In Conversation With Mojoko, The Artist Inspired By B-Movies And Alternative Culture

Born in Iran, raised in Hong Kong, educated in Europe and now based in Singapore, Mojoko is best known for a diverse career in curation, installation, interactive design and fine art
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Steve Lawler, better known as Mojoko, attended the prestigious FABRICA art residency in Treviso, Northern Italy in 2001, before starting his interactive design career at Diesel HQ. As an artist, designer and art director, Mojoko established the Kult Magazine, Gallery and Studio, quickly building a reputation for curation, installation, interactive design and fine art.

Having worked with a global network of over 600 fellow artists, designers and animators, Mojoko is now the creative director of The Unusual Network, an international collective of creators, where he is responsible for the quarterly publication of EYEYAH! — an illustrated guide to the world for kids (and kidults).

Ahead, we speak to Mojoko about his fascination with alternative culture, the influence of Hong Kong on his art, and his ongoing show, The Secret Room. 

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You are British, were born in Iran, and spent your youth in Hong Kong before coming to Singapore. It seems that Hong Kong has always had a lasting influence on your art...

Hong Kong is an overload on the senses — the neon lights, the volume of people, and the sights and smells are intense. The energy is infectious and the juxtaposition of Western and Asian culture is everywhere — Chinese movies with English subtitles; Rambo movie posters with Chinese typography. I found it fascinating and still do. There is definitely an air of nostalgia about it for me, yet Hong Kong is so futuristic and still feels like one of the most exciting cities in the world. 


Your art is also largely inspired by B-movies and alternative culture. Where did it all start?

I think it came from a rejection of the mainstream. I always hated pop music and big Hollywood films. I found alternative music and culture much more exciting and unusual. For example, in a VHS video rental store, I would be much more interested by the graphics and titles in the "weird sections" rather than the blockbuster films. They were much more intriguing and explicit.


Where did the name Mojoko come from?

The name comes from the printing process, CMYK. I was playing with colour values on my computer and I noticed M=0 Y=0 K=0. It just resonated with me, and it felt like it could be African or Japanese or Indonesian. I love the versatility of that moniker.

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Which is your favourite medium to work with? 

Everything I do has an element of collage — it’s the interplay between two separate ideas that creates a spark. The creative process is very much started by relating two previously unlinked ideas. This idea multiplies with more and more elements, so the trick is to try and control or guide it so that your concept or theme is understood.


Tell us more about the collection of comic books, '80s advertisements and B-grade movie posters you've amassed over the years. 

I must have started collecting around the late ’90s. Everything from rave flyers to typography to vintage catalogues — it just became a habit for me to find obscure things in flea markets and jumble sales. I used to make scrapbooks, and anything that was not cut up was put into a kind of filing system. I still search for new (old) things — that’s what keeps me going and triggers inspiration. And yes, the internet has become a valuable resource for finding things, but in Asia there is very little '60s and '70s pop culture documented online — you have to dig for that the old-fashioned way.

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You've been in Singapore for over 13 years. What are your thoughts on Singapore’s art and design scene? 

I think the biggest problem is that artists can’t afford spaces to create and show work — the scene is primarily gallery driven, which means non-commercial work has very little opportunity to grow its influence. Artist-run spaces are always where you see the most progressive work, and we should recognise and try to nurture that.


Are there other countries in Asia with art scenes that attract you?

I have always loved the visual power of work from the Philippines and Indonesia. They would be my favourite Southeast Asian countries, followed by Thailand. I would have to say it's Korean art that has excited me over the years. Always pushing forward, a real thrust for originality seems to be a driver there in terms of medium and subject matter. Their harnessing of kinetic sculpture and craft is most impressive.


Tell us about your current show in Singapore, The Secret Room.

The Secret Room delves into the mystery and intrigue of the past, but with a modern twist: deconstructed antiques, traditional paintings, and objects infused with contemporary internet culture. The installation features over 20 new artworks in varying traditional mediums, such as rosewood furniture, lanterns, ceramics, and glass.


Seen in the August 2020 issue of L'Officiel Singapore

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