Tags: creative director
This is a big one for me, because it’s my first session in Dubai and my first non Greek session. So here I am, just a day in Dubai dizzy from the trip and the roaming in the streets, or mall alleys, of the city, and I just sit myself for some proper dinner and a glass of wine and that’s when I pick up a street slash urban culture magazine and I find an interview of Sya. And I am thinking to myself: is this really happening? Graffiti artists? In Dubai? The chances of finding a graffiti artists in the UAE, in my head, were slim to none. But nope, I was wrong. A week later, I stepped into Sya One and Steffi Bow Ville and met only the most creative couple and sweet couple I ever got to interview for imatiothiki. Both graffiti artists, Sya being more of a graffiti writer, they met here in Dubai, on the very sole free wall that used to exist in Festival City and as Bow puts it: ‘it was love at first spray’. Both super nice and friendly, trying to push their limits on what they love doing, graffiti, and trying to make art that will be understood and appreciated by everyone. And that’s the point of it all I guess. Non exclusivity in whatever you call art, in whatever you are doing. So, please welcome the Dubai era on imatiothiki, and a small chat I had with Steffi Bow, since Sya One unfortunately had to be at work on that day.
What is it with graffiti artists and trains?
It sort of goes back to the holy grail of painting a train, but it is the idea of being up on what they call a ‘runner’. Graffiti is about self promotion and about getting your name up there and for people seeing your name and there’s no greater way that the city seeing your name, than when it’s on a train. So graffiti artists call that a runner, so when you paint a train you got yourself a runner, so the whole city is going to see it.
It’s like a moving ad?
Yes exactly. It’s like when you’re playing darts and that would be sort of the bull’s eye. But what they say is that you’re not a graffiti writer unless you’ve done a train.
When was the first time you painted?
I’ve never painted a train. I haven’t been painting for very long. These days it’s much harder to paint a train, especially in the UK. It still happens sometimes, but with all the cameras and security and stuff it’s much harder. SYA has been painting for almost 20 years now, so at some stage in his life, that was what he did. But you know, graffiti is a movement, and it kind of started when they were doing it illegally, but now it has become an accepted art form. There are loads of people who do graffiti art or graffitiesque style work, that have not necessarily done anything illegal.
You can even see graffiti in art galleries nowadays!
Yes! And I mean, even if you buy a box of biscuits, even the typography of the package is in graffiti style. And the amount of feedback and interest we get from companies and corporations who want to use graffiti as a medium for advertising.. I mean it kind of goes against the philosophy of graffiti, because graffiti is meant to be about the rawness, about doing it illegally. This whole advertisement ideology, has been recognized by corporations and they are now using graffiti as a medium to market themselves and their products. Also companies want to look cool with younger generations and graffiti art does attract their attention. At the same time it is giving artists opportunities and resources to they get their artwork out there and get paid for what they love doing. Also people should understand that living here in the UAE, graffiti is not a cheap hobby… the best spray paints here are hard to find and cost a fortune.
When did you start doing graffiti?
Hmm.. So, SYA’s story is different to mine. He is a graffiti writer, he is very particular to be called that, the writer part comes from the fact he always writes his name, SYA. If you see the initials SYA, it’s not his real name. When he was in school his art teacher wrote on his school report that he was a Super Young Artist, which is SYAthe initials SYA and until this day he’ll always written SYA. Everyone calls him SYA now, and that’s his nickname. So he’s painted SYA for the last 20-25 years. I started about 5 years ago. I was born in East London, and I had a bit of a nickname, which was ‘BOW’, but also my grandmother always wore BOWs, so that was kind a way for me to remember her. So I just started painting these tags, literally just a BOW tag, which was just a stencil I designed, and basically BOWpainted BOW tags everywhere, all over London .I thought that was good fun! BOWI had no idea that five years from now, I’d be free handing massive graffiti BOWs and have met my husband through graffiti. It’s been a bit of a crazy journey really. In Dubai I thought what can I do here? How do I continue my BOWs here? So I came up with these really quirky statements was and painted them on rubbish and staff around the place. I then heard about a public painting wall here in Dubai, at Festival City. So I thought I would go down there and do a bigger stencil BOW and that’s where I met my husband.
