aside Joe Castro uses collage to address tribal mentalities intensified by our political climate

Joe Castro, 43, from Philadelphia, USA, is a collage artist, musician, painter, designer and skateboarder; who studied graphic design at college and has been working as an artist/musician for the past 20 years. Joe is well known for his collages and have been shown in galleries and art spaces across the United States, Canada, and Europe.

They have been described as:

a controlled explosion, aggressive and pensive (Kolaj Magazine)”

“bold and diverse… one of those collage artists whose works you recognise immediately… (”

Here at ASLI, we wanted to know more about Joe’s creative processes and thoughts on our latest campaign “Discrimination, Privilege and Stigmatisation and his submission piece:

What is your process when creating?

“Generally, I work on the floor on a large sheet of paper that I can later cut down (I don’t like to be confined by size). When I start a collage, sometimes I set out with a very specific concept or goal in mind – other times, it begins as playfully collecting images that speak to me for some reason and then putting them together to see what the visual conversation brings. About halfway through, I start to realise where I want to go and I begin looking for more specific pieces. All selected images are hand cut with an xacto knife and dry adhered with a gel medium. I enjoy the challenge of limitation–fixed sizes, shapes and colours–of having to figure out how to take a specific collection of images and bring them together into a form that then takes on a life of it’s own. It usually takes me a couple of weeks to finish a collage.”

Who are you influenced by within your artistic discipline?

“In the beginning, Ray Johnson and Dash Snow were the first two artists whose work I saw that inspired me to start exploring collage as a medium. These days, I do my best not to look too closely at other collage artists. I look inward for visual direction as much as possible.”

Who inspires you in general?

“I’ve really been inspired by the work of Tom Waits, Mark Gonzales, Leonard Cohen, Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, Nick Cave, KRS-ONE, Chuck D., Henry Rollins, Gil Scott-Heron. Those are all significant signposts but honestly that list could go on forever.”

For this campaign, Joe tackled the mentality of Tribalism in relation to the worlds current political climate; we asked Joe what his motivation was for dealing with this topic for his submission:

“The piece was specifically influenced by the 2016 presidential election as a response to the intense tribalism that I felt was happening. The problem I find, especially when you combine social media and politics, is that people are just spouting off – there’s no empathy and there is no discussion – no one is inclined to consider a different point of view. Everybody is just searching for validation for their own beliefs and feeding off that false sense of power that comes with feeling “right.” It’s this total jockish mentality where a person becomes more consumed with whether or not the team they support is winning rather than reaching out and working together to try and make our lives better. And most governments, historically, have used this to their advantage – divide the people and conquer. So, my message with this collage was that, as Americans, we’re going to have to find a way to work through our differences or else we are destined to fail. This tribal mentality has got to stop.”

“This piece is a cut paper collage using images taken from vintage magazines and deals with the current political climate in the United States, specifically the divide and conquer strategy used by politicians who view racism and tribalism as tools to keep the 99% fighting among themselves.” – Joe Castro

Divided We Fall - By Joe Castro
Divided We Fall – By Joe Castro

What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for…?

The environment and climate change are number 1, in my mind right now. As a species on this planet, I don’t think we have a more pressing problem than that. I also think overturning Citizens United in the USA and keeping dark money out of politics is a necessity before there can be real change on a policy level. Equal rights and injustice are also very important topics for me. Demilitarising the police force. Wealth inequality. Freedom of expression.

What do the statements “art saves lives” and “art creates change” mean to you?

The role of the artist is to question normality, to question outside authority and accepted ways of thinking. Changing yourself is the first step in changing the world. The only train of thought you have any real control over is your own, and art can be a way to challenge and confront your own way of thinking and your own beliefs, while at the same time possibly opening up someone else’s mind to new ideas or new perspectives. Art can be a real bridge that connects people from different cultures, one that is not encumbered by a difference in language – it should say to people “yes,you and I are different, we come from different places and from different beginnings but we still sleep under the same blanket of stars.”

