Mainstream media can no longer overlook the stories that are driving real-life conversations on social media. The world is changing at a rapid pace and becoming smaller by the day. We are replacing old-fashioned narratives with contrasting and various viewpoints that are changing the way we see the world.
French artist and product designer, Aurélia Durand is one of the outliers who is using her social media platform to express the importance of representation and diversity through art and creativity. Her story is capturing the minds of many, so I took a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark where Aurélia lives, to have an open & free conversation…
“I create what represents me and many others – you won’t find my style of art in the established French galleries because of the characteristics of my art.” The French art industry is dominated by white males, consequently, the equally incredibly talented artists who don’t fit the “status quo” are often overlooked in the French scene. To be a part of the industry, Aurélia was told to assimilate so that her work could be accepted.
“I am showing the diversity in French artistry. France is a melting pot of cultures and it is important to me that I create artwork that represents our reality. To see Art of my nature, you would have to attend niche art galleries. However, I am French just like the other artists who feature in the major establishments, so why is it that art that represents an alternate reflection of Frenchness is not held in the same regard?”
This is a plausible question to ask, take a look at the French national football team who were triumphant in one of the biggest sporting competitions in the world; the 2018 world cup; 15 of 23 players were people of colour. This level of multicultural representation is yet to be seen in other mainstream industries outside of sport and music within France – I am sure you can figure out why…
Born to a French father and an Ivorian mother, Aurélia spent the vast majority of her life in Paris. However, in her early childhood, she lived on a small island in the Indian ocean, La Réunion. An island that is a melting pot of diversity owed mainly to the European incursion of Africa and slavery. Between the 17th – 19th Century people were brought to the island from Africa, China and India. Now Reunion stands as one of the most infused cultural places to live in the world.
Aurélia moved to Copenhagen 5 years ago to look for a new challenge. Through Aurélia’s experiences, her imagination and creativity opened her up to a new level which has led to her illustrations reaching thousands of people.
“I am intrigued by Danish culture and I love how design is integrated into their living. However, being a foreigner can be quite challenging; learning a new language, struggling to make friends, adjusting to a new way of life.”
Aurélia found herself out of her comfort zone, which brought about introspection as she’d never experienced before. She noticed how people were communicating with her. This made her contemplate how society in a larger sense viewed different groups of people who were different from the “Western ideal”, especially people who looked like her.
“I was raised as a white French person because my parents felt I would have more chances in life to succeed. But to me, I felt it became a handicap because later on, I realized I’d never been myself and that I needed to work on being more prouder of my origins…”
“One of the reasons why I started to illustrate people was because I felt there was a single portrayal of black women in mainstream media. If you don’t have a big bum or large breasts- there is no space for you. I felt there was far more to a black woman than just her sex appeal. I wanted to control my narrative and share stories of black women that people could relate to.”
Aurélia feels that in stark contrast to black women, white women are allowed the freedom to be multi-faceted. Although there has been a slight shift from the heavily racialised monolithic views of the past. Western society is still a long way off from entirely understanding and addressing its problematic ideals.
“I think it is amazing that women are liberated and want to celebrate their bodies. However, not every black woman can relate to Nicki Minaj; I do not want to show my body and dance in a provocative way to be considered mainstream.”
Aurélia’s creations are a symbol of the lack of visibility of the women and men who are part of her everyday society. Her use of just one black shade to depict her subjects’ skin, derives from the Danish minimalistic approach to style. The shade signifies the unity of being Afro and the spirit within Afro people.
It is widely acknowledged by French artists, especially artists of colour, that art of this nature is considered “radical” and “threatens” the ideals of French unity. This flawed notion has restricted artists like Aurélia, from breaking through into the major galleries and gaining a large exposure.
“I was born and raised in France. I grew up eating French food, as well as Ivorian dishes. My mother had a restaurant in Paris serving African cuisine. This is part of my French experience and many other French people from diverse backgrounds can relate to my story. So I create art that is French. France is not made up from one standard ideal – they are Arabs, Creole, Africans, Jewish, Muslims and so many more. So why doesn’t French art represent this in the mainstream?”
Aureiela remains unperturbed by marginalisation and continues to express herself to a growing audience, who are inspired and appreciative of the recognition of another French way of reality.
“It is more than just art, it is a form of communication. I use my art to talk to people.”