So, yes, it was love at first spray. And ever since I met SYA he has taught me a lot on graffiti art and helped me evolve. SYA is a sign writer by trade, so although he is in graphics now and he does graffiti as a hobby, he is professionally trained as a sign writer and really understands letters and the way in which they can be promoted. SYA has helped me learn so many things so fast, I wouldn’t have come to know so many things if it weren’t for him.
In order to reach the point where you are right now, both of you, in your art, you had to put in a lot of dedication and practice. Is that right?
Exactly! And this is what makes me laugh, because people simply do not understand graffiti art. You cannot make a graffiti artist overnight. It takes years and years. I met a fine artist recently, who’s does commission work, and he made this comment that really annoyed me. He said: ‘I am going to learn how to graffiti spray painting, because there’s more money in it’. You know, you can’t just learn overnight. It’s years and years and years of practice.
In your work do you see any limitations here in Dubai? Ok, the obvious is that you don’t have walls to paint.
That’s a major problem, actually. That’s why we have our villa and we have our own wall set up so we can paint. If we didn’t have this wall, I would be worried, because SYA has to paint, bottom line. So, it’s kind of good that we have a wall that you can paint otherwise god knows what he would get up to here!! But there are other things we do, in order to keep up our creativity needs. For example SYA is really good at carpentry and he makes all these furniture for our home. Like this table, it’s from old Siberian railway sleepers and I make these purses, from newspapers and old papers.
But I am guessing living in Dubai makes a graffiti artist push their creativity in other ways.
Yes totally. For example there’s a big event coming up next year, called Innovator and it’s for kids and it basically joins innovation, art and science. I will be involved showing and teaching how to make my DIY purses. It’s really exciting.
Yes! We basically we quite a lot of workshops for kids. In schools and at art galleries, such as Tashkeel. For us it’s cool, because we don’t have kids and it’s very nice To interact with them and watch them learn new stuff and get creative.
Do you get to travel as well and meet other graffiti artists around the world?
Absolutely, last year I wrote some travel diaries for Societe Perrier, and we went to Beirut, Cyprus and London. And each time we went, we did lots of really fun stuff. Especially in Cyprus, we got in touch with the local writers and go painting with them, they take us to their spots and we get our Sya & BOW pieces up!!
There is a stereo type feel to what a graffiti artist may be like, explain.
Graffiti artists are 100% not what you would expect, especially the ones I ‘ve met. Most of them I ‘ve come across have been very middle class, well educated, traveled and all have great senses of humor and sense of irony. You know, they are not at all like gangster type that some would imagine (I’ve met those sorts back in East London and they are completely different to graff artists). They are actually quite understated and if you meet them, on the street you would never guess. I mean, SYA looks like someone you might expect to be a graffiti artist (or gangsta ha ha!!), but most of them don’t look like SYA! Most of them are like the normal bloke who goes to work and has a nice Mrs. and family,. But that’s great, that’s how they keep the anonymity!!!
You can find SYA and BOW on tumblr.
A few comments on the things pictured and said above:
The tartan BOW Steffi’s holding is actually the original Murray clan tartan. Her grandmother, who always wore bows, was a Scottish and in the Murray clan.. / The white Adidas trainers are signed by Snoop Dog. Both BOW and SYA are Adidas Originals Ambassadors and big fans of sneakers. / Their villa’s graffiti wall changes every week. Here’s to you boring villa fences!! / Steffi’s engagement ring is a diamond encrusted BOW. And SYA has a BOW tattoo on his arm. And that’s what the love at first spray is all about. / The cushion on the British flag armchair is made of London’s tube seats.