Two years in the past, the younger artist Rene Matić had the far-right slogan “Born British Die British” tattooed on their again. The phrases unfurl in a fragile font throughout their rippling shoulders within the elegiac black-and-white portrait they then commissioned from one among their heroes: the celebrated avenue photographer Derek Ridgers. His early work with Nineteen Seventies and 80s skinheads captured a burly tribal vitality usually fuelled by extremist views. Inked on a Black lesbian physique, the phrase turns into much more than a struggle cry for embattled white males. “[The tattoo] was all the time in regards to the in-between moments of being born British and dying British,” Matić says. “That’s what my story is all about.”
For the artist, skinhead tradition’s roots, when white and British Jamaican children danced facet by facet to ska and reggae, and the motion’s later notorious tilt to the far proper, make it “the right metaphor for speaking about West Indian and white working-class tradition – my tradition”. Skinhead insignia is a leitmotif all through Upon This Rock, the 25-year-old’s first massive solo present of their movie, images and sculpture, on the South London Gallery. So, too, are crosses and flags, the foremost emblems of nationhood and church.
But it’s how on a regular basis folks attain for, use and at occasions overturn these restricted symbols which can be one of many exhibition’s core themes. It’s an ethos summed up within the title of Matić’s 35mm images collection, flags for international locations that don’t exist however our bodies that do, an ongoing doc of their life during which identification shifts continually – from their spouse Maggie’s fabulous outfits to their nephew Rudi’s childhood passions.
The star of the present although, is the artist’s father Paul, whose uncooked, troubled life is dealt with with a gossamer contact in Matić’s astonishing first movie, Many Rivers. Paul is, improbably sufficient, a Black skinhead, who, impressed by an older white stepbrother, first discovered a way of belonging and launch with native skins in his house city of Peterborough. This, nonetheless, is much from essentially the most extraordinary factor about Paul. His lifelong wrestle with identification has knotty roots, starting with the institutional prejudice that divided his father from the white Catholic mom he by no means knew. Childhood abuse, care properties, alcoholism and the pervasive shortfall of risk in a failed “new city” have all taken their toll. “My entire life with my dad has been tortured by the anomaly of his previous,” Matić says. “I set out, not essentially to inform his story, however be taught it for each of us.”
Explored via relations’ usually painful recollections and pictures of Peterborough’s forgotten housing developments and broken-down church buildings, the movie may have made grim viewing. As a substitute, it’s as ebullient as it’s transferring, shot via with moments of freedom, laughter and caring: Paul dancing jubilantly in an in any other case drab backstreet and clearly loving the digital camera; his sister’s solidarity; his sheer attraction as a storyteller. Because the artist factors out, “the crux is a working-class diaspora’s survival and triumph”.
A sculptural set up riffing on the image of the crucified skinhead with bronze Christs impressed by Paul, affirms him as a sufferer with the potential for salvation and resurrection. “When Paul talks about being a skinhead within the movie, his face lights up for the primary time: all of a sudden, he has a goal,” Matić says. “This story is in regards to the trigger and impact of ache and struggling, and what, if something, saves us ultimately.”
Three extra works …
Vacation spot/Departure, 2020
“This was partly impressed by earlier pictures of fascist tattoos Derek Ridgers had taken,” says Matić. “I wished to insert myself into that narrative. I got here throughout Derek’s pictures [of skinheads] once I was youthful. I believe I used to be looking for myself, or my dad, in that scene. His work was instrumental in me understanding my tradition, identification and place – and opposition.”
Maggie in Orange, 2021
“That is one among many pictures of my spouse, Maggie, and their ever-changing hair, which acts as a marker of queer time on this collection. The exhibition explores how religion has offered itself to me and the folks I really like. Right here, the way in which Maggie is represented is harking back to a form of holy spirit. My gaze is that of pure love and perception.”
VE Day Skegness III, 2020
“This was taken throughout the 2020 lockdown when Skeggy got here out in full patriotic drive. I had been isolating there with my spouse and hadn’t seen one other particular person of color for 3 months and was feeling the load of it. It felt like a dystopia, like some Get Out shit. Someday, I’d been accused of stealing a parcel I used to be carrying. I stole some flags – which have been all over the place – as an alternative. That is me, understanding that gaze.”
Rene Matić: Upon This Rock is at South London Gallery till 27 November.