We see modern life as being in contrast with nature. By 'modern' we think of large skyscrapers made of concrete and glass, mobile phones and 9-to-5 office jobs. We think of large and brutal cityscapes where people can easily slip through like ghosts. Mantra, having grown up between city and countryside - is trying to unite them.
Hailing from Metz in the east of France, a city that is never too far away from trees and green areas, Mantra interacts with the environment of the city in a unique way. Humans have chosen a certain way to progress with our lives, a certain direction. This direction makes Mantra feel uncomfortable. If we move too far one way, we're moving far too far from the other way. Modernity and progression then, is pulling us away from nature. It not only doesn't have to, but it shouldn't. It is a strange definition of progress.
His large murals, capturing the essence of nature - with people basking in fresh water, butterflies and birds, are like reverse footprints. Instead of his shoes leaving a bit of the city in the country, he's leaving traces of the countryside in the city. They take up multiple storeys on buildings, occupying so much of the viewers eye that they are bound to be affected by the sight.
Mantra spent most of his young life out in forests, rather than street corners or football pitches. Most people regard their heroes to be the people they see on television or in films, or maybe even the older kids they hang about with. For Mantra, his heroes were the animals, as he states, "My path was in the forest, lake and the wildlife, rather than on football field, and the frogs, owls, foxes and reptiles…were my super heroes."
His name is interesting - Mantra. The word is aesthetically pleasing and denotes the idea of peace and equanimity, achieved through concentration and repetition. It's defined as being a slogan or statement often repeated. So Mantra's mantra is the idea of the natural world. He repeats it throughout cities all over the world. Graffiti has its roots in a sort of territorial warfare where taggers will battle to have there names in the most visible places. Mantra's approach is more in line with a shaman prophesying another war - the one we are fighting against mother nature.
Eco-conservation and other environmental messages are beginning to enter street art. Portuguese street artist Bordalo II recently curated the inaugural TRASHPLANT festival that champions environmental activism and awareness. Mantra, whilst not necessarily part of a 'movement' per se, is certainly one of the leading figures in a trend that has been gaining momentum over the last half-decade.
Graffiti and then, as it became swallowed by the epithet, street art as whole, has always been a more radical and fringe form of art. As such, it has given a voice to the marginalised and disaffected. Amongst them have been black culture, gang culture, gay culture and now its increasingly becoming a social and political voice of particularly anti-capitalist and anti-globalist themes.
Thankfully, environmentalism is taking the fore. As a result of our rampant desire for consumerism on all fronts, from our throwaway culture of technology and its almost-yearly updates, to our unwillingness to engage with tricky questions surrounding sustainability - we've gotten somewhat lost and ungrateful for the depth of natural beauty and resource that our planet bears. Unfortunately, without the major players - governments and corporations, agreeing to play ball, grassroots movements. beginning with artists, are taking them to task. They won't let the world's leaders just ignore it.
Mantra has a well-rounded worldview. His understanding of the transient, yet eternal nature of power (that is may change its name, but never its personality) and its interplay with the surrounding world, would hint that he is well aware of the impact and potential of his work. In the grand scheme, it may be small, but that's alright. Enough straws of hay will eventually break the camel's back. The intimate relationship between people and nature in his murals broadcast a message loud and clear: it's right in front of your eyes, respect it and do the best you can.
His relationship with street art and graffiti is itself, intimate. He paints the murals free-hand - without the aid of a projector. This allows him to channel the overall feeling of the piece as it fits into the immediate environment, more acutely than it would have been if it were more calculated. His work seems to be filled with important emotions, the kind that are necessary to make the change he seems to be seeking. This change, our reunification and appreciation of the natural world, is one that we can all get behind.
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