Louis Masai – Spreading environmental topics through art
Louis Masai is an artist based in London. His artworks usually highlight issues related to nature. One of his projects is #savethebees (in collaboration with Jim Vision), which I saw when being in London in 2014. Since then I became very curious about his art.
I really appreciate artists who are conscious and choose to spread words and thoughts. Especially artists who use the streets for it. It is not easy to catch the attention in a big city like London, and with so many variety of street art. For me Masai has this ability. It is more than a nice drawing. He is able to make you think about what he is showing to you. If you pay attention, you can see a bit of his philosophy and maybe feel connected as well.
In an interview with Masai for Street Art Europe, we talk about his roots, projects, his view on the environment and how he spreads his messages about environmental topics.
What is your background? Why did you choose to move to London in 2010?
I was born in Wiltshire, England, a proper farming part of the country. My parents had their first restaurant there, which they out grew and started a second bigger and more successful one on the outskirts of London in Surrey. The village name was Ripley. That is where I spent most of my childhood. I can’t say I felt particularly connected to Surrey and I seldom go back.
My parents have long sold the restaurant now and they are retired. I moved down to Cornwall by the sea, which is where I studied fine art and grew into my own person. I left Cornwall in 2010 after ten years, because there just isn’t really much of an infrastructure for young working people especially in the creative sector. Cornwall is a very poor part of the country. So essentially I chose to move to London, because of the arts culture that it thrives on.
Your projects make us aware of our environment and endangered species. Can you tell me a bit about the project #savethebees? How was the impact and the feedback you got?
I took a month trip out to South Africa. A lot of my family on the Dutch side live there and so I felt it seemed right to explore the lands that my heritage live in and get to know my family one bit better. Of course, I used the trip to paint as many murals as I could. On that trip I discovered the importance of conservation. I had already made the decision to only paint endangered African animals on that trip. It was the land itself that informed me of the crisis that the animal kingdom faces. Rhino poaching is thriving and the rhino will be extinct before long.
I returned saddened but hungry to inform the rest of the world about endangered animals. Of course for to the general public the life of a rhino or other large such creatures have very little impact on their daily lives and thus the understanding of what happens when they are gone is very hard to understand. I started painting about bees. Everyone has seen a bee and the bees are the centre to human survival. It was so well received purely on that basis.
People begin to feel a connection for the environment based on their own selfishness. Well, that is how I see it anyway. I think in order to make a person really care in most cases you have to demonstrate how it impacts them. There is no better case study of this than the bees.
To highlight species loss within the UK, you choose to do a sequence of paintings on the street. Can you tell me more about it?
Well I think the project you are referring to is the Synchronicity Earth project. This is now and yes, it was about British wildlife or rather what is found in the city of London. In fact it is not just what is current, it explores the extinct, the threatened, and the invasive. We wanted to highlight all avenues of the natural environment but tackle the creatures that would surprise the public.
The scorpion for example is an invasive species and has come into the UK via ship merchants; it mainly inhabits in dockyards but has been found also hanging out in brick walls around Soho. Apparently they like the neon lights. The white washing of the hedgehog wasn’t done by myself, it was the council. We just happened to capture it and use it within the context of the film to prove the point we were raising.
I am fine art trained and I love fine art. It is always within me when I work. Probably more so than what people coin as street art.
For London Loves Corals project you developed the mural in a few days. Looks like your projects require a lot of research. How long did you take to create this project?
I am always spending hours looking for images and information. I use the IUCN red list a lot for initial data and then start looking for images. I have to constantly double check images to make sure I have the right species. Sometimes I mess up but I am not a specialist and I think sometimes people forget that.
For the corals I spent about a month watching documentaries, reading articles, finding images etc. It was intense but allowed for the work on the painting to be much smoother. I started to feel like I understood the reef a little better. The wall took seven days to complete, and it has been painted so that each day was a new painting. It is being edited into a film at present. This is another Synchronicity Earth project…
This project gave you an opportunity to be part of the global climate meeting of COP21 in Paris. How was this experience?
Synchronicity Earth are working very closely with me. They encourage me to attend different environmental calendar dates around the world. Later this year I will be in Hawaii and San Francisco doing similar things with them. Essentially I was in Paris painting the coral hearts as a submissive reminder to the general public to think about the ocean.
The ocean was not a main topic of conversation at COP21, as they were preoccupied by carbon offsets. The real fact is that the coral biodiversity will collapse way before the carbon emissions irreversibly effect climate change. We are hoping that governments will realize this before it is too late. The trip was emotional, but that was partly due to how heartbroken Parisians were about the terrorist attacks the weeks before. I have to wonder how co-incidental all of that was. Especially Paris, in fact the whole of France was not allowed to march on the day, whilst the rest of the world did. Just saying!
You did also a project called Nice Up the Walls in Jamaica. How is Rastafarianism present in your life?
Nice Up the Walls is deep in the shadows at the moment but not forgotten. It will come back. I am working on other projects at the moment that will gateway to the resurrection of that chapter. Rastafari for me is something that grows with each day, at times it floods my veins with energy and at other times it lies more dormant. What I mean by that is that with politics and city life knocking on my door, every day in London it is hard to channel all my attention into rasta.
I am also still growing into my own spiritual alignment and I rather not label myself by anything. There are many different orders within rasta. My position in that will align itself when I am closest to nature. For the time being I give thanks and praises to the most high and love a life that can be humbled. At the same time pass on important messages to the world about our environment. The desire to do well and encourage others to do the same stems from my understandings of Rastafari.
Where else would you like to go to paint and do projects?
Travelling is in my genes I guess. It is always been passed on, but I guess I differ in that I leave paintings everywhere. I have painted in Italy, France, Holland, Jamaica, America, Croatia, South Africa and Ireland. This year I will be adding Greece, China and Saudis Arabia to the list.
Tell us more about your next projects?
I am not doing a solo this year. I am busy planning a US tour. It will become a documentary and we will not spend any money, from the clothes to the cameras and paint. No money will be spent by us. It is a project to show that being a creative, which ever part of the industry you are from is not easy. We want to highlight how ridiculous big companies are when they ask us to do stuff for free.
In addition, we will obviously be investigating environmental issues within each state. There are other smaller projects but this is the big one. Not that dissimilar to a solo show in a way but outside instead of inside a gallery.
– Milenka –
Photos via the artist.