‘We don’t need pencils we need passports’

8 Mins read

A mural of colourful and fine scribbles representing houses and demon builder characters holding meaningful messages led to @Deanio_x.

The messages on the mural in Lordship Lane, a long and busy road of the posh and peaceful Dulwich area, were clear: ‘Support Calais Jungle’, ‘Refugees are welcome’ and ‘Homes for humans’.

Two rows of different characters were represented on the wall; their distinct facial traits and the way they were placed on the piece seem to represent African immigrants; long-time inhabitants of the Calais ‘Jungle’.

The artist with direct Jamaican heritage was easy to find. Like traditional artists sign their painting and art works, street artists do also sign their pieces.

On the opposite side of ‘@NATHANBOWENART’, signature of Nathan Bowen a British street artist known for his iconic demon builder characters found across London, ‘@DEANIO_X’ was tagged.

Deanio_x is an artist; that’s his title and the way the society would describe him. However, he was also a volunteer at the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp before its demolition.

characters by deanio_x on mural

Characters by Deanio_x on mural [Aurore Kaddachi]

Deanio_x is an artist who despite his pencils, sketchbook and vision, has always had an attachment to the situation of displaced people: “Because in my history there was a major displacement that disconnected me and my family from a culture and a way of life, an existence, a language and a land which I have no longer access to,” he said.

So jumping on a train to Calais was necessary for the artist so he could get a first-hand perspective on the situation and get physically involved.

Both the British and French governments have faced tensions and dilemmas over the ‘Jungle’ in Calais, finding it hard to address the humanitarian situation and leaving its inhabitants physically in France while mentally they wish to be in England.

Following the miserable and unacceptable situation of the ‘slum town’, the French government decided to evict the thousands of people who temporarily settled in tents and improvised shelters.

In October, the camp, located in the mud of an abandoned landfill site, three miles away from the city centre of Calais, Northern France, was demolished. Deanio_x was there.

Graffiti emerged in the late 1960s in America. This form of signature, nametag or just scribbles was used as a form of political expressionism and also often practiced by gangs to mark territory.

Often criticised and perceived as a form on vandalism, graffiti continues to be considered as a nuisance issue for the cities authorities.

Unlike graffiti, street art is considered as a form of visual art.

[pullquote align=”right”]“Art is just expression, anyone can express themselves, and in our nation today I feel very free and confident to put ‘refugees are welcome’ on a wall.”[/pullquote]

The use of distinctive techniques and materials involved in street art often aim to beautify public spaces: “It’s like a monument, you put it there to add extra beauty to the location,” the artist told us.

Despite its current and slow recognition process as a form of art, street art today increasingly raises attention from the public as well as from investors.

As a self-employed businessman with a large interest in art collecting and dealing, Chirag Patel has been following the street art movement since the late 1980s.

Patel shared that today investments in street art are not only purchased via galleries but also made through private commissions and the secondary market, which is also helping push prices upwards.

In other words, there is, today, a lucrative market around for these works: “Street art is being sold by many various galleries throughout the world which have opened/popped up over the years,” he said.

But despite the new recent lucrative market Patel points out that it is still hard for artists to make ends meet.

However despite its growing appreciation and success in galleries and art shows, Patel added that street art has not always been accepted by the public but that it is on its way: “It is still in its early stages and it will take some time before the majority [of the public] accepts it […] it’s cool to have street art in areas.”

Patel continues by stating that society regards street art differently, some appreciate it and some don’t.

Deanio_x knows this very well. Despite its audacious practice and the fact that it remains unsanctioned, the life expectancy of a street art piece is also often at threat.

A few weeks after painting the collaboration mural with Bowen, Deanio_x’s mural on Lordship Lane was vandalised. The messages of support were painted over in black.

  • mural on lordship lane- street art
    Vandalised mural by Deanio_x and @NathanBowenArt on Lordship Lane, London. [Aurore Kaddachi]

After getting the news from a follower on social media, it was with pleasure that Deanio_x got on his bike to re-write the following message ‘Refugees welcome’ and ‘Support Migrants’.

By expressing themselves in a public space, street artists know that one-day or another their art works are going to trigger a reaction, if not controversy.

However, positive or negative, it doesn’t matter. Deanio_x accepts negative reactions and respond to them.

The artist explains that he regards street art as a powerful means of communication and a means of expressing himself publicly, “the way I see it it’s just a method for me to express what I think and feel about something that is quite important and quite real in a public place for people to agree to disagree with it.”

[pullquote align=”right”]”if you put your thoughts on a wall, people are going to absorb it, respect it, agree or disagree with it.”[/pullquote]

Deanio_x is unable to recall the age he started to draw; he says that it has “always” been in his life. However, it’s only in the past few years that he joined the street art movement.

In his opinion, street art is also about community, it is a community appeal and its main purpose is to get people to think about the world we live in, “If there is an injustice I am not just happy to let it continue unchallenged and unquestioned.”

“Art is just expression, anyone can express themselves, and in our nation today I feel very free and confident to put ‘refugees are welcome’ on a wall.”

As a result of his past and his attachment to his origins and history, Deanio_x has always focused most of his work on humans and the movement of people.

