Artist Artur Silva is a moving target. From collaborating (with Matt Eickhoff) on a vending machine that sold portable works by local artists, to the creation of psychedelic storefront installations, the Brazilian-born Silva seems in a constant quest to find new ways to put his work in front of eyeballs – and the brains that lurk behind them. Over the past two years, Silva, together with collaborator DJ Kyle Long, has produced a series of dance parties in different locations around the city, featuring a blend of international music – most notably Brazilian Tropicalia and Bollywood – and atmospheric mixed media visuals aimed at creating a cross-cultural experience Silva calls "cultural cannibalism." Now, under the aegis Cultural Cannibals, Silva and Long have launched a streetwear fashion line. NUVO met with Silva and Long in Silva's Harrison Center studio to learn more about this foray into wearable art.
NUVO: What is the connection between fashion and visual art?
Silva: The way I create is based on ideas. I walk away from aesthetics, unless it's representing an idea. These ideas take all kinds of shapes and forms and, I guess, that is the connection. It's not so much what my work as a visual artist looks like and the clothes look like, but the content. The images we are reproducing on this line of clothes, and the content of my work, intersect at some point.
NUVO: What does fashion mean to you? Is it a subversive idea? Or is it just another venue?
Silva: The easiest thing for me to answer is that, yes, it is a new venue. But fashion, definitely, is subversive. It can be. It's watered down 99 percent of the time, but how you represent yourself to others in streetwear, which is more likely the category we fit in with our clothing line – there are a lot of really tired themes, themes that are, to me, superficial. They deal with very banal, mundane things. Oversexualized ideas or ideas that deal with a culture of drugs and money-making. Those can be interesting if they are used in the right context. I'm not dissing on any of those ideas, per se, but when they're used in shallow waters, it's not interesting to me.
We're trying to add intellectual content that observes culture in a more active way and create something from these observations and present them in a way that can be attractive to people. I think people sort of yearn for that content because there really isn't much out there that presents these ideas the way we do.
NUVO: What are some of those ideas?
Silva: One of the things we worked with first was the Naptown Funk shirt. We selected images of Indianapolis musicians because we wanted to make an impact outside of Indy, in a larger realm of culture and some of these musicians did precisely that. Like Wes Montgomery, David Baker, the Highlighters. It's a cool part of Indianapolis that, quite often, is forgotten. We're putting these people together in one composition. It's like a powerhouse of Indianapolis culture. We're constantly on the move with ideas like that. We want to dignify their vision and the impact that they had.
We call ourselves Cultural Cannibals and that idea is, to us, very basic. It's very natural. The world does not come to us from a single perspective. That amplitude of possibilities is what makes us do these things, throw cultural events and make clothes that encourage experiencing culture in a more active way.
NUVO: Iconography has played a big part in your work. Is that what drives these designs?
Silva: Iconography is the simplest way of communicating. You don't have to speak the language to talk iconography. If you take an image of Elvis Presley to central Africa, they might know who he is. I've always been intrigued by that power. It's so easy, it's difficult to work with – and I want the work to be difficult to accomplish. Easy is boring. I want to explore and dissect iconography to the point where it's no longer easy, and put it back together so people can still understand it as icons, but it's completely processed, modified, torn and glued back together so you have this other thing made from the appropriation of ideas.
NUVO: Is the shirt the medium, or is it the body?
Silva: The shirt alone, unworn, couldn't happen. The medium has to be the life that is going to be hating it, enjoying it, whatever. It's a collaboration between the person wearing it and us. It's basically a group performance.
NUVO: Is there a connection between the fashion statement and the dance parties you and DJ Kyle Long have been producing?
Silva: We're trying to cut all the barriers, whether it's to a gallery or a museum or a store. We want to put these interpretations of culture in front of people directly. How these parties happen is exactly that. We're not connected to any radio station or other media. It's the music, the people and these visuals we create. The idea of Cultural Cannibals is to reevaluate the word "diversity." We need to reevaluate that word, or even erase it. It no longer makes any sense. It comes from a biased perspective, saying there is a difference, there's other people, and then there's us. If you look around the city, it's no longer like that. If you look around your computer, it's no longer like that. When a kid in a favela in Rio is sampling a garage band out of Seattle called Nirvana, that's cultural cannibalism. That's cool. It's natural.
NUVO: You're playing on the boundaries where art and commerce meet – Commercial Cannibals.
Silva: I'm comfortable with the ideas of trading and commerce and mercantilism. I deal with them conceptually in my work as an artist, but I don't just point at them and criticize because, inevitably, I partake in them. It's a way of trying to understand this fascination with trade and money and capitalism and how the whole thing fits together and makes the world move. Sure, it's an unlikely way to move art. I'm never concerned about that. Ever. I'm concerned about art itself. What is this art going to be?
Cultural Cannibals will present Indianapolis' first Balkan Beats dance party with music by DJ Kyle Long.
Where: White Rabbit Cabaret, 116 Prospect St.
When: Saturday, July 17, 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.