Dundee artist forms ‘army’ to fight for freedom as part of art exhibition

A University of Dundee student has formed his own army to fight for individual liberty and freedom of speech.

Senyn is one of more than 300 students exhibiting at this year’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design and Architecture Degree Show.

Drawing on his experiences as a former member of the Officers’ Training Corps, he enlisted fellow artists in ‘Senyn Army’, an army aligned to values that its leader believes must be defended rather than to any particular country.

Dundee artist Senyn

Senyn’s Degree Show exhibit consists primarily of intricately sculpted replica firearms displayed underneath the flag of Senyn Army.

The firearms have been subverted to reflect on issues which are typically thought of as unrelated, such as hip-hop, gender identity, military power, drug use and civilian firearms ownership.

Collectively they form a broader narrative about personal liberty, and the role of the military in its protection.

“The right to individual liberty means a huge amount to me and drives my work,” said Senyn.

“You don’t naturally link art school students and the OTC, so I was a bit of an outsider in both but I enjoyed the chance to bring together the artist and army, creators and destroyers, although which is which is not always clear.

One of the guns in the exhibition.

“When new culture is born, it displaces an older culture in a continual cycle of rejuvenating creation and destruction. Artists necessarily destroy something in the process of creating social change. The military can clearly be a destructive force, but it can also stabilise, create safety and rebuild nations whether we agree with the methods used or not. For good or ill, they are creators also.

“Duality, ambiguity and irony all feature in my work. All beliefs should be constantly challenged to avoid stagnation or the blind adoption of ideologies. Freedom of expression is vital, even if some are not comfortable with what is being said. It is the vehicle for our collective values to grow and adapt to our developing values, without it our culture would stagnate and die.”

In preparation for his Degree Show, Senyn took his army on a series of manoeuvres in the hills near Dundee. Action from these operations is chronicled in a lavish publication that also contains a hyperbolic mission statement parodying the style used in calls to arms around the world. In this instance, the cause is taking responsibility for one’s own life and the appropriate relationship between individual and state.

“I have been deeply angered by the recent case of Mark Meechan, or Count Dankula, a YouTuber who was convicted for a joke he made online and I firmly believe our freedom of speech is being eroded in the UK,” Senyn continued.

“My work looks at how the individual may, through self-reliance, gain the strength to overcome the difficulties of life and how government can be streamlined to support their freedoms.

“The first grouping in my Degree Show is a collection of guns named after Chelsea Manning, Bailey Jay and Caitlyn Jenner – three high-profile transwomen. This is a subversion of firearms being nicknamed after cis-woman and signifies how the important discussion of gender identity and gender roles is only possible because of the freedom and stability afforded to us by the actions of militaries. Protection and elevation of atypical gender expression is a freedom that Senyn Army is proud to uphold.”

Other pieces by Senyn explore the Israel-Palestine conflict from both sides and a song by rapper L’il Wayne, which he feels is quintessential of the hip-hop genre.

“In many ways hip hop as an industry is a love song to capitalism,” he continued. “But in modern hip hop there is a reflection on how the excesses of wealth, fame, casual sex and unrestricted consumerism can become a trap. The guns in this section are replicas of weapons used by the Soviets, who were essentially the antithesis of capitalism.

“It is important to me that the work is not propaganda for a given world view, instead it’s a developing understanding of a complex world as well as our place in it. For example, the need to balance personal freedom with personal responsibility.

“I am aware that some people will feel my exhibit glamorises violence but Senyn Army believes that nations and individuals should be able to defend themselves and others. Furthermore, violence is trivialised across music, movies, video games and other forms of popular culture and Senyn Army tries in part to be a self-aware parody of that.”

The Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design and Architecture Degree Show opens with a special Preview Evening for artists, their family and friends on Friday 18 May. The exhibition opens to the public the following day and runs until Sunday 27 May.

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