SjocoSjon – From Mokum to Rio

SjocoSjon is a celebrity in Amsterdam and some countries we haven’t even heard of. Street artist, illustrator, vj, host, organizer: Sjoco does it all. Earlier this year he organized the ‘Great Jerry Springer Rodeo Show’ an interactive art show based on the grotesque visual culture like the Jerry Springer tv show. The exhibition was such a blast that everyone wants Sjoco for their sweet 16 nowadays. We had the honor that SjocoSjon participated in our ‘CFYE at the Revelry’ event, creating an awesome mural in the Sugar Factory with Gais and Karski. With this in mind, it was about time for an interview with the good man.

We see you everywhere; as a host at Secret Wars, as VJ at Kwijt, as (street) artist, as organizer. Eventually, what is closest to yourself and why?
Closest to myself is, I think, the medium where I can express myself the best at that particular moment. At this moment it’s drawing and painting, in the past it was more video and animation. If I could, I’d go around the world organizing Jerry Springer Rodeo’s so I can combine everything, but that’s a point in my live I haven’t reached (yet).

You have an unique style which could be described as classic. How has this developed?
I feel that the classic part is something very recent. It came forth out of a research I did for myself about the glorification of things in a visual way. How do you bring homage and glory to things with visual elements. Who uses these recourses and what are the similarities in their style. Subconscious you end up with something ‘classic’.

At the other hand your subjects are often very present-day, where does this inspiration come from?
That’s a question I get more often lately and I find it difficult to answer. Apparently I’m still a bit ‘seeking’ at the moment. Yet it’s lately that particularly visual glorification of people, political movements and militias inspire me. Although things like grotesque and popular visual culture still inspire me very much as well.

In your work it emerges that you’re a proud ‘Amsterdammer’. Can you, for the non-Amsterdammers, explain where this pride comes from and how you express this in your art?
I’ve been born and raised in Amsterdam and I wanted to practice my research of visual glorification. I wanted to glorify something with visual means, being SjocoSjon that means you’ll end up with Amsterdam pretty quickly. Be it with a wink of course. We Amsterdammers have the nickname ‘Joden’ (Jews), but I think 15% of the population in Amsterdam is Muslim. I try and play with these contradictions. I’m not so much proud of Amsterdam, above all I love Amsterdam very much. Unconsciously  it has started to be a big part of who I am. A while ago at ‘Oh Oh Cherso’ (Dutch Jersey shore like show) one of these dudes start to talk shit about Amsterdam and that just makes me sick. That really touches me, as if someone is talking shit about your family or girlfriend, while you should be thinking just let the shithead talk.

Not too long ago you’ve been to Brazil, and in particular Rio de Janiero. What made you decide to go to Brazil?
A good friend of mine has been to Brazil years ago and he was so enthioushastic that I thought to myself I have to go when I have the time and money. Actually, everyone who has been there is very enthioushastic about the country, so every time I heard someone talking about it, it reminded me I needed to go there. Also I’ve heard a lot of positive things about painting on the streets. A while ago I had the time and the money.

In what kind of way did they receive you in Rio, as artist from Amsterdam?
In one word: Fantastic. Hereby a special shout out to my people from Rio: MentOne en Bruno Big! E aí, mermão, beleza?

How is painting in the streets in Rio compare to painting in the streets of Amsterdam?
First of all it’s legal almost everywhere in Rio and almost everyone thinks it is great when you paint in the streets. They’re really happy with it and they don’t make a secret out of that either. It’s more of a street culture anyway, so people come and have a look for a while, offer you something to drink, that kind of stuff. People in Rio have a lot more appreciation and admiration for people that paint in the streets than in Amsterdam, at least that is how I experienced it.

Are there elements from the Brazilian culture which we could use over here as well?
First of all I’d like to say that, in my opinion, I can’t be presented as a Brazil expert because I’ve been there for just one month. What I can say – despite the little time I’ve spent in Brazil –is the following: In my experience Brazil is, in many ways, hot and warm and on the other hand the Netherlands is in many ways literally cold. I think that the Netherlands could use some of the Brazilian warmth and heat. Sex is nice, flirting is fun. Sometimes you’d think we have forgotten about this a bit here in Holland. At the other hand there is so much violence and corruption in Brazil, they could use some of the Dutch tendency to keep everything clear and orderly. Because even if we all go crazy from the Dutch bureaucracy from time to time, at the end of the day they’ve got their shit together in the Netherlands.

Has your visit to Brazil influenced you as an artist?
Like I mentioned, I was only in Brazil for a month, but still the experience in this short time was fierce. So if you can be influenced by such a short period anyway, it influenced me as a person more then as an artist. At one side it made me harder, at the other side more calm. I’ve been waiting for people for hours, in Amsterdam I would’ve gone mental, in Rio I found more calmness in this. It just meant picking out another terrace to sit on and ordering another Caiprinha. I’ve seen a shooting from up close with huge machine guns.  And not like pow-pow-pow- three shots, no real Vietnam style, ratatatatatat. Pedestrians were calmly waiting at the end of the street like they were waiting for the traffic lights. Again a bit of calmness. After that people told me that this was nothing and when shit really hits the fan with tanks and helicopters it’s already too late and all you can do is find shelter and pray you survive. Rio is a beautiful but very dangerous city, I think that every carioca can confirm this. You have to be alert constantly. Not Amsterdam Alert, like ‘what the fuck is that guy looking at’, no really alert. The borders between safe and unsafe areas are not always as clear. One minute you’re in a cozy restaurant, one wrong turn and you’re in an area where human life has no value. That is also a piece of mind you take with you after such a trip. Also, I’ve learned to value friendship even more. You can be dirt poor, you can still have fun as long as you have friends. If you’re dirt poor AND you have no friends, then it starts getting sad.

Is Rio de Janiero a city you could live in for a longer period? (say a few year). Why/why not?
Absolutely, that might sound strange after my plea from just now, but the city is so tremendously beautiful, that can’t be described, this goes for the city itself as the people in it. It’s so tremendously nice living there, the only thing is I need to start working on my Portuguese, haha.

Do you want more Brazil after this trip, and are there things you’d absolutely like to see?
I’m definitely going back for the carnival.

If you could fill a swimming pool with anything you’d like, what would be in it?
My mind sais fill it up with 500 euro bills! My heart sais love and happiness.