Interview with street artist OKO

OKO is an acclaimed artist making big waves in the international street art scene, with London's V&A and New York's e-flux gallery newly listed on her CV

Written by
Jonathan Bousfield

One of Zagreb’s most prolific street artists is a young woman who goes under the name of OKO (“The Eye”). Her phantasmagorical images of humans with birds’ faces, or dreamy patterns woven from what look like entrails, are decorative and disturbing in equal measure. “The bird-faces are a symbol of freedom, of something pure” says OKO. “I read somewhere that birds are carriers of the soul after death, and I was really inspired by that idea.”

Stuck to surfaces throughout the city, OKO’s pictures look like prints or photocopies; they are in fact painted on thin paper with acrylics before being glued to the wall of her choice.

OKO coined the phrase “the city as a confessional booth” to help explain her relationship with public space. One of her earliest ever works involved writing her fears and frustrations on bits of paper, folded them up and put them in test tubes, which she then hung in various locations around the city to be discovered by strangers.

Her trademark larger-than-life human figures with animal heads can be seen at Zagreb’s Museum of Contemporary Art, decorating the courtyard of Zagreb’s Medika club and at the outdoor wall of the &TD theatre bar.

See more of OKO's work on her blog, or buy prints online.

Q: How did you become a street artist?

A: Like most things in life, it happened in a blink. One day I made a few stickers and put them up in the street. It gave me a feeling of complete freedom, and that’s the main reason why my art has stayed on the street ever since.

Q: How did you choose Oko as a name? And why do you sometimes refer to yourself as ‘Oko the Blind’ on your blog?

A: It’s a combination of the idea of the all-seeing eye, the eye of God, but also the inner eye that allows us to see things and appraise a situation emotionally.

Q: A lot of your characters are portrayed with bird-heads or bird-faces…

A: The bird-faces are a symbol of freedom, of something pure. I read somewhere that birds are carriers of the soul after death, and I was really inspired by that idea.

Q: Some of your more abstract works (circles, symbols that resemble stars or crosses) are actually blown-up versions of your own tattoos. It is as if you are marking the street with an intimate and personal stamp…

A: Each of those tattoos for me had a specific meaning, which neither needs nor wants to be understood by the general public. It was important for me for a moment to feel that stability offered to you by a permanent address, and as usual I turned to the street.

Q: Which of your street works should visitors make a point of going to see?

A: Probably the one on the Branimirova graffiti wall, the one made up of big wooden panels.

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