Vasari: The renaissance of slogan t-shirts 

Nayera Yasser
6 Min Read

Some walk into museums to learn about art, while others capitalise on the power of the internet to stay up to date with today’s forms of expression. However, only a niche group can see the thin lines between two opposing worlds.

Those few can fancy a world where paintings come to life; not to talk about politics or conditions of life, but rather, the most iconic lyrics of hip-hop! The liberal concept is a statement that art is a form of revolution, which acknowledges no boundaries of time. As the founders say: imagine a world where Van Gogh and Jay Z are friends.

Bassem Basta is a 22-year-old who studied supply chain and finance in Boston. However, when he is not talking about logistics and numbers, he is often submerged in his laptop; dotting the fine bridges between the world’s greatest paintings and today’s most infamous R&B lyrics.

“Vasari is inspired by my favourite artist Giorgio Vasari, the Italian painter. It is a comfy brand that is based on the mixture of art, R&B, and pop culture,” Basta said, adding, “Vasari is my way to show my appreciation of different forms of art.”

Being a millennial himself, Basta grew up listening to hip-hop and R&B since a very early age. On the other hand, his parents also made sure to introduce him to art as they proudly fill their household with paintings.

Nonetheless, his fascination with mute paintings grew further when he moved abroad for university, as he started regularly visiting a lot of museums and naturally even taking a few art history classes. All these factors inspired him to launch a dedicated ready-to-wear brand.

“I started back in 2013 when I was still in high school. At the beginning, I was not confident about the concept. Accordingly, I started by testing the market and investing a minimal budget. I established an Instagram page and started engaging with potential clients,” said Basta.

The simple attempts of Basta, accompanied with his contemporary interpretation of the world’s most celebrated pieces of art led to unexpected online feedback. Encouraged by the non-stop myriad of comments, shares, and orders, he established a website by 2015 and started investing in ways to represent the brand.

“I do not call myself a designer because I am not. Maybe I am just a creative person who can link two of his most favourite forms of art. It is a hobby that has turned into a brand; nonetheless, it is not a job,” he said. “However, I am planning to develop it further and create a wider range of products. Maybe then I would start calling it a job.”

The locally-made t-shirts are an art-fuelled form of the decade’s biggest fashion trend; statement slogans. Using contemporary art, Basta expresses an unexpected contradiction through selecting precise popular lyrics. Whether English or Arabic, the text does not only capitalise on successful musical hits, but also sheds light on how relatable it could be when taken out of context.

“It is a constant process of studying and researching art. I cannot possibly memorise all of those paintings. However, my choices have been greatly influenced by the art courses I attended at university,” Basta said. He explained about the non-existent presence of local artists in Vasari’s designs saying, “unfortunately, I was not exposed to Egyptian painters; however, recently I have been contemplating the idea of venturing into that side of our history to utilise it.”

According to the founder, in order to be able to use a painting, it has to be at least 70 years old. Due to the international regulations of intellectual property, he cannot freely utilise the art of any living artists.

With that being said, Vasari has already embraced Arabic typography, inspired by local pop culture. On the other hand though, sales records suggest that people often favour English slogans, especially since Basta tends to specialise in modern art.

On the other hand, in spite of being an ode to popular forms of art, the hybrid designs could be categorised as too bold for the local taste. “I have received very limited negative feedback. I remember someone calling my brand degrading to women. Nonetheless, I could not see how, since I do not make it with the purpose of insulting anyone. I believe those that understand this brand are also familiar with the lyrics and the main concept behind it,” concluded the founder.

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