Rene Matić explores “dimensions of Blackness through the lens of their own personal experiences as a queer, Black womxn”
Recently, Rene has been investigating the Skinhead movement and its origins as a multicultural marriage between West Indian and white working class culture.
Born in Peterborough and now based in London, having just completed a BA in fine art at Central Saint Martins, Rene Matić’s portfolio is one well beyond the years of a recent grad. Complex, questioning and spanning an array of media, Rene has already made a name for themself in the art world, exhibiting in myriad shows in the UK and internationally, as well as being selected as one of this year’s Bloomberg New Contemporaries.
Their contribution to New Contemporaries – an exhibition which has long marked a genuine stamp of approval for any emerging artist – is titled There’s been some times on stage when I really felt free. Less of “a work” and just a “documentation of my guy” it comprises clips Rene filmed one evening at their father’s house in Peterborough. Riffing off what Arthur Jafa calls “glamorising” – the idea that Black folk have learnt to perform or “moonwalk” their way out of submission – it speaks to Rene’s father’s ability to do exactly that. The film was created before Rene’s father attempted suicide, after his successful cancer treatment, during his “on-going love affair” with alcohol and in the same week Rene started taking antidepressants. “Black men don’t catch breaks and neither do their brown babies,” Rene writes on the New Contemporaries blog, describing how the film is about “what survival looks like”.
“Skinhead is a badge I can wear but it’s an uncomfortable one. We can’t address it without all its stickiness and turmoil. That is what being Black and British feels like – it is the perfect metaphor.”Rene Matić
Rene’s portfolio at large explores “the immeasurable dimensions of Blackness through the lens of their own personal experiences as a queer, Black womxn living in the diaspora.” It’s through this that they “combat and question the power relations that pervade the art world and society more widely.” In recent times, that has manifested in an exploration of the Skinhead movement and its beginnings as a “multicultural marriage” between West Indian and white working class culture, and its subsequent co-option by far right white supremacists.
Later this year, at Vitrine in London, Rene will be hosting their first solo exhibition titled Born British, Die British which will debut a new film of the same name. It documents Rene being permanently marked with the words “Born British, Die British,” a tattoo more often associated with and seen on the bodies of far-right, white skinheads. In turn, Rene claims a facet of Britishness which is often denied to them; “the myth of a ‘pure’ and ‘unadulterated’ Britishness.”
In turn, works such as this, as well deeply personal documentations like There’s been some times on stage when I really felt free form a metaphor examining their own experience of living in the Black British diaspora. They also, the artist writes “excavate white jealousy, the continued legacy of colonialism and the fear of a Black planet” – topics which coalesce within their mixed race identity.
It’s Nice That: What's the most valuable lesson you learned during your time at university?
Rene Matić: I learnt about a process. I get cross, I get lost, I read, I find, I breathe all that into something and then the cycle begins again... and I learnt how to pay attention to all of it.
INT: Your current work is concerned with the Skinhead movement, when and why did you begin exploring this and how has it manifested in your work?
RM: I started to work with the Skinhead subculture at the same time I started to understand it as a huge part of my culture and my identity. My Dad was/is a Black Skinhead and I wanted to unfurl all of that and what it means; what it looks like, what it feels like. The work is a documentation of that journey.
INT: It’s a subculture with a fascinating but tumultuous history, how have you used this lens to examine your own experience of living in the Black British diaspora?
RM: A lot of mixed kids like myself grow up with little to no knowledge about their Black ancestry. It has been difficult for me to grab hold of something and feel comfortable enough to call it mine. Skinhead is a badge I can wear but it’s an uncomfortable one. We can’t address it without all its stickiness and turmoil. That is what being Black and British feels like – it is the perfect metaphor. The Skinhead was birthed from the cross pollination of Caribbean culture and white working class British culture, and so was I. That’s my flag.
INT: You’ve worked with painting, sculpture, film, photography and textile – what interests you about this multimedia approach?
RM: The ability to explore and meditate on something with everything I have in my tool box is an agency one is rarely afforded. One of the most rewarding and challenging parts of the processes is finding a medium that holds the conversation in the most appropriate way.
“I get cross, I get lost, I read, I find, I breathe all that into something and then the cycle begins again...”Rene Matić
INT: Looking ahead, how will you continue to question the power relations that pervade the art world and society?
RM: By existing!!! ...and documenting/archiving that existence.
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Rene Matić: How to Avoid Being Attacked, Zine, 2019
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.