A Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco Program 舊金山中華文化基金会項目
Toyist Dejo has not received any gifts yet
Drawing the lines during the game and knowing the boundaries of the playing field, handling restrictions creatively and attempting to obtain the maximum out of yourself and the game, those are things that Toyists know all about. Actually, that’s what it’s all about for them.
Toyists? Who are they? The word of Toyism is not very easy to explain. The first syllable is clear in itself, but it’s the second one that needs some explanation. The suffix ‘ism’ refers to motion or movements that exist in both the world of art and religion. Impressionism and expressionism, surrealism, Tachism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism en Confucianism. Also political phenomena, character traits or any other social phenomenon, those that are supported by many or even appear to a great degree, are sometimes lifted to the state of an –ism. Simplism is a nice example. But also ideas like protectionism, dualism, futurism and centralism are commonly accepted.
Toyism is carried out by a collective of artists that operates internationally, so it is obvious that it can be seen as an art movement. Strictly speaking this is correct. Any person that is not only interested in a movement that simply spreads pieces of art but also pays some attention to the form of organisation and the way this group of artists manifests itself will soon discover that Toyism contains some elements that make people tend to think of them as being a heterogeneous group of do-gooders having the potential of a social movement. Because they are guided by rituals and rules as part of a secret manifesto, one can be tempted to even attribute religious dimensions to Toyism - but when you take a closer look, that seems rather exaggerated, unless art in general should be perceived as a religion.
From 1992 until 1999 the Toyists were producing art by following strict rules. After that period the manifesto was rewritten, and some guidelines were relaxed in order to offer more freedom for free interpretation. This guaranteed that their work would get a genuine identity and become more recognisable. What this does not imply is that the art they produce had become similar and boring. On the contrary, the playing field is enormous and expanded daily with new options, expressions and applications. Toyism is like soccer. The rules are clear. What you see, is what you get. Everybody knows how to play the game and yet stadiums are filled again and again with thousands of people that like to be surprised by dazzling actions, well-planned tactics, creative ball handling, team spirit, collective strength and individual tours de force. Even the club’s identify is considered. What a club shirt means to a soccer player is what a mask is for a Toyist. For them being recognisable is a somewhat mysterious and paradoxical thing. Wherever they appear in public, the Toyists are recognisable by their mask that confirm their Toyist state and at the same time guarantees their anonymity, although the traces that they leave behind in their art work immediately betray the fact that they are Toyists. The statement is crystal-clear: it is not the individual that counts, but the collective. Toyists like to be judged upon originality and authenticity of their work and also on the range of thought on which it underlies. All this is universal and ageless with no room for short-lived glory of the loner. It can be compared with true love for a sports team: together they score!
Whilst searching within the boundaries of art history in which the work and range of thought of the Toyists can be placed, references to Pop Art, that - after it came from America - conquered the world in the sixties and also to New Image Painting, Keith Haring and Graffiti, that ushered in the post-modern era in the eighties and nineties, are inevitable. Viewed in this light it is remarkable that the three founder Toyists deliberately distanced themselves from all movements that had determined what modern art looked like since the latest millennium. But within the list of names of groups to which they did not want to belong to, they always left the Graffiti movement out. That is no surprise really. The spiritual relationship with leading representatives of that movement is quite big. Also the intentional choice for anonymity, de-individualisation, preferring a guerilla approach, having a predilection for staging at public spaces and an anti-establishment mentality, connects the Toyists with graffiti artists. Less remarkable are the resemblances in visual language and handwriting.
The work of the Toyists excels in being multifarious and having chameleon-like properties. The biggest difference with graffiti though concerns the lead time. Whilst graffiti and Haring are ephemeral, the work of Toyists is long-lasting and durable. The sell-by date of this movement is far from view. In fact: the Toyists are in the middle of society more than ever. This movement presents itself with new élan, and with various projects it emphasises that a fertile breeding ground exists which can be used for spreading her ideas and range of thought.
What once was the independent autograph for graffiti artists, is what the puppets became for the Toyists. Whilst their graffiti colleagues chose for trains and metro stations, the Toyists use a spherical gas storage container or hotel room to carry out their ideas. With that they comply with the conditions that a new, authentic and autonomous movement needs. Behind the masks, with which they protect their identity from the outside world, people are hidden who are capable to removing themselves. They act like that, knowing that this is the best way to put the greater whole on display as clearly as possible. Identification is directly from the images, not from the creators. Miss Lodieteb, Mr. Yicazoo, Mr. Hribso, Miss Fihi, Miss Qooimee, Mr. Roq, Miss Amukek, Miss Mwano, Mr. Jaf’r and all other Toyists bear all only through their work and their puppets that (mostly indirectly) reveal things about their origin.
In 2016 Toyism is more alive than ever. Back in 1999 the group fell apart. Dutch artist Dejo, founder of the movement, decided to begin a world trip in order to clear his mind and concentrate on his personal future and the future of Toyism. The journey was an eye-opener leading to global possibilities of Toyism. Travelling through other parts of the world made him discover ingredients and components, notions and working-methods, visions and ideas that would underline the movement and give it an international potency and multicultural support. Travelling through different countries and continents opened his eyes. Suddenly he came to realise that by simply adjusting the existing structure he could transform the Dutch ‘Toyisme’, and worldwide ‘Toyism’ was born. Thanks to new media and the information superhighway it was only a small step towards globalisation. They form the basis for a new strategy. Dejo returned to the Netherlands with new élan. From the city of Emmen he starts to construct an international movement.
In 2013 the movement contains 21 artists. Their pseudonyms start with a chosen character of the alphabet. Re-use of the same character is not allowed, unless it becomes available because another artist has left the movement. This means that the maximum number of Toyists is 26. Using the 26 characters only once can also be seen as a nod to the number 13 (26 = 2 x 13) which has a special meaning within the movement. In 2013 the credo still applies; art stands for maximum freedom and within that freedom the artists voluntarily submit themselves to the guidelines as stated in the manifesto.
Author: Wim van der Beek (Book: Toyism Behind the Mask)