by Zohra KhanAug 05, 2022
Even an oblique reference to the name Mona Lisa draws undivided attention. The 16th century Renaissance masterpiece by the painter Leonardo da Vinci decors the wall of the much-coveted Louvre Museum in Paris, only to be of interest to a variety of people from all across the globe, now for centuries. An epitome of the Renaissance aesthetic sensibility, the painting has been equally popularised by the kitsch artists to lend it an aura devoid of ostentatiousness. The latest sculpture, Moona Lisa, by the UK-based street artist Nick Walker, currently part of the exhibition Vanguard | Bristol Street Art: The Evolution of a Global Movement, at M Shed, Bristol, is another parody of the iconic work. Unlike the painting, which focuses on the facial expression of the lady, the standing bronze sculpture by Walker shows Moona Lisa in a half-bent posture with much-visible buttocks and legs.
Walker’s practice is known for “cross-pollination” between the profound and profane embedded with irony and cheeky subversions. The obsession to challenge the emblem of classic – Mona Lisa for Walker began in the late '90s starting with the Mona Shot, where Mona Lisa is seen with a blurry handgun. This was followed by Mona Simpson. The decision to do one last version led to the creation of the 260 kilograms and 1.8 meters tall sculpture, Moona Lisa.
In an interview with STIR, Walker says, “I was driving in Bristol around 2005 and suddenly realised if you add another ‘o' to Mona, you get ‘Moona’, instantly creating the cheeky visual of the meaning of the word mooning. I roughed a sketch when I got home and this led to a photoshoot with some period costumes, then became the stencilled canvas. The canvas was later auctioned at Bonhams in 2008 and sold for 10 times its estimated price. Having this success with the canvas version I realised that why not continue onto other mediums. A few years later the opportunity rose and a life-size sculpture of the idea, now at Vanguard retrospective exhibit in Bristol, offered a perfect opportunity for this long-awaited revisit. The shape and form of the sculpture are very typical to the act of mooning and it was my intention to have the sculpture resembling the canvas version as closely as possible. I think this was carried out successfully.”
Along with the Walker, the Vanguard | Bristol Street Art: The Evolution of a Global Movement showcases the works of the artists including Adam Neate, Bill Posters, Carrie Hitchcock, Filthy Luker, Inkie, Karen Dews, Kineta Hill, Matt Small, Mau Mau, Mr Jago, Paris, Rowdy, Sickboy, Swoon, Will Barras and Xenz, to name but a few. The exhibition showcases the largest collection of works belonging to the set of anarchist artists active through the years of the 1980s to the present. The city of Bristol, the hometown of the famous graffiti artist Banksy, has been synonymous with street art and culture. The exhibition along with the British and Irish artists is pushing the boundaries of the genre of street art by reflecting on the changing patterns of activism rooted in the new technology in an effort to ring the alarms on the uninvited social and environmental changes.
Talking about the theme of the exhibition and how does Moona Lisa fit into Vanguard’s generative ideas, Mary McCarthy, the Project Director at Vanguard - a collective of artists, musicians, specialists and collectors involved in the global street art movement - mentions, “The underlying theme for the exhibition that runs through every aspect is ‘Vanguard’. It is a reflection upon the artists involved in this movement, a group of people leading the way, doing things differently, original and pushing any boundaries of acceptability. Nick Walker’s Moona Lisa is aligned with this theme, not only through the revolutionary and dynamic techniques used to create this sculpture – Steve Russell Studios 360° photogrammetry rig of 160 DSLR camera’s and the virtual reality digital rendering techniques used are right at the forefront of technology – but also the visual itself – its distortion of a known work into something new, fresh and extremely cheeky, questioning our acceptance of an iconic image and showing us a different playful approach – is all certainly ‘Vanguard’.”
Street art achieves its purpose to confront authority when the audience is jolted from their comfort zone. Amidst the rise of dissenters, the voices of whistleblowers, a spate of protests across the globe in the past decade, the many forms of art have soared to strident heights to ascertain the sustainable actions are realised to grapple with the lopsided situation(s). “If I have stirred a reaction within the viewer,” as Walker astutely maintains, “then I have achieved something meaningful. I want people to talk about it and to discuss it. It goes without saying that no reaction is a failure in my mind.”
The exhibition Vanguard | Bristol Street Art: The Evolution of a Global Movement runs at M Shed, Bristol until October 31, 2021.