Why does Margate-based Salvadoran artist Jose Campos go by the name Studio Lenca? Well, ‘studio’ refers to a space for experimentation and opens up the possibility to work across mediums, shifting between photography, sculpture, painting and video. ‘Lenca’ are the indigenous people of El Salvador and Honduras. “I was born during the civil war so we had to flee the country,” says Campos, “we made our way illegally by land to the United States. We were undocumented and my work often talks about that experience.”
Studio Lenca’s latest work
Studio Lenca’s work is focused on difference, knowledge and visibility – and he has recently exhibited in places as varied as Beirut and Seoul. His latest exhibition, The Dreamers, is currently on show at Foundry in Dubai and the body work itself engages with the city around it. “I went to Dubai this past year and I really connected with how many people weren’t from there,” says Campos. “It’s such an ambitious place, all these immigrants contribute to the success of Dubai.”
“At the Foundry show, I’m experimenting with the materials I’m using. I went to areas like Al Karama, old Dubai, Sharjah and I collected the tarpaulin you find in markets and mandala tablecloths. In Latin culture they’re found in very working class cafes, but they were everywhere in Al Karama.” Campos explains how he was interested in exploring the links between communities that use similar materials and he eventually deciding to paint on them.
On the world stage, Dubai can is often perceived as a shiny, larger-than-life, somewhat ethereal place – a futuristic tangle of skyscrapers and neon. Campos seems to have seen past that and tapped right into the city’s soul. “I was immediately drawn to these areas, they kind of reminded me of home. It’s a normal thing we do as humans, we want to feel comfortable with something familiar.” Campos has ended up creating a body of work that is about the human condition – and about how being displaced fits into that condition.
“I grew up cleaning houses with my mum and that experience makes me feel I don’t belong in a glitzy space,” says Campos as he prepares to open a show in a decidedly glitzy space. “But as an artist I have access to these spaces. I feel like I’m an undercover ninja or something!” he says through a laugh.
You can’t blame him. Like many, he felt excluded from these spaces for a long time. “It wasn’t until I moved to the UK aged 20 that I first walked into an art gallery or a museum,” he confides. “First of all, they were free. But also in the US I never had that agency, I never felt those spaces were for me.” Well, not only does Studio Lenca belong in a gallery, so do you. So make sure you check out The Dreamers, which is on show in Gallery 8 and The Room at Foundry in Downtown Dubai until October 30.