The street art duo uses the power of graffiti to bring focus to marginalised communities around the world.
by Nikhil Sreekandan
From Bogota to Manila, the Outsiders Krew have travelled the entire extent of the globe in the last four years, painting over 100 murals in nine different countries.
British and French graffiti artist Seb Toussaint and French photographer Spag founded the art collective Outsiders Krew back in 2012 when they collaborated for the first time on a cycling trip around the world. In 2013, Outsiders Krew embarked on its first art project, Share the Word, which was based on the idea of travelling to slums and other low-income neighbourhoods and using graffiti to highlight those marginalised communities through their own words.
The duo spends roughly a month a time in a country, where they work in a particular slum, interacting with the community and trying to understand what they would want to express.
They ask people to give them one word each and the word then becomes the main feature of a spontaneously painted mural by Seb on people’s houses and Spag takes pictures of the mural and also captures what the word means to the people who chose it. The collection of his photographs tells the story of the community.
The Outsiders Krew are currently in the Kawergosk refugee camp in the Kurdistan region Iraq, and Seb was kind enough to find some time to talk to INKLINE and take us through the places with the Share the Word project.
INKLINE: Could you tell us more about your relationship with Spag and how you guys started collaborating together?
Seb Toussaint: We have been best friends for many years as we met at school when we were 10 years old. We’ve been on many adventures together through the years, including a cycling trip around the world. Spag was always into photography and I would paint, and we quite naturally thought of collaborating on projects.
I: What sparked the idea for the Share the Word project?
S: During the cycling trip around the world I randomly painted in a low-income neighbourhood in Sucre, Bolivia. I realised that people would let me be very spontaneous and that they wouldn’t ask me what I was going to paint before I started. They let me paint freely, and I really loved that. Later we thought of the idea of making the people choose the words.
I: So far, the project has been taken to 9 cities across the globe, is there a process to choosing a particular place or is it just random?
S: It’s quite random. Mainly we choose to go to places during their dry season because of course, painting under the rain is impossible. But then we consider that anywhere around the world can be interesting in its own way.
I: Could you briefly take us through the entire process?
S: We choose a place randomly and don’t prepare much before setting off. We only try to find a place to stay in the city before we land, and then off we go. Once we reach our destination, we go looking for slums around where we’ll be staying. We meet slum leaders, explain the project and choose the easiest slum for us to work in, which is usually one that isn’t too far from where we’re staying.
Commuting in very large cities can be a waste of time. Once we’ve found paint, we start painting words that people choose. Often, we paint one word on one house, but occasionally we get several families to choose one single word that we will then paint on several houses.
I: What has been your takeaway from spending the past 4-5 years doing this?
S: The past 4 years have been filled with great experiences. It’s the moments we share with the people that make us want to continue doing what we’re doing. We always get a very warm welcome in the places we paint, and often it’s hard to leave!
I: In terms of bringing these communities to the forefront, how successful has the project been?
S: The project has caught a lot of attention in local papers, and twice (in Nepal and in Colombia) the project caught an even wider attention. We work in places where people and the media don’t usually go, and we’re always proud when we see people coming into the slum to have a look at the art after having heard about the project in newspapers, websites or on Instagram.
I: You were in Phule Nagar, Mumbai recently. How was that like?
S: Painting in Phule Nagar has been brilliant! We were very lucky to be able to stay with a family inside the slum. Very quickly people made us feel at home, and we soon made many friends.
I: Finally, what would be your advice be to the young twenty-somethings of today about how they can bring something positive to our society?
S: Be spontaneous. There are many projects that don’t require that much money or that much planning.
Nikhil Sreekandan is a journalist with the desire to explore life through the stories he chases; an engineer who realised the world of words to be his home. He is currently working as the Content Editor & Writer at Nature inFocus, India’s leading platform for nature and wildlife. When not lost in cinema, contemporary literature or his earphones — there is a genuine attempt at ‘giving chase’, and it is beautiful.