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Sainer - Urban Portraits

Words:

Edd Norval
July 9, 2018

Polish artist Sainer began life as graffiti artist Sain. Working with high-school friend Bezt, they formed Etam Cru, creating a unique urban language in their home country. Since then, Sainer's journey has led him to interact with urban life in a much more profoundly universal way.

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Through gentrification and urban sprawl, people are becoming lost. As cities grow and people are pulled further from the cultures that shaped them, their own individual identities, as well as that of a group, are diminishing. The largest cities in the world are developing into dystopian centres of business and commerce. Existence is transient and faceless. You're only values are your capability to produce labour and ability to purchase the fruits of others.


As urban landscapes morph uncontrollably into utilitarian havens, they leave people behind. Remnants of when a face and a story was your defining characteristics. Sainer's earliest forays into graffiti were a way of engaging proactively with his environment, working on walls that gave him an understanding of humanity through our use of concrete. It was braille for those who could already see but didn't know how to look.


His characters seem depersonalised in their stark backdrops - covering multi-storey walls in cities all over the world, they speak a transcendent language that is universally understood. The men and women seem hopelessly caught in his works - both on walls and on canvas. They're reflections on change made with profit in mind. His men and women are collateral. True to life, some of them are resigned to the fact, others are more prepared to fight back.

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Born in 1988, the year before Poland emancipated themselves from communist rule, Sainer and his country are still suffering the fallout of their former regime. Stripping people of their individual identity is one of the core components of authoritarian rule being successful. It's imperative to brainwash people into thinking that they are part of a group - a worthy group, but that alone, they are nothing. It's a paradoxical lesson in human worth, yet one that former communist countries show side-effects from for decades after its departure.


Soviet architecture still dominates Polish cities. Former industrial powerhouses have become ghost towns filled with rusty tattered skeleton factories. You don't escape that without some kind of deep-seated trauma. The aftermath of such widespread control breeds people that are wary of allowing its recurrence. Albeit under new guises, espousing more liberal and noble ideals - globalisation is a global form of control that is once again thrusting people to the side in the endless search for more.


Some of Sainer's work depicts melancholic faces, living in a world that's no longer theirs. In others we see faces covered in scarves, reminiscent of the Arab Spring - with young men armed with flares, smoke bombs and molotov cocktails. Whatever he paints, although the messages initially differ - one of resignation, one of rage - is still focussed on the human behind the headline. We are people awash in a powerful sea of change. By highlighting the people, Sainer gives us a little glimpse of humanity. It's the way that we relate to these characters, that we can simultaneously see ourselves in them and yet pity them, that gives them the transformative power.

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Having seen dictatorial rule once and being greatly reluctant to see it again - Sainer has gone from young graffiti artist to a kind of resistant activist. His murals and canvases are there to empower people to swim against the tide. Never to lose their personality, never to be cast aside.


Besides the rapid change in the urban environment, the cultural fabrics of smaller countries, ones more fragile to change, are tearing. Sainer has a unique ability of tapping into genuine cultural images, ones that seem lived and representative of their place. In capturing these people, through their traditional dress, context or placement, it's also a foot-up in retaining people's appreciation for different cultures and goes a long way in highlighting the importance of not only retaining cultural identity - but doing what is necessary to make it flourish.


Sainer's journey from graffiti'd lettering in Poland to large murals all over the world seems like some kind of predestination. There's no question that he made it happen, carving out his own place in the street art world, but his life up to this point has equipped him with all the necessary ingredients to make such modern masterpieces. It seems like everything that had happened, through his place of birth to decisions growing up, were utilised to best possible effect. In the face of seemingly inevitable change, people do still stand up and in some cases, can even win. It might be disguised initially when new towerblocks and skyscrapers are constructed, but as long as there is belief - there is always a chance to make change.

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