Social, political and economic issues have throughout history been catalysts for great art. They makes us think, feel and react. They unite us; divide us; make us believe; make us rebel. And for artists, especially urban artists, collaboration and debate is key. So, at this year’s Moniker Art Fair – an international fair that champions urban art – what better subject for the installation hall than Brexit?
I am always excited about Moniker International Art Fair. Within the craziness of 'Frieze Week', as it now tends to be known in London, Moniker is a fun, buzzy and welcoming fair. It has none of the stuffiness and pretense of many of the others, and you can wander around and speak to gallerists, collectors and artists, while swigging a luke-warm Vedett beer or slightly flat gin and tonic (to be fair, both were cold and fizzy on collector's day this year).
There will always be pieces I like, and those I don’t. My personal highlight this year was Thai artist Gank Pansuay, brought to the fair by Creative Debuts. Not Brexit-related, but certainly poignant: a male artist painting strong black women in works that are powerful, vibrant and expressive.
Ken Nwadiogbu, a Nigerian artist who I had the pleasure of meeting, talked me through his highly emotive art, another personal favourite. ‘The Value of nothing’ sees an unhappy face staring out of a Japanese Yen shaped hole in a collage of notes. These notes are social media answers to his question ‘what is man’s worth built on?’: printed on paper to signify and mock the printing of a banknote.
But enough of my favourites, and back to the Moniker installation hall: ‘George the Union is Cross’. Curator Yasha Young asked a number of artists what Brexit is to them. And the results were haunting, amusing and thought-provoking, all at once. A constantly swinging swing in front of murderous graffiti; funereal ‘Great Britain’ flowers shedding petals; a homeless man sleeping below protest banners, next to an Irish backstop themed temporary bus stop; a refugee tent signifying a bleak look at a home in Britain, to name but a few.
My personal favourite, and I’m sure the most instagrammable, was Whatshisname’s ‘Who humps whom?’, an EU flag-laiden Jeff Koons-esque balloon dog mounting a similar Union Jack sculpture. And an EU balloon dog excreting the UK…I think you get my drift!
So what did we learn from Moniker’s 10th anniversary fair? Once again that social and political uncertainty breeds creativity. But also that it’s not the only thing artists are talking about. There are more talented urban artists coming through the ranks than ever. This is the last Moniker fair in this format, before Moniker CULTURE takes over, creating a platform to leverage the talent of protest artists. Who knows how this will look in the future, but all those who are interested in urban art - the fun, the political, the shocking - should pay this fair a visit at its new and final venue.