Consequently, it was natural for him to focus his illustrations on people during his time in Calais refugee camp. In his ‘Jungle Book’, the sketchbook he carried everywhere during his visits to the camp, Deanio_x has documented the movements and actions of people’s daily lives in the camp.

Deanio_x's very own jungle book with signature

Deanio_x’s very own ‘Jungle Book’ [Aurore Kaddachi]

The ‘Jungle’ has influenced Deanio_x’s work but more than this, it’s taught him something new about art and the role it plays.

Deanio_x recalls his first time in the camp’s art workshop as a volunteer: “At first I thought: ‘Do people want to do this in a refugee camp? Don’t they have more pressing things to do?’”

It was after realising that patiently waiting is the main activity in a refugee camp, Deanio_x happened to perceive art differently.

“We don’t need pencils we need passports!” Despite this comment from an impatient migrant who observed the workshop attendees making bracelets and drawings, art suddenly meant much more for Deanio_x.

Despite the surroundings, art and creativity also became useful and necessary, “it provides ventilation and, once again, it provides a means for people to express themselves.”

Becoming friends with displaced people who have fight for survival and security in the ‘Jungle’ has also re-enforced Deanio_x views on how we all seek for a superficial and unnecessary lifestyle.

[pullquote align=”right”]“Art is one of the most important byproducts of a society. We live in a world where we are bombarded with advertising, so the injection of art in the public sphere is essential.”[/pullquote]

The artist does believe that street art has an important role to play because it’s also a way to engage people on important matters.

“It has a power. Someone might read it but you don’t know which directions it might take them on. Whatever they’ve become more engaged in that issue, you don’t know and you can’t see it so it’s not tangible but you know that through its presence it will influence something,” he said.

Daniel Albanese, a New York-based urban photographer, spoke about the role of street art in our current society. He argues that art plays an important role in our current 24/7 lifestyle pace: “Art is one of the most important byproducts of a society,” he said. “We live in a world where we are bombarded with advertising, so the injection of art in the public sphere is essential.”

He added that street art can almost be the break we all need. “One of the most important functions of street art is to get people to pause their very busy lives, and take a moment to absorb a message.”

Having always drawn and illustrated characters and people in his sketchbook, Deanio_x has found in street art a new way of expressing himself, promoting his ideas to engage and connect with the public. “For me it’s a conversation start,” he said.

Deanio_x believes that through their advertising billboards across cities massive corporation companies blind us from reality and from our own thoughts, making them the only ones to communicate with the public.

Like Albanese, Deanio_x has faith in the role that street art can play against this, almost like a form of good advertising. “It’s easy to get frustrated and it’s hard to have a conversation with someone you don’t know. But if you put your thoughts on a wall, people are going to absorb it, respect it, agree or disagree with it.”

Albanese agrees. “Depending on how it’s used, street art can be a very powerful tool of communication. Street art appears in unexpected places so it has the ability to surprise. Also, it often uses imagery that quickly draws and informs the viewer.”

Daniel Albanese is the man behind the website TheDustyRebel, a website focusing on the marginal aspects of urban culture, city life and people who “make their own rules” such as buskers, demonstrators and street artists.

It’s fair to say that his background in anthropology has largely shaped his work.

Albanese, who photographed the work of worldwide known street artists such as Banksy or REKA across the globe, has observed the beneficial impact that street art has had over the years.

“People feel more comfortable discussing art on the street than they do in a gallery or museum. In the setting of an institution, people feel like they need to know the right answer. But on the street they seem to enjoy the freedom of talking about the work,” he told us.

always embrace beauty, chalk street art piece in the street of new york

‘Always embrace beauty’ added to the streets of Brooklyn to beautify the place and make you smile. [FlickrCC: TheDustyRebel]

Street art has the power to make people stop and think, laugh or cry.

Its means for the creation of emotions is essential; essential because it’s important to remind people about the world we live in and where they stand in it.

When the piece on Lordship Lane was vandalised Deanio_x said that he was very grateful that someone got in touch with him and asked him to fix it, however the artist confessed that in reality something inside him felt sorry. “I wanted to say ‘the power is also in your hands’.”

Street artists are today almost like messengers, reminding us of the inequalities that still exist in the 21st Century.

[pullquote align=”right”]It’s important not to stay silent[/pullquote]

Despite the morning and evening rush hours or our twenty minutes lunch breaks in front of screens, street artists urge us to take the time to stop and think, think about our world and how perhaps everyone can have his/her say to make a difference.

Deanio_x described his relation with street art. “For me it’s important not to stay silent, it’s important to express yourself in these moments. Do something about it, be vocal and make sure that everyone knows about it.”

“And maybe we, as the public, should actually be more pro active in expressing ourselves and engaging with each other. Ultimately, that’s what I enjoy about street art.”



Featured image by Daniel Albanese

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About author
Aurore is a third year journalism student at the London College of Communication (UAL). Her main interests focus on global human right and environmental issues. She is the co-founder of the 'Berlin Refugee Project' published on Tremr and the Deputy Environment Editor for the IPF.
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