“When I was younger my parents told me I suffered from verbal diarrhoea,” says Iain EWOK Robinson. Now, the writer, poet, teacher, graffiti and street artist or as he defines it, a “spoken word flavoured hip-hop activist” works with words and a culture defined by expression.
When studying English at university, he discovered stream of conscious thinking and made the connection between that and his verbal diarrhoea. “I talk a lot, fast, and I just let the ideas go,” says Ewok.
He soon realised that when you make a connection, you feel smart, empowered and confident, and so he began to connect his work to activism. When we talk to children, we encourage role play, creativity and imaginative thinking in order to teach them the ability to think for themselves. That ability becomes their critical consciousness as adults, Ewok explains.
“If we have a mission as artists, let us make it our mission to make people feel confident,” he urges the audience.
The moment of connection between art and the audience is easily recognisable. It can be seen when people react spontaneously and enthusiastically, what Ewok calls the hmm! moment, based on the sound audience members make in response to particularly good part of spoken word poetry that resonates with them. It can also be seen from the clicking of fingers in appreciation. That moment of connection and empowerment can spur on further action, activism and creativity from the audience, and if they can create something new based on what the artist has given them, you’ve achieved your goal as an artist, Ewok believes.
In addition to working with words through slam poetry, he also uses graffiti as a form of expression. While graffiti and other urban art are often misunderstood and described as vandalism, the medium is actually highly communicative. It may not make sense or be legible, but it communicates a message; it says, ‘Hey I am here! Take notice of me!’
“Graffiti is not about what it says,” Ewok explains, “it’s about the fact that it said it.” Graffiti makes you aware of the surroundings. “You cannot see street art without seeing the street,” he says. “If you want to know what public space is, look at the graffiti,” he adds. Spaces such as walls, dirt bins and signs are spaces that may not be recognised as public until someone tags it and makes it a public engagement area.
Ewok engages with the idea of graffiti and public space, questioning why graffiti causes such offence to some. If you look at the definition of vandalism, a vandalised object is one that is damaged to the point where it cannot fulfil its purpose, he explains. A wall covered in graffiti still functions as a wall, so for it to be considered vandalism, something has to be broken. And if it’s not the wall, then perhaps what is broken is something inside of you, what is broken is your personal sense of aesthetic.