Being (or pretending to be) a urban chronicler is rather easy. If you are into graffiti, for instance, you basically make observations, ask questions, take pictures and collect answers … You then wrap up the whole thing into a readable format and blogpost once in a while. Yep … Easy ! But this seemingly routine job is not without surprises … Sometimes you come across interviewees who display so much intensity and passion in their action (should we call it “mission” ?) that the only thing you can say or write is : Woaw ! This happened to me three weeks ago when I was in Seoul, South Korea. There I spent half a day hunting for graffiti stencils up and down the streets of the Hong-Ik University district. I also managed to get in touch with their most famous local graffiti stencil artist : Nana. Below are edited excerpts from our exciting discussions :
Hi, Nana ! Could you please tell us about street art in Seoul ?
Well, the graffiti scene in Seoul doesn’t have much maturity at the moment. It is still the beginning ! I would say that there are about fifty people doing street art in the whole country right now. Most of the street artists don’t have a proper knowledge of the process of bombing and artwork ... Most of them started with tags and throw-ups or stickers only four or five years ago. Some artists sometimes do their works just to make an issue or to become famous ... Plus, the connectivity is severely limited. Street art is still quite isolated from other cultures that also belong to the street. In particular, stencils are in their most primitive stage ... I can say there are no expert stencil artists in Korea ! And compared with tags, throw-ups and stickers, respect for stencils is hard to find ! For me, graffiti is not just about coolness … Some artists get arrested or loose their live doing their work !
What about your own stencil work ?
My first stencil was made according to a very simple design, just the letters “nanaisreal” ... After that, I started to do the character bombs and went into bigger size stencils, paste-up posters, stickers and so on. I do my artwork in many places in the city and in order to get them in the best spots, I do lots of crazy things such as climbing up bridges … I have no background in art but I have always desired to be a painter, even before I met the friend who taught me how to make stencils. I am always trying to input messages in my artwork. For instance, the message “don’t abandon us” was made for abandoned animals and the series “where is” was made to recognize the bear which is wandering around the city because of his ruined forest. Big size stencils representing hearts are made for the lives in the street. But, even though I have tried various works, the main symbol remains “nanaisreal” … This is about myself, I always want to speak my thoughts naturally through my artwork.
How do you see your own future and the future of street art in Seoul ?
I travel … Almost a year ago, I went to Osaka and Tokyo. In these places, I have made numbers of stencil posters. I really love the whole street movement but in my opinion, street artists should have a better knowledge of what they are doing … They have to develop better processes for bombing ! Like I said, the street art scene is not about fame or worthless issues. We have to serioulsy consider the importance and relevance of our scene in Seoul !
Well, Nana … Thank you very much for sharing these very emotional insights with us ! We hope you will continue stenciling in the streets of Seoul and other places … And perhaps one day in Brussels ! We are certainly looking forward to it … You are really real !
Copyright and interview : Serge-Louis for Brigadier Plipp. Thanks to Francis Van Maele (Redfox Press) for connecting me with Nana.