Overheard in Shoreditch: We eavesdrop on hipsters milling about The Old Truman Brewery

Hipsters are an intriguing creature when allowed to flourish in their natural habitat, and are renowned for providing fascinating soundbites. We swung by The Old Truman Brewery’s “Martyrs & Matryoshkas” exhibition to listen in on the in-crowd’s take on the artwork. 

Reporter: Yasmin Jeffery I Sub-Editor: James Brookes


The Martyrs & Matryoshkas exhibition at The Old Truman Brewery I (All images by Yasmin Jeffery)


We all know the negative connotations associated with the word “hipster”. London’s indie darlings are so despised barely anyone would admit to adopting the hipster way of life in this day and age.

This is easy to understand; no one would consciously choose to label themselves as a vacuous, superficial person who routinely prizes aesthetics over basic functionality, or the alternative over the mainstream just for the sake of it.

Because art is avant-garde and alternative by nature, hipsters can always be found in London’s contemporary art scene: an important element to being alternative is acting like you know everything about anything underground and off the beaten track. In other words, art.

But do hipsters’ opinions on art actually mean anything? Or do they exist to seek out the most alternative artwork they can find in their never-ending search for the “next big underground thing”?

I skulked around The Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane – beer brewers turned hipster playground since its 2010 revival as a creative space – to find out how off-base hipsters’ opinions on art really are.

Walking into the gallery and out of the constant din that is Brick Lane where everything from vintage clothes, cheap curry and overpriced cereals are on offer, I am immediately confronted by a life-size hanging installation of what seems to be some sort of multicoloured Eastern European doll.


First impressions … Karina Akopyan’s show has pulled an interesting crowd


This month, The Old Truman Brewery is exhibiting the works of Karina Akopyan, a Russian-born, London-based artist whose art spans across the mediums of painting, photography, sculpture, installations and costume.

Her latest exhibition, titled “Martyrs & Matryoshkas”, is described as a deliberately provocative exploration into “tradition, religion, ritual, iconography, sexuality and fetishism – in all their jarring coexistence yet inevitable convergence”, by The Old Truman Brewery.

Akopyan’s collection of new and recent bright, iconography-laden work urges audiences to question the complex dichotomy between the “preservation of values and traditions, as either a beautiful necessity or, rather, a deceleration of progress”.

Eagerly starting off on my first lap of the room, I spy a handful of eager art connoisseurs – both amateur and seemingly seasoned – dotted throughout the gallery.

Midway through my entrance lap, I cannot help but overhear a young mousey woman, dressed in dungarees with a pair of horn-rimmed glasses sitting atop her nose, referring to the artist slightly too loudly in a conversation with her partner, whose arm is draped casually around her waist.

She proclaims: “I knew her art before it was exhibited on mainstream platforms like this – I think I first saw her stuff in her graduate exhibition with Kingston. God, that must have been years ago.”


Mixing ritual, religion and iconography, Akopyan urges visitors to consider the role tradition plays in modern society


Rolling my eyes at the hipster cliché in plain sight, I walk towards a sculpture of a Queen of Hearts-esque character, but from hell.

While taking a moment to drink in the art for myself and acclimatise to the surroundings, my ears prick up as a conversation between two norm core visitors stood next to me gets interesting.

One half of the pair – dressed in white chinos and New Balance trainers despite the recent scandal – attempts to pronounce Akopyan’s surname while offering his opinion on the exhibition.

With no regard for his feelings, his friend, who clearly likes to watch the world burn, says: “You’re saying her name wrong, it’s ‘Ako-pee-yan’.”

How to avoid sounding like an idiot at an art gallery

  1. Don’t try and be the same as all the different people. Be yourself – it’s a cliché because it works.
  2. Try not to attend shows based on their “underground” factor.
  3. Think about how the art at any given show is supposed to make you feel, as opposed to what it looks like.
  4. Don’t try and impress others.
  5. Take the time to drink in your surroundings before offering conclusions.

Bemused, but with no clue as to which one of them is right, I continue listening as the embarrassed New Balance-wearer says: “Oh my god, I’m so awful.”

In an effort to placate his friend, the moustache-wearing man replies: “No, it’s fine. I didn’t know how to say ‘Melania Trump’ until like a month ago.”

About to judge the pair for their vacuous conversation, I mentally berate myself; I had no idea how to pronounce Melania Trump’s name until about the same time, and wouldn’t know where to begin with Akopyan.

Catching the eye of one of the gallery workers, I walk over and motion to the two friends with a cursory glance, before asking whether the snippets of conversations I’ve heard during my visit are representative of the usual crowd.

She tells me: “You could say I’m a hipster, but I don’t like to use that word… I’d say it’s more people who are living in east London, so yeah they’re obviously a bit alternative.”

So, that’s that then. Despite publications such as MashableThe Guardian and the like declaring the death of the hipster, they are yet to go extinct.


Deliberately provocative … Akopyan’s bright, multicoloured work spans sculpture, paintings, installations and costume


Job done, I thank the gallery worker and start to make my way home. On my way out, I chance upon one last snippet of a conversation between two women, and hover awkwardly by the doorway to catch it in all its glory.

Both staring at their phones as they upload snaps from the show to Instagram, one friend innocently asks the other: “So, what did you think – your kind of art?”

Her friend, dressed head-to-toe in black, replies: “Well I guess I naturally gravitate towards anamorphosis, so this show didn’t really do it for me.”

Looking slightly bemused for a moment, the first woman manages to collect herself, and responds: “Oh yeah completely, such a good shout.”

They turn the corner and walk away, fading into the crowd of like-minded souls dressed in similarly ostentatious outfits.

Left puzzling the state of the world, I put my camera away and begin the journey back to north west London – a simpler place full of Coral branches and chicken shops, and absolutely zero proclamations that one “knew about X before it went mainstream”.

Martyrs & Matryoshkas is on show at The Old Truman Brewery from 8-18 December, 11-7.


Undeniable masterpiece … Akopyan’s show is worth the visit despite the hipster crowd




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