Not every trip to Brick Lane market results in meeting an artist like Faizal Lulat. Selling prints from his Con/UNity series for ten pounds each, handing out free postcards and writing individual phrases on each plastic carrier bag, he soon attracted a fascinated crowd.
Lulat claims that he never intended to be an artist and ‘only started referring to myself as such since 2011, having left university in 2007 after studying Graphic Design’. He told me that, ‘I’ve always been making things but never with the intention of showing them publicly and it was only after a series of unfortunate events (I got fired from a job!) that I started on this path’.
Part Barbara Kruger, part Jenny Holzer, Lulat’s work is full of political and moral messages. From the ‘Egonomics’ print to the ‘Blah Blah Blah’ text over an image of David Cameron (the latter is now pinned to my wall), Lulat tells me that his work ‘definitely has a political undercurrent, but also a social, moral and even religious one.’ Is a political or moral standpoint something he deliberately tries to communicate in his pieces? Lulat says, ‘I feel like the art should reflect the times we live in; the artist is and should be a mirror of society, reflecting the good and bad and offering people an alternative way of seeing the world. I’m not sure if art itself can change politics, but it can most definitely start a dialogue. It’s up to the people to make real changes in real life in real terms.’
Even those of us who have only lived in east London for a year would find it hard to disagree that the east end has a definite offbeat charm. So how has living here affected his work? ‘I’m most definitely an east end lad, having been born and raised in Forest Gate. Living among so many different people and cultures makes you a more understanding and tolerant individual, which helps when communicating ideas to people from all walks of life.’ Surroundings, then, play a key part in Lulat’s work and inspiration. He explains that, ‘People, places and culture fascinate me. The things that surround us in our daily lives are the most inspiring. Learn to appreciate these things and the day starts to taste a little sweeter.’ Lulat seems finely attuned to the details of everyday life with a clear social conscience – and his works benefit hugely.
His t-shirt designs are printed with various controversial statements confronting prejudice – phrases include ‘Must be nice to be white’ and ‘Heterophobic’. He says, ‘Although the work is quite controversial I’m not really going out of my way to be – it’s the life experience at hand that has stimulated such ideas. Being Muslim and British there’s often times when there’s a conflict of interest in the way I’m trying to live. I’ve received a few abusive words here and there, but I’m only beginning to get the T-shirts out there, so watch this space for what’s to come!’
Using the platform of his life and the life of others around him, Lulat constructs art which reflects daily struggles of discrimination. Committed to moral dialogues and better social communication, his work is provocative and political, speaking for a generation combatting prejudice. He points out the importance of controversy in art, telling me that, ‘it’s important to push the public and their boundaries in order to stimulate a better conversation. I don’t know anyone who ever learnt as much just by living between the lines.’
Faizal Lulat’s work is available on his stall at the Backyard Market in Brick Lane most weekends and you can view his art on his website here: http://www.experimantal.com/