The phrase “paint me like one of your french girls” comes to mind when I think of Monika Emanuelle, a diaspora creative who was born and raised in Congo. She now lives in Geneva France and through her art she explores identity and the connectedness human beings have with nature. As a woman of colour in a European city, she faces many challenges of breaking away from stereotypes and establishing herself as an artist however, the quest to be the best version of herself fuels her to keep doing what she loves.
What does being a creative woman of colour mean to you in 2017?
Being a black artist in 2017 is a daily challenge both with oneself and with others. The field of art is still dominated by men, indeed, in art schools or even in everyday life, famous male artists will be quoted or referred to, rather than women, and even less black artists. But I think that in 2017, we are at a time when people’s minds and interests are widening. And I see more and more women like me having access to more spaces to create. Although it is still very hard, I think that when you are a black artist, you have to fight to widen this space of creation, so that it is not just an ethnic box to tick, but a real space that is taken into account and respected, both within the art world and in our own perosnal environments. For me, after growing up in Congo (Brazzaville) and later moving to France, my family has not always understood my interest for the arts, which is often reduced in Africa to simple drawing, or to a basic distraction. The credit given to art in Europe is not the same than in Africa. The jobs related to culture and art are far less important than those dealing with the economy, health etc. Culture is what is lacking for generations like mine (Afropean or Afro-descendant). We come to Europe because the universities are better, our education is made from this new culture, the culture of our parents and grandparents, we do not feed it, it stagnates, and gradually disappears. And these countries become driven by the economy, not by education … There would be too much to say, and I only speak for myself, through my life experience. To sum up, yes, being a black artist today is a constant challenge with oneself, its entourage and the art world. But I like it, it is in this environment that I see myself evolving, because it is as important as the others. And it allows me to express my voice.
- How would you describe your artistic expression/what do you call yourself?
For me, making art is a need. The need to create, and to give rise to my ideas. I studied architecture before shifting to art, so to speak. As a child, I was drawing and writing a lot. Either way, I have always been wandering through creative spaces. And that is what inspires my art: spaces, installations between performance, writing and video-making that portray my reflections on the domestic space. With a strong interest in the role of “nature” in our daily lives. I get interested in one element, and then develop it in all its forms, to find shifts or connections, such as the green plant, which has become a visual reference in most of my installations. Now I study flowers and fruits, floral arrangements, their layout, what surrounds or supports them (vases, tables, candles, water, which I make, model or film). The inner space becomes an ecosystem of gestures and actions, objects that I move into an invented cosmogony where everything would have value and history. It is about offering another way of seeing the spaces in which we live.
- The best thing about doing what you do in your part of the world?
I study at the Beaux-Arts in Geneva, and making art in Switzerland, or more exactly in Europe (because I also lived in Brussels and Paris). It is very enriching and stimulating. In these big cities, we are lucky enough to have access to both the right tools and the right places to create, but also to be at the heart of ongoing cultural exchanges. That is why I love Europe, I think it is one of the continents where you can easily meet people of such different backgrounds and cultures. For my part, this allowed me to discover and meet people from different backgrounds who all share a common interest, being the « francophone » universe.
- One thing you wish you could change about the world today?
There is nothing I would like to change in the world today. I would rather say that I want certain situations or mentalities to evolve more rapidly. That people feel more concerned with the geopolitical and social stakes of their countries, and stop letting themselves be carried away by the societies in which they live. I would like people to be more active, and less pessimistic. To be looking towards “the other” (being other individuals, animals or plants). And I would like the word “utopia” to be revalorized.
- What is on your moodboard?
Places I would like to visit: Iceland, Norway, Greenland.
Musicians I like: there are too many, the classic Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Mbilia Bel and my discoveries Gracy Hopkins (FR) Klein and J-Hus (UK). More ShunGu (BE) and Kodäma (FR).
My favourite colour is beige.
My favourite quote is from Oroma Elewa : “I am my own muse. I am the subject I know best. The subject I want to better. “
On my Instagram, the paintings of Giorgio Morandi, ceramics, ikebana, and the hairstyles of Shani Crowe. And the shoes of the LOQ brand that I dream of having!
You can get to know Monika a little more by following her on Instagram.