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Dick Jewell, Faces (2021)
Dick Jewell, Faces (2021)Courtesy of the artist and Sion & Moore

Dick Jewell questions cultural appropriation, soundtracked by Run DMC

The multidisciplinary artist’s exhibition Faces features digital artworks created in lockdown, with the intention of challenging our perceptions around craft, costume, culture, and identity

Dick Jewell has been working at the cross-section of art, fashion, and music across five decades. As well as running his own record label and collaborating with the likes of Neneh Cherry and Massive Attack, the London-born multidisciplinary artist has been drawn to photomontage, photography, book publishing, and filmmaking since the 1970s. He has shot over 50 films – in the 90s, he captured the liberated and legendary Kinky Gerlinky party in London’s West End, attended by Vivienne Westwood, Leigh Bowery, and the era’s subversive icons. That film became available to stream just last year. His work excavates popular culture and subcultures to question our personalities and human behaviours. 

Through a broad scope of work, there’s certain concepts and practices he’s recurrently drawn to. “It’s all lens-based and it’s always concept-led,” Jewell tells Dazed. “I think I’m generally trying to encourage people to think about how images influence our lives, and try and encourage them to look more closely.” 

Jewell’s current exhibition is Faces at east London’s Sion & Moore gallery. It features two large-scale works he made during lockdown, which was a strange period of time for Jewell, who had his film project Head2Head put on hold. “Faces and ‘One Blood’ are two very different pieces, though both in a sense digital collages influenced by activities within an online world,” he explains. With time to reflect, he delved more into our general dependence on technology and social media, and its amplification in lockdown. “My thoughts were towards promoting harmony and unity amongst people, regardless of their circumstances or appearance.”

“One Blood” is a digital collage exploring ideas of identity. This expansive work aims to create a sense of connectivity between people by juxtaposing images of individuals from across the globe dressed in their native clothes and accessories, as well as moments of cultural appropriation. An Indigenous woman reads an issue of Vogue, with a jarring juxtaposition of a First Nations Halloween costume. There is a Maori Hells Angel, a Geisha, and a Zulu punk, and an Indigenous man inspecting a laptop screen.

“It‘s my attempt at a discussion about tribal identity and cultural appropriation en masse,” he tells us. “While at the same time bringing people together by doing away with perspective, manipulating everyone to an equal scale, whilst perusing aspects of nationality, religion, customs, and fashion, and its links to costume and craft.” 

The exhibition’s focal work explores shared humanity and cultural differences, and highlights Jewell’s suprising affinity with Run DMC. The short film is a sequence of Jewell’s stills set to the band’s seminal track “Faces”.

“It sets out to merge our relationship with celebrity, face-swapping, tribal and online culture, ageing and self-image, with politics and advertising, employing the humour of the zeitgeist we encounter every day on social media platforms,” Jewell explains. “With this film, I’m trying to shift our perceptions by interrupting the processing of personal preconceptions and prejudices of the faces we see, via the rapidity of the images encountered.” 

While offering an examination of the more harmful consequences of what we encounter every day on the internet, Jewell’s exhibition feels more utopian than dystopian, as he continues to embrace the positive aspects of new technology and its potential. He’s interested in NFTs and excited by the democratising effect of platforms such as YouTube, which he sees as providing a public platform for creatives to share their work with a global audience. “I see that as a technology akin to street art,” he says. 

Ultimately, he’s optimistic. “I’d like people to leave feeling positive through acknowledging the beauty and rich diversity of all ethnicities and cultures that populate the planet and connect us as human beings of every age, colour, size, shape, or form,” he says. Jewell’s also keen to note that he‘d love to collab with Run DMC. “If anyone out there reading this could make that happen right now, that would be fantastic!” 

Dick Jewell’s Faces is at Sion & Moore until August 7 2021