A dried insect hitched to a tiny bullock cart pulls a toy figurine over the heaving cracks in the pavement of an ancient square in Marrakesh. An equally Lilliputian maître d' welcomes diners to a meal of a half-eaten, discarded pastry beneath the chairs of an outdoor café in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. A Bedouin nomad rests himself and his camel beside a campfire of half-burned wooden matches on a pile of sand at a construction site amid the high-rise towers of Doha, Qatar.
Created in cities around the world by British artist Slinkachu, these miniature tableaux are far from the loud, messy, large-scale interventions typical of street art. His social commentary – at once sharply ironic and childlike – is quiet and almost unnoticeable. And as soon as he creates them, he abandons his little figures to unknown fates, perhaps to be crushed under an errant heel or scattered by the gentlest gust of wind.
Before that happens, however, Slinkachu immortalizes his creations in photographs that render the miniature monumental: one photo offering an intimate close-up view of the strange little people at their everyday pursuits, another showing the urban context in which the dioramas appear as no more than little dots. His latest work, Global Model Village: The International Street Art of Slinkachu, collects 50 pairs of photos.
Trained as a graphic designer but seeking a creative alternative to his work in advertising, Slinkachu began using little people in his art because they were cheap and easy to work with. But quickly the miniature became a message in itself. "The more I did, the more I realized how much people empathized with the characters," he says. Observers react to them as they would to babies and small animals. "There's something about the miniature that brings the nurturing aspect out in people."
Even when the little people are collecting rat feces to serve at a miniature hot dog stand, or playing on a waterslide that swoops down through the cracks of a sewer grate, they are always strangely endearing.
"They are certainly not created to shout at people," Slinkachu says. "The things that interest me are the day-to-day lives of people and the problems we face rather than massive political messages. … It brings to mind a lot of those issues that happen to people when they're in a city – the idea of being anonymous, of being overlooked. I almost feel pity for the little characters. They're lost."