Multidisciplinary artist GAIKA tells New Money why he thinks social inequality is hindering the climate debate, what big business needs to do differently and his fears for his art.
Growing up, GAIKA Tevares’ brothers compared him to ‘Benny’ from Brazilian film, City of God. For those who haven’t seen it, Benny’s character fancies himself as the ‘Robin Hood’ of drug dealers in the favelas of 1970’s Rio, and eventually wants to live and honest life.
Although GAIKA grew up in south London not Rio, within a few minutes of talking it’s easy to see how they made the comparison. The son of Jamaican and Grenadian parents, he has made a name for himself producing gothic dancehall and visual art sculptures as confidently as he grills politicians and quotes economic theory.
But despite the often serious subjects in his work, it’s hard not to pick up the infectious positivity from the self-professed ‘bad boy of afro-punk’:
“I am an optimist, it’s funny that people don’t know that until they know me. I might make stuff in a minor key, or I might have a certain image, but I have always been an optimistic person that confronts the things that people are afraid to talk about.”
This is an optimism that comes across strongly when he talks about the climate debate: “I don’t subscribe to the idea that [climate change] is an unassailable path. I think it is assailable and can be changed, and that it is gonna be changed by political will.”
The responsibility of big business
Many, including New Money, believe that big business is one of the major areas where change needs to happen, and GAIKA’s thinking is no different.
“Corporate responsibility is an area in which [businesses] can flex their muscles and say: ‘Hey, we are going to operate in a more environmentally friendly and sustainable way’, and when those companies start acting more responsibly everybody wins.”
So how can we, as consumers, change the actions of big businesses? For GAIKA, this means research and utilising our increasing online communication network.
“It comes down to people understanding how labour works and where their pension money goes and [where] it’s held. Or just understanding that they are connected to the companies that we work for in a way that means there is responsibility in both directions.”
XR narrows the climate debate
GAIKA comes back again and again to the power of ‘political will’ to make positive change, but also the importance of engaging people from every corner of the social spectrum in the climate debate.
“This is where I’m not an optimist. I don’t think [some people] will care until there is a bit more equality in terms of peoples’ opportunities and standards of living. We live in a grossly unequal society and part of that inequality is [that] some people have the space to think about things beyond the end of their nose, and other people don’t.”
Unsurprisingly, the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests come up when we talk about public engagement with climate change and the climate debate. GAIKA’s damning critique of the movement is something its members would be well placed to consider.
“I think the XR interventions were completely counterproductive – jumping on a Tube when people are trying to get to work completely undoes what the message actually is. It’s a spectacle rather than actually talking about real policy.”
He describes an incident at a London XR march he went to with his Chinese partner. During the protest one of the crowd came up to the couple to impress on them why, as ‘ethnic minorities’, they should care about the government’s attempts to dismantle the XR campaign through increased surveillance, adding that it would be used against “them” too.
“I just felt a gulf between us and I thought, this is why lots of people can’t engage with environmental activism because people at the front of that activism look like the very people who they claim to be arguing with.”
Can art include the excluded?
Instead, GAIKA sees the opportunity in his art to connect with people and make much needed changes.
“I like the world. I love people. I feel that quite strongly and I feel compelled to do things that I think are good.”
But behind the confidence of his conversation and his work, there are still some doubts: “I feel quite lucky that I get to do what I do. But I also [worry] that, in the grand scheme of things, is what I’m saying going to alienate people who have been indoctrinated by others who have power greater than what I have access to? Am I just being part of the problem?”
Listening to GAIKA’s thoughtful self-reflection, I allow myself to consider his optimism well-placed. That those do have the power to make changes – whether that’s the consumer or big business, really might do exactly that.
“I think if you look at young people who are engaged in politics or engaged in society it’s definitely different to how it was when I was in my 20’s. People didn’t really think that we could do anything then, and we can now.”
“I think that’s a cause for optimism.”