reading time: 5 Minutes
This article was printed in the latest issue of the British Journal of Photography, Activism & Protest, delivered directly to you with an 1854 subscription.
Far from waving the national flag claiming the country, Rene Matic’s love letter to their black, brown and gay community offers an alternative vision of Britishness. Defiant and honest, his very presence makes him a voice of casual protest
In early 2018, Rene Matić picked up an old point-and-shoot camera that’s been lying around the house for years. “I didn’t even know if it worked,” says the visual artist over Zoom on a sunny mid-September morning. Matic’s artistic practice has been mostly in the fields of sculpture, installation, and motion picture, and they describe their photographic endeavors as an “accident” – an experience without insight of where it will lead. Three years later, a book called Flags of countries that do not exist, but do exist, groups the series of images together. From the first time Matic tested the camera, to this day, a coherent story has formed from the chaos of life.
“As someone who’s always looking for where I come from, it was like, OK, so that’s just not possible… [This book] Where did you come from. And when we get older, we’ll look back and say, “This is where we came from.” “
During the three-year period, we witness a testament to the lives we lead. Matic takes us back to the intimate moments of the private exchanges shared between family (select and blood). in a Chiddy doing Rene’s hair work (2019), Chidera, Mati’s good friend – a regular feature – carefully holds the roots of Mati’s curls as she braids her hair, an indication of the unspoken confidence that lies between them. Matic appears with their father several times, revealing a similarity in the way they hold their faces; A acknowledgment of the rush to self-archiving, which is found in second and third generation immigrants who may have lost their perishable families in transit.
“My dad didn’t have any pictures of himself when he was younger, and the black side of my family doesn’t have pictures because they were moving around a lot in England, when they couldn’t get a permanent place to stay. So my grandfather was constantly packing, and things were left behind,” Matic explains. . “As someone who’s always looking for where I come from, it was like, OK, so that’s just not possible… [This book] Where did you come from. And when we get older, we’ll look back and say, “This is where we came from.” “
In the book are numerous pictures of Maggie, Matic’s partner. Maggie is in bed, looking at Matic and smiling, the word “Jay” embracing their chest. Maggie and Matic, in the middle of foreplay in the kitchen, Maggie holds the camera. Maggie at home, black hair made in faux pas with red lipstick, reminds us of old Hollywood glamour. Whether it’s a Halloween vampire, Maggie dressed up gorgeously in a white corset and flamingo cardigan, or a pink silk kimono dress, coordinating eye makeup and beaded handbag.
Hannah Black notes in the book’s introduction that the main tell-tale sign of the passage of time is Maggie’s ever-changing hair color: “from dark-rooted platinum to glossy black to orange.” An entire marriage opens before our eyes and as a viewer, we are invited into the daily, relatively invisible ritual of love. “Maggie is just this constant and evolving thing in my life that I can watch at all times,” Matic says. “It’s weird that sometimes I want to completely put an end to some of these looks or some of those hairdos. It’s probably the moment when I’m feeling overwhelmed by what I’m up against. You know for sure that you took a second to realize that what you were looking for was worth something.”
At the same time, the chaos of the world reverberates behind the scenes. A makeover is happening in 2020, with signs thanking key workers and a selfie of Matteo jumping and hitting the pan with a wooden spoon. Crowded images of people holding handcrafted banners, their fists raised, refer to the Black Lives Matter uprisings of last summer. They say “in this world – or the world of writers, let’s say – there are moments that cannot be ignored”. Matic obviously felt motivated to represent the rough times we went through, but their protest images are different from the others in the series.
Elsewhere, Mathieu tends to focus on purposeful faces that are close by. Through protest photos, “try to use those that are least condemnable or have the fewest recognizable faces”: an acknowledgment of how police use protest photos to identify and convict people. However, there is still a coexistence of how Matic’s love letter to their black, brown and queer community carries an inner language of protest. Here, they defiantly live a full life in a country that tries to criminalize their everyday choices. “We go to protests to be among people who like to like, and I think that’s the same thing in other photos where you’re in the living room, or at a party. They’re all the same because you’re just there to be around and to create a world or a space or a country in a room where you can be Not necessarily safely, but proudly, perhaps.”
Love, intimacy and society
The Matic series has been unified by a preoccupation with anti-symbolism. Their common space does not recognize borders, borders and countries. However, national signals creep in. On a trip to Skegness, Lincolnshire, on VE Day, the Union Jacks and St George flags are punctuated by photos. Matic reflects back in the day that while we’ve come to define the flags by doing the reclamation of the empire, they’re still just: performances. “Maggie and I were walking around in Skeggie, because it was closed and we had nothing to do and there was a weird over-promotion of trying to reclaim the British affiliation. However, these two lesbian couples walked in on that scene. They say ‘felt like we were in a movie.’” Just to show that showing off British identity is not real; It’s a play. And in fact what was real is Maggie and I walk through.” The most vivid image, in the world of Matic’s books, is what they describe as “this overwhelming feeling of love, intimacy, and community.” When you stand up to the sincerity of tenderness, all oppressive forces begin to lose definition.” The big moments, like BLM or Covid-19, feel crazy and emotional, but in fact if you look at them in the book, they fade away. People come and love. I think it’s a nice reminder that this will continue to get stronger, no matter what we’re going through.”
One thing I’m most closely aware of as a mixed-race person is what Matic resists throughout the series: the ways Britain tries to deny our existence, flattening the plurality of our lives with contradictory reminders that we don’t really belong here. So, when we talk about protest images, there is meaning to the image of the discarded Union Jack and Saint George flags, stuffed down the front of Nike’s track pants, against an exposed brown belly. There is also a challenge in the photo of Maggie, wearing all pink in a specific fun act, purposely holding a bag that reads, “I didn’t ask your opinion.”
When Matic picked up the camera at the beginning of 2018, it had no specific purpose or direction. Whereas their usual creative process involves asking, “What should I say?” or “What is this discrepancy?” This series is just a glimpse into the closed doors of the Matic world. “That’s the best part about it, we don’t do anything but carry on amidst this chaos,” they say. “And in fact, it’s not a sad story at all, most of the time, because… well, look at us.”
Post Rene Matic: “This Book Is Where I Come From” first appeared in 1854 photographic.