Street art from SEA to the West
Penang is a cultural heritage destination known for its street art and murals. But these forms of artistic expressions are banned in many places around the world. In Singapore, street art is permitted only at certain venues such as *SCAPE and the Somerset Skate Park. Outside these sanctioned areas, it would be considered vandalism, a punishable act that may include a jail sentence.
However, places in the West are more open to such freedom of expressions on public property. So it is no surprise that Yok and Sheryo, who call themselves professional spraycationers, are based in Brooklyn, New York, though they travel often. Originally from Australia and Singapore respectively, they have worked on a range of projects, from street art to large-scale installations.
Their formative years were split between New York and South East Asia, with their respective backgrounds and culture greatly influencing their work.
Share with us your first exposure to street art culture.
Yok: Walking around the back alleys in Barcelona in the late 1990s was the first time I saw this art form, covering the walls, floor, windows, everything.
Sheryo: I never knew anything about street art or graffiti until I met some skateboarding dudes who asked me to go paint with them. I was intimidated by the medium but got hooked and wanted to paint everyday. I was exposed to it more when I began travelling and painting, but moving to New York was when I got to know a lot more about the culture and its roots. Haha, I was a frog in a well when I started.
What was your individual practices like before Yok & Sheryo?
S: No fun painting alone.
Coming from different countries and cultures, did that inform your collaborations in any way?
Y: Our first collaboration was in Cambodia. The culture there informed our paintings as we were strongly influenced by our surroundings and the temples that we visited. I never thought it would have a lasting effect on our work. We still use a lot of gold in our work, and this was inspired by the first few days messing around in Phnom Penh.
S: Yeah! I love to include my Singapore or South East Asian influences into everything: from food to conversations to inside jokes. Our artwork is the same — East meets West. Our artwork is pretty much an extension of our personalities, cultures and humour.
Were there any initial difficulties or negotiations?
Y: Not really, it just flowed naturally right from the start.
S: It was pretty natural, no negotiations, no tears. Just coffee in the morning, drawing, beers in the evening, drawing. Then ride bicycles whenever we got bored. The simple life.
What draws you towards street art, instead of mediums like canvases or body painting?
Y: The outdoors, travel and painting with friends.
S: Body painting? Hahaha. We like being outdoors, travelling and having fun in the sun too much.
What are your inspirations behind your work?
S: Travelling and meeting strange people, being in a different place with a different culture very often.
Do you think street art is slowly becoming more accepted in conservative countries?
Y: Yes. It is quickly turning into a commodity, which is horrible to see.
S: Being accepted is great, but it is also a double-edged sword. Many people are starting to see that this art form is valuable and precious, and that it is becoming one of the largest art movements in the world.
What is the biggest change street art can bring to the world?
Y: It gives people a way to express themselves, or protest against some things, or draw attention to an issue or topic.
S: The ability to say something that matters and put it out there so easily to the world.