Stephen Yosef Wilks, (1964) the city is his medium, walking its streets the message.

This couldn’t be more appropriate and relevant at a time when cities, across the world, are blurring the line between the local and the global, creating spaces both communal and contested. More so, when the cityscape is constantly being recorded and re-recorded. Be it for maps for navigation or for photos for personal albums. It’s with this as backdrop that Wilks walks the city’s labyrinths to capture fleeting moments. And vests these with poetry and politics, irony and drama.

His images show us what we -- or, to be more precise, our smartphones -- do not see. Be it balloons dwarfed by history in Berlin on the First of May. Disembodied dresses against a chainlink fence. A swarm of insects dotting an apartment block that merges with the sky -- each image becomes an integral part of a city’s narrative. It’s this that is carried across into one of his most evocative and innovative projects in which life-sized cloth donkeys travel from house to house, city to city, country to country. China, Jordan, Germany, Morocco, Netherlands, India, containing sketches, stories and notes added by men, women and children from local communities. In effect, a work of art that, by its autonomy, becomes a constant work in progress connecting people across cultures in ways only they can imagine. Born and educated in Britain, Wilks has lived and worked in Paris, Amsterdam and is, currently, in Berlin.

There is a staggering range in his photographs, exhibits, ceramic sculptures and installations, but they are united by one common theme: raising questions -- rather than providing answers -- about identity in cities and the conflict between the individual and the social. By so boldly imagining the private in the public, Wilks also underlines the power of art to represent a universal humanity.

Written by Raj Kamal Jha




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