A few years ago, I was invited to the Muscat Youth Summit, which is an annual gathering that happens in Muscat, Oman. It’s a gathering of creatives, thinkers and doers, ranging from artists to film-makers through to experts on road safety issues. It’s the second time I was invited and this time, road safety was a key theme of the summit. Hundreds of young people had gathered for a weekend at a top costal resort, supported by the government, hungry to learn from the experts that had gathered from around the world.
It was the first time I had met the team at YOURS – Youth For Road Safety – and enjoyed exploring the theme of road safety, something I’ve taken for granted back at home in the UK . I realised that this was a society that doesn’t have much awareness around road safety – very different to growing up in the UK, where I still hear the resounding words of STOP, LOOK and LISTEN!
I wanted to do a short write up of the experience from back then, as recently I began working on a project in Malaysia that centres around road safety so I wanted to share some thoughts around the issue of how art can be used to explore issues around road safety. I find myself returning to the exciting prospect of painting a car and as a visual artist, I think there is no better canvas than painting onto a car itself!
In Muscat i was given an old white car that someone had donated for the cause! The car was parked next to the beach, and the white surface of the car was just begging to be painted. Working with a group of young people I talked to them about the power of the arts and how the arts can deal with complex social issues. The arts has the power to transform a mindset, more so than any P.R campaign, leaflet or website.
Together we explored heavy issues around the concept of Life and Death, as two experiences that were represented on either side of the car. The group developed a collage of stencils that were then sprayed onto the bonnet of the car, so it became a strong participatory project. I had the job of finessing and sharpening it up.
Street-Art is a powerful medium to explore issues that we have in urban spaces. The nature of street-art was such that it was designed to spill out into the cities we live in, taking the message literally to the streets. The car is just an extension of a brick wall, another unconventional place for art to be placed, and by doing so, the message stands out and hits the viewer in an extraordinary way. In an age of information overload, blurry visual landscapes, we need to find alternative ways to get important messages across to the masses.