Have your artistic and creative outlets saved your life in anyway and do you think your message within them could help create change in the world?

Yes, definitely. Creating art and writing music are processes that help me understand the world and my place within it. Both are such important outlets for me – without them, I think I might implode. Over the years, I’ve gone through stages of serious depression and the arts have always been the driftwood that has kept me afloat. When you’re going through a rough patch, a piece of music or art can bring you to the realisation that someone else out there has suffered similar pain, and they got through it which means you can too and that you are not some strange animal, lost and alone in the world. And at the same time, art can educate – Public Enemy, Billy Bragg, The Clash – they all opened my mind up to a more worldly perspective and taught me not to take everything at face value, to question authority and to look at the motivations behind fear and propaganda. Their work had a profound influence on the way I move about in the world – because of that, I know that it is possible for my work to have the same effect on someone else. And at the end of the day, if anything I create inspires someone to make a positive difference in their own lives or their surroundings, then that debt begins to be paid off.

What are your present and future goals for your art?

I’m just trying to get my artwork in front of as many pairs of eyes as I can. I will be participating in a few group shows in London and Washington, DC (Latela Art Gallery). I’m hoping for more shows, which in turn will hopefully bring more travel. I’d like to get out there and mix it up with people, try and see as much of the world as I can. Mark Twain famously said that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” I think there’s some truth to that. Get out of your comfort zone and experience the mercy of strangers.

What are your opinions on what causes discrimination?

“I think, like all forms of hatred, it ultimately comes from fear. Fear of death, fear of past events repeating, fear of loss, fear of harm – people fear things they don’t understand or cannot control and people who look different from themselves or follow a different belief system generally fall squarely into both categories. People are scared – deep down they realise that life is unpredictable and that most things that happen in life are out of our control so it’s much easier to become enveloped in anger and to play the blame game and to point the finger at the other person than it is to confront your own fears because anger provides a false sense of control and self-righteousness – you personally don’t have to risk or change anything about yourself. It is a basically a weakness of ego.

At the end of the day, no one race of people is going to become more fertile soil when they die than another. We are all the same to the appetite of the worm.”

What are your opinions on labels and stereotypes?

“Well, categorisation is an attempt to control. In many ways, on a basic level, I think stereotyping is a subconscious survival tactic, a way to help speed up the process of understanding our surroundings, to predetermine whether someone you come into contact with is friend or foe. I try not to stereotype people but, if I am honest, I am as guilty of it as anyone, and make generalisations about people based on how they dress or what music they listen to or if they’re driving a truck verses a car or a hundred other variables. For instance, I used to have a real chip on my shoulder for people who were born with money – it’s taken me a long time to force myself out of that narrow way of thinking and to try to be more open minded. To try and greet every new person you meet with a complete clean slate or without forming any basic “on-the-surface” assumptions about them; which is an extremely difficult task but still something I think we need to strive for. Show respect. Bring love. Keep an open mind and an open heart.”

What are your opinions on national identity and in your opinion does nationalism create or deter discrimination?

“I think nationalism absolutely creates discrimination. By being proud of your country or believing that your country or culture is the “best” automatically puts you in a frame of mind that someone else is beneath you. We can’t all be number one. So once you start placing your beliefs over someone else’s, you automatically set the stage for discrimination. And that mob mentality can become dangerous very quickly.”

What are your opinions on political powers and world leaders using stigmatisation against certain groups to further their own agendas, such as with Muslims, Black people, LGBTQ individuals, mentally ill and disabled people?

“I am completely against it. Historically, it has always been the mission of government to categorise people so they can divide and conquer. It’s the whole reason for political parties. You should always be cautious of anyone who is actively trying to persuade you with fear – you have to always question their motivation. I just think it’s really important not to get caught up in any mob mentality and to think for yourself. Question everything. Follow no one. Focus on knowledge of self and knowledge of your surroundings.”

In your own words please tell us how you feel the arts and creativity can further help to empower, communicate and educate people with regards to discrimination, privilege and stigmatisation?

“Art is simply the spark to start the flame.”

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