not permitted to comment on the world around them, then who is? Could it not be construed as tragic, were our society to be stripped of deeply, political works like the famous painting, The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya, or William Blake’s poetic call to arms in, Jerusalem?

Subscribers to the Bellian philosophy of art may agree that, “To associate art with politics is always a mistake” and “to appreciate a work of art we need bring with us nothing from life…” but is this really possible? Are we not fundamentally made up of each experience from our birth to our death? Can we really remain impartial when we witness what we deem to be an injustice? Can we afford to be silenced?

“I don't think artists can avoid being political. Artists are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. When we stop singing, it's a sure sign of repressive times ahead.”
—Theresa Bayer

Belaxis Buil can be contacted here.
Image: SIN & Belaxis Buil

29th July 2014 Written by Otto Reitano Arts

Painting the Crisis: Art by Molly Crabapple

A somewhat puzzling aspect of humanity is our inability to care about things that don’t pose any direct threat to us, or those around us.

Suppose you receive an email asking you to donate money to starving children in Africa — chances are you’ll either ignore it or perhaps you’ll feed it to your ever-so-hungry junk mail folder. If, however, the starving children are lying outside your doorstep and you’re forced to step over them on your way to work each day, perhaps then you’ll consider donating a little money to the cause. 

Artist and journalist Molly Crabapple is a little different to the rest of us. She’s not only one of the few artists to depict the torturous environment of Guantanamo Bay, but has also dedicated a great deal of her professional career to raising awareness about important issues such as the Occupy Wall Street movement and the economic crisis in Greece. Most recently, however, she decided to sketch portraits of some of the victims of the crisis in Syria.

The above picture is a portrait of Fatima Meghlaj, age 2. She was killed in Syria on Sept 16, 2012. By simply putting a face to some of the victims, Crabapple humanises the devastation. When the war isn’t going on in our city, let alone our country, it’s quite easy to forget how difficult it must be living in a war-torn country.

Whilst Crabapple’s primary means of expression is through visual art, she has also written for The New York Times, Der Spiegel, The Guardian, and various other left-wing publications. Molly Crabapple is not only an exemplar human, but also an excellent example of the possibility of political commentary through creative expression. 

2nd June 2014 Written by Erin Cook Arts

Fiona Foley: Injecting Politics into Public Art

Government funded sculptures. We’ve all walked past them, through them or even sat on them. They come in all shapes, sizes and colours and can usually be found nestled within the CBD of your nearest capital city. But when was the last time you stopped to really ponder the meaning of these public artworks? There might be a lot more than meets the eye.

The commissioned public art of Fiona Foley can be found in major cultural sites across Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Mackay. As one of Australia’s most distinguished art activists, she considerers herself both an artist and an educator. Foley has a knack for uncovering aspects of Aboriginal history that are either unknown, buried or forgotten and she’s hell bent on bringing these events back into public consciousness. Foley is particularly focused on the systematic mistreatment of Aboriginal nations in Australia’s colonial past. 

When the Melbourne City Council approached Foley for a public art installation in 1997, she decided to dabble on the controversial side of art. They commissioned her to install a temporary work outside the Town Hall during the National Reconciliation Convention. Foley took the opportunity with two hands and began researching the land that the Melbourne City Council stands on. She discovered that John Bateman purchased 600 000 acres for the city of Melbourne from the rightful Aboriginal custodians. In exchange for the land, he promised blankets, flour, looking glasses, tomahawks, knives, beads and scissors. Bateman never delivered on any of his promises. Foley erected Lie of the Land to commemorate this exchange. It consisted of a series of huge sandstone blocks, each etched with the name of the goods promised to the Aboriginal custodians. The artwork is a testament to the dark history that lies beneath Melbourne’s Town Hall. Although Lie of the Land was initially intended to be temporary, it was moved to the Melbourne Museum at the end of the convention. 

Following the success of Lie of the Land, the Brisbane Magistrate’s Court stepped up and asked Foley to create a sculpture to stand in their courtyard. As she had done in Melbourne, Foley researched the history of the land on which the Magistrate’s Court stood. This time, she created Witnessing to Silence, consisting of large cast bronze lilies rising from the pavement, glass columns embedded with ash and the names of 94 Queensland townships etched into the pavers below. Foley created the artwork as a memorial to the ravaging fires and floods that tore through those particular towns. Or atleast, that’s what she told the Queensland Government… 

Three months after the unveiling Witnessing to Silence, Government officials received the shock of their life. Foley revealed to The Australian that she had kept the true meaning of the sculpture under lock and key during the entire process. The work was actually intended to represent the massacres of Aboriginal people during the expansion of Queensland in the early 19th century. Witnessing to Silence is a memorial to the Aboriginal people that died in the name of Queensland.

So next time you’re dragging your sorry ass home from work, it might be worth stopping to investigate the public art that surrounds you. You never know what you might discover. 

Photo of Fional Foley by Mick Richards, courtesy of Niagara Galleries

26th May 2014 Written by Erin Cook Arts

Fighting the Soviet Government Through Art

Throughout his career, Timur Novikov and his friends from the New Artists group, in St Petersburg, created a few headaches for the Soviet Government. In theory, as the New Artists weren’t part of the tightly controlled State Union of Artists, they shouldn’t have been practicing their craft at all. Meanwhile, when the group grew bored of Soviet TV, which offered a steady stream of speeches by the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, they simply boycotted the station and created their own independent channel. It wasn’t so much what they were doing that pissed off the Soviets, but rather, what they weren’t doing. Rather than fighting or critiquing Soviet rule, the artists avoided talking in a Soviet language out of principle. 

Novikov formed the New Artists group after being challenged by a group of Liningrad nonconformists that came before him. In late 1982, Novikov and his friend Ivan Sotnikov visited the first officially sanctioned exhibition of nonconformist art since the 70s. The works on display were part of an unofficial movement that didn’t fall within the official Soviet style. At this point in time, Socialist Realism dominated the Russian art scene. Socialist Realism had the tick of approval from the Soviets as it peddled their political policies. Novikov was so inspired by the alternative style of the Liningrad nonconformist exhibition that he decided to found an underground network of his own. 

Novikov issued a call to arms within his circle of creative friends. Not long after, in the early 80’s, this group of artists, musicians, actors and poets banded together in a communal apartment to officially form the New Artists. As they weren’t part of the State Union of Artists, the group couldn’t legally buy canvases or even paints. Instead they turned sheets and shower curtains into paintings and reel-to-reel tape players into samplers. It was an exciting time as Novikov found artistic freedom in his surroundings. 

It was during this period that Novikov created the Horizons series using cloth bought from local shops in St Petersburg. His work, Botnichesky Harbour (1989) uses simple, child-like imagery to represent Gorbachev’s attempts to open up the USSR during the Perestroika years. The composition is divided horizontally with a small, stenciled white ship sitting atop a polka-dot scarlet sea while an un-pattered velvet cloth represents the sky. Novikov coined this technique as ‘semiotic perspective’ as he uses an icon to help the viewer identify the fabrics as expanses of sea and sky. 

As the New Artists became more and more active, they founded their own independent TV channel to broadcast important happenings, such as exhibitions and cultural events. The channel, Pirate Television, helped them to become household names for the millions of people who were looking for an alternative to conservative Russian culture. 

During the 1980’s, Novikov and his friends in the New Artists group slowly chipped away as pioneers of underground and nonconformist Russian art. Their works were finally recognised internationally after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.

Photo: Joanna Stingray, Novikov pictured far right