A few steps away from the Ménilmontant metro station, Espace Oberkampf is hosting Parisian artist Raphael Federici’s latest exhibition for its final week. Paris Lights Up took the opportunity to ask him a few questions!
As we face a health crisis inseparable from the affronts mankind is inflicting on our planet and its biodiversity, the message of the exhibition “Ecological Afrofuturism” seems to carry an almost premonitory resonance. What led you to explore these themes?
I have always been interested in dissonant voices and whistleblowers, on different subjects, especially the environment. I’m part of a generation that depends on the unreasonable behaviour of the “builders” who left us this planet as a legacy. Addressing the painful issues society is dealing with is part of the role of artists.
In literature as well as in music or cinema, the theme of Afrofuturism has never been so present. Your latest works are fully in line with this artistic trend. Have any artists, authors or experiences particularly inspired you?
I think the Afrofuturist movement has regained popularity through cinema, with the release of the film Black Panther, but also through fashion, with the rise of great artistic directors like Olivier Rousteing or Virgil Abloh. I was actually in the United States when Ryan Coogler’s film was released. Everyone was talking about it constantly for months on end, proudly making the “Wakanda” sign. But it’s mostly from a sociological point of view that I find it interesting. There was a wave of Afro-centric pride all over the world about the futuristic aesthetics of a modern Africa. A return to the roots and ancestral pride. A new aesthetic, different from the “raw and waxed” clichés.
I have a personal relationship with this movement. I recently became a father and as a biracial person raised in the West, I needed to reconnect with my most unknown roots, in the desire to tell my story, and that of our ancestors. The question that springs out of this artistic presentation is “what would the world be like if it had been able to experience a competitive influence from Africa? Where would Africa be if it had been allowed to develop naturally in the global economy?” That’s what Afrofuturism is all about. The reappropriation of a powerful Afro-dependent world in the public debate. I can’t stop imagining what a world where the ancestral wisdom of the first lands would have joined today’s technological, economic, societal advances…
Your new exhibition follows an eco-responsible artistic approach, using natural and recycled materials. How did this creative process influence the creation of your works?
It was a real challenge to get into upcycling. For once I let ideology take precedence over creation, and that gave my artistic process new perspectives. Indeed, having to recycle objects and waste forces new questions about feasibility, surface treatment, quality rendering and obviously our way of consuming. I quickly turned to noble, organic, durable materials such as wood, earth, glass, paper, cardboard, pigments… What’s interesting in this kind of challenge is going out of your comfort zone — from the accident comes the intention. I have found new materials and many new techniques for future productions.
Although you define yourself first and foremost as someone who draws, you started creating on the walls of Paris in 2012. From your point of view, how has the Parisian “street art scene” evolved since then?
The scene has exploded, and is still exploding. Graffiti artists had to deal with teething troubles, and now the neo-street artists are coming. It’s a good thing that this new generation is updating the old street codes: painting only with sprays, defining themselves as a “crew”, refusing to sell in galleries… Now we have real street painters, creating on all supports, opening street art to the world of contemporary art. I think I’m part of this first wave of artists who refused these codes and started painting on the wall just like on canvas (paint, palette, brush, knife, fine art technique, etc.). I think the term street art is no longer really appropriate. I personally define myself as a neo-pop expressionist : this just goes to show it can be more complex than that.
Which of your Parisian works “on the street” did you enjoy creating the most?
I think it’s the facade by canal de l’Ourcq. It was a grueling challenge of negotiation and adrenaline. We were a full-time team of six to work on this project, which presented a lot of constraints. I had to paint in three days what should have taken me five, on a basket dancing with the wind and without killing anyone — a can of paint falling from 40 metres high is no joke! It’s now the most photographed artwork of my career. I don’t necessarily take pleasure in making such monumental pieces, as it is extremely trying. On the other hand, the before and especially the after project bring their share of satisfactions.
You’ve had the chance to travel the world as an artist. What experiences have been particularly memorable during your career?
I became particularly addicted to traveling. If I had to pick a few intense memories, I can still see myself dancing at the Sao Paulo carnival in the middle of the batucadas, arm in arm with complete strangers. Hiding behind garbage cans in Tribeca, Manhattan, so I wouldn’t get caught (and kicked out of the country) before finishing my murals. Surrounded by thousands of students at a school-college in Pointe-Noire (Republic of Congo), laughing and dancing with them between two brushstrokes… The hype parties on the beaches of Cape Town, while I had to paint at 7am the next day to advance my work before the first heats… The car chases in the streets of Lisbon, shivering in the favelas of São Paulo in the middle of the “gang war”, enjoying acai bowls in Los Angeles after driving a superb American car, climbing trees in Norway at -20 degrees Celsius… I could go on for hours! All these experiences share a common quest for local culinary specialties, which my wife (with whom I work) and I take very seriously.
Like so many, workers of the cultural sector have been particularly affected by the current crisis. As an artist, how did you experience these last few months?
I think it would be interesting to look at new channels and tools for exhibitions and sales. I had to be more imaginative, launching my first interactive comic book on social networks, many video tutorials, and above all I have been able to enjoy my family to the fullest. Deconfinement resonated more like the end of the holidays than anything else.
The galleries are gradually reopening their doors and we are looking forward to finally discovering your exhibition at the Espace Oberkampf. Any wish for the coming months?
I’m looking forward to my next exhibition in Montmartre (“enfant intérieur” at galerie Alley, starting June 20th), which overlaps with the end of this one. Hope it lasts, and for a long time!
Raphael Federici – “Ecological Afrofuturism”
Until June 30th
140 rue Oberkampf, 75011 Paris
+33 (0)1 48 07 05 87
Wednesday to Saturday: 2pm-6:30pm – Free
Raphael Federici working on the mural outside Espace Oberkampf © Raphael Federici