Polish street artist Yola has travelled to Buenos Aires to recreate a 19th century painting that forms the centrepiece of a spectacular collaboration with artists Jaz (Argentina), Other (Canada) and Corona (France).
Yola’s digital design, measuring five by seven metres, has been mounted on a wall in Palermo using blue-back paper, the same material that is used on advertising billboards. Though it’s an adaption of the painting called ‘The Vicious Circle’ by the famous Polish artist Jacek Malczewski , there’s much more to it than meets the eye. Yola has placed contemporary real life characters in the artwork who she photographed during her short visit to BA.
Gary, the bald man and central figure in the artwork is from the USA. The other models featured are from Argentina, Columbia and France, and they all live in the Capital Federal. “Before coming here, I read a lot of books about Argentina and watched a number of Argentine movies to understand ‘what is Argentina?’, says Yola. “Still I don’t know (laughs) but what I understand is that the people are from everywhere and that’s why I’m here doing my art.”
Artists Jaz , Other and Corona below Yola’s artwork (photo © BA Street Art)
Buenos Aires is of course a city of immigrants, most Argentines are of Italian or Spanish descent. There is also a large Jewish community and immigrant population from Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile, China, Korea and Europe. As Yola and I are chatting in front of her design, an elderly woman walks past and remarks: “Qué lindo! “The lady is called Graciela and I comment that the artist is Polish. Graciela tells me she’s Argentine but her family are originally from Poland.
Like Graciela’s family, there are also a large number of Polish immigrants in Argentina, many of whom came to the country before or after the Second World War. One of the most famous was the novelist Witold Gombrowicz. “He was in Argentina and arrived on the very first ship from Poland, then there was the war so he stayed,” said Yola. “I’m an immigrant too. I was living in France and now in England and left my country to see what happens somewhere else. Usually you go somewhere to find happiness or a better job and you go full of hope but what you find in the end is that your new life is not very easy day by day. So I was trying to speak a little about differences, there is isolation, no family, no friends, you are alone in a strange place, nobody cares about you and have you to manage on your own.”
The composition of Malczewski’s masterpiece with the figures arranged in a circular pattern has an important meaning in Polish culture. “The original painting was all about the circle that has been used a lot in Polish art, theatre and movies,” says Yola. “In Poland it’s common to see drunk people dancing around in a circle and it’s a symbolic way to show that we are not doing what we should. We are spinning around without seeing what’s going on around us. So I also took these movements to try and adapt them to the modern day and speak about the movement of populations around the world and immigration.”
Yola’s previous designs in the Polish capital Warsaw have all featured well-known works of art by Renaissance painters such as Titian, Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea Mantegna but her project in BA was the first time she has chosen to recreate a Polish masterpiece. “All the previous Renaissance works I did were done in Poland,” says Yola. “By putting up this up in Argentina, I was using a painting by a Polish guy to have an exchange of ideas because I’m Polish.”
Another of Yola’s designs for her Renesansowy Street Art project in Warsaw recreates La Primavera, the famous painting by Sandro Botticelli, featuring pensioners she had photographed in a day care centre. After returning to London, Yola told me she was amazed by how friendly the street artists are in BA and that she now has grand designs to spread her art to another continent. “I’d love to come back to Argentina but I have an idea for Asia, in Hong Kong maybe but this time it will be bigger!”