Roman Road is pleased to present Complex Problems, Simple Solutions, a solo exhibition by Tom Esam. Taking its title from the artist’s new, presented series, the exhibition amplifies Esam’s continued investigation and interest in rhetoric, more pertinently in the role of slogans in political campaigns.
Broadly defined as the use of language that has a persuasive or impressive effect, rhetoric was at the heart of social and political life in ancient Greece and Rome. Dating back to the 4th century BC, it was an esteemed practice among Greek speakers who would adopt this art of communication to influence their hearers towards a certain course of action. While rhetoric has been given a bad name, as it is often regarded as speech that lacks sincerity, is vacuous or sometimes misleading, it is essentially the skill of a speaker to use reasoned argument to persuade. The question is, as Tom Esam addresses in his first solo exhibition at Roman Road: have politicians lost the art of rhetoric?
Esam has dedicated his contemporary practice to exploring the ways in which slogans and imagologies are used in advertisements, charity promotions and political campaigns. Often using his surname and image in his artworks, he highlights the ways in which such propagandist tools can be used to create covert systems of ideals and anti-ideals that aim to influence our behaviours and opinions. With his Complex Problems, Simple Solutions (2016) Esam expands on the use and effect of slogans in our national, political discourse, urging us to consider how these forms of advertising appeal to populist sentiments and often focus on spectacle rather than reasoned debate.
The works in the artist’s new series present images of people holding up signs on which he has Photoshopped his own statements. Inspired by assertions made in protests and by political parties, he wittily exposes the sort of appealing, simple phrases employed to incite onlookers to jump on the bandwagon of a particular point of view. Phrases such as ‘Let’s Stay On The Road To A Stronger Esam’ and ‘Trust Esam, He Will Steer You To Safety’ arrest our gaze: a parade of nonsensical hyperbole for his beguiled audience.
These colourful works on silk will be displayed on hangers suspended from the ceiling, mimicking propaganda banners as they slowly revolve in mid-air. Through a barrage of Esam’s sloganised statements, the exhibition aims to elaborate the debate about political rhetoric and at once raises the question of whether Aristotelian persuasion is a more effective tool to engage the public, rather than just making assertions or promises.