Matlakas is a dyslexic artist with a six-pack who doesn’t like ice-cream. But moreover, he is an art activist fighting for cultural and political unity in a world full of imaginary borders.
More passionate than Picasso, Italian-born Matlakas covers himself in automatic umbrellas in the name of art on the regular. Onlookers observe as he treads the streets of London, Cape Town, Seoul, Naples and the Jeju Island wearing a crown of barbed wire and roses, which he slowly dismantles along the way. He’s taken Melting Borders – a performance piece involving real ice-cream with natural, edible colours melting slowly in the sun – from Armenia to the North Korean border, and participated in the Moscow Biennale 2010 and the Gwangju Biennale 2014. The artist brandishes a battlecry in every area he visits: “Now it’s the time. It’s the time to melt away all flags. Accept the variety of all colours. To accept cultural differences, to win together.”
Matlakas says about his performance work: “As I look up my head is tilted upwards because I have a dream. So many dreams, and many dreams […] that [are] obstructed by inhuman rules.” According to the artist, these obstructions include passports, fences, laws, permissions, weapons, violence, and barbed wire.
This idea is symbolically expressed in all of Matlakas’ work, including his energetic life-size paintings created from his studio in London. These pop-art scenes with expanses of yellow and blue and cages of dense, black lines bring in motifs from childhood and modern life. A piece might feature lego men besides books and birdcages. Classical sculptures with laptops and lasers. Paper planes and sailor suits. They wallop you with colour and tickle you back to life with whimsy.
However, these fantastical scenes draw us into the imaginary world of borders and their very real consequences: the confinement of refugees, the conflict of human desires, and the freedom of a borderless future (should we ever reach it). As Matlakas put it: “how come something so imaginary leads us to fight, and fight back?” And from that he suggests the question: why is it so important to continue to fight?
As he prepares for more performances and residencies across the globe, Matlakas continues to combat these fictitious borders in society by creating art that makes you sit up and listen. Or stand on a car bonnet holding a protest poster, one of the two.
See more of Matlakas’ work here.
This article is the first of a series on professional UK-based artists I admire, researched and written by myself. I hope you enjoyed it and please feel free to share your thoughts on Matlakas’ work below!