In Studio with Joël Andrianomearisoa

Joel Andrianomearisoa is an artist from Madagascar, who is known for bold colored artworks using paper and textiles. He has been exhibited in the 2014 Biennale de Dakar, the 12th International Cairo Biennale, the 8th Bamako Encounters Biennial of African Photography, and various museums. During his recent ‘Last Year in Antananarivo’ exhibition, we sat down to chat about his journey as an artist and his views on Madagascar’s culture.


On Cultural Identity and Names

Sharon: Joel, is your name French?

Joel: No, it’s from Madagascar.

S: There has been a lot of French and Portuguese influence.

J: Yes, because we were first “discovered” by the Portuguese, which happened with many countries. Then we had British colonisation, not in the language, but more in the structure and architecture, and the last colonisation was French. So it’s why we speak French.

S: How has that influenced your sense of culture and how you celebrate your identity?

J: Well, Madagascar is complicated - geographically, we are in Africa but in terms of culture, we are more Asiatic. With the French, British, and Portuguese elements, Madagascar is quite complicated to define properly. It’s always complicated to define a country. Like what is the meaning of British culture? Madagascar is more complicated because it’s a mix of everything. When you visit Madagascar, people are expecting something very African - but we have  connections with countries like India, China, and Thailand.


On his journey becoming an artist

S: I understand you started as an architect, how did you find yourself practicing as an artist?

J: With architecture, I think it’s something very complete that you can actually get some sense of space in the sense of social lives, history and art. I think contemporary art is actually the best in terms of forms and emotion for me. I’m still an architect and I’m an artist, there is no real separation. I don’t know if you can feel that in some work, but even the mediums are different. We are starting from photography, to textile, and to papers.

S: For this exhibition, you have several works that use textiles on canvas. What was the reason behind your choice of this medium?

J: Let’s me tell you about the process. I had the idea since the beginning, that I wanted to build something around this idea of the ball. The ball as a meeting moment and place where a lot can happen. The second idea was to talk about Madagascar - not only about the present, but the future and the past. I researched and found this image from the French colonial period of a Malagasy ball, with the Malagasy people dressed like the French, as a “civilised people”.

I decided to manipulate this image, and I cut them to create a new scenario to tell a new story, from a kind of fantasy, of French people. It’s a manipulation of this idea of the colonisation. It’s why they are divided in four parts. From this screenplay, you can feel that there are two important elements: the dresses because we are in a ball; and the objects, with the chandelier, the carpets, the curtains and more.

In the gallery, you can feel the colourful textiles on the wall, are a tribute to these dresses and the women that wore them. The black objects on the floor are imprints of the architectural objects from the ball. The show is like a memory from Madagascar with your imagination.

Last Year in Antananarivo, Exhibition View, Courtesy Tyburn Gallery

Last Year in Antananarivo, Exhibition View, Courtesy Tyburn Gallery

S: When you first encountered these photos at the beginning of the project, what intrigued you about them, that you wanted to explore further?

J: When I saw these images, it was the perfect element. It was this idea of  a historic image from ball during French colonisation. So I would be telling a story, which - I don’t know if it was a bad or good moment for Madagascar. Aesthetically, the images are interesting, I have a lot of interest in this idea of black and white. The black reflects the light, and the white reveals the black. These images are of the Malagasy culture, that actually these people are Malagasy but they are behaving as French.

S: I noticed in the textile works, there is this foundation of black, and you are very interested in the idea of black, not as a monochromatic colour, but as something that reflects light and shows a myriad of colours. (And you’re wearing black) Can you tell me more about that?

J: I’ve used black for many years and it’s part of my reflection. When I’m using black it’s not just a colour. Among this idea of black, there are a lot of things from the Black Portraitures, from the black colour, from the black system, from the black market. So it’s a heavy statement on black which depends on the culture and on the context too.

Last Year in Antananarivo, Exhibition View, Courtesy Tyburn Gallery

Last Year in Antananarivo, Exhibition View, Courtesy Tyburn Gallery

The other thing is the black elements on the floor are revealing a new form and memory of the object. When you walk into the gallery, you feel that it gives a new energy, that normally everything has to be on the wall, and now it’s on the floor. On the wall, the black reveals another colour, it is building a horizon. This idea of the horizon, is something that I think is very interesting in terms of history and symbolism. You are between light and darkness, you are between two things.


On the politics of language

S: As we speak right now, there are currently, unfortunately, political tensions in Cameroon between the Anglophone and Francophone parts on the country. Do you have any thoughts on what’s happening? Maybe how the country would have arrived at this point, in terms of the battle between Anglophone and Francophone political and cultural parts.

J: You know, I’m still questioning myself and the world. Why is the continent is still divided in two parts like this? The Anglophone parts are more economically developed, and the Francophone parts are more complicated.It’s very interesting when you see all the flight maps and schedules. You see all the flights from Addis Ababa, from Angola, even from South Africa, going to New York,  Paris, and Thailand. 

S: Let’s talk more generally now, as an artist how do you evaluate how effective your artworks are, in conveying the messages that you intend to send to your audience?

J: I’m going to answer too, with a very general answer too (Sharon laughs)… when you decide to be an artist, there isn’t always a message behind it. I’m just putting something on the table, there isn’t a real message, I’m trying to bring more emotion to tell a story, and then you can tell your own story. I’m just giving you  a pleasure or pain, but you have to play with this. The audience is a part of the work and reveals the work at a certain point.

These images are a screenplay from Madagascar, but actually it could be from France in Versailles, I think it can be at the Buckingham Palace too, why not? It depends on the context, the emotion, and your vision.

Image courtesy Joel Andrianomearisoa, FTM Archives, Antananarivo, Madagascar

Image courtesy Joel Andrianomearisoa, FTM Archives, Antananarivo, Madagascar

S: You’re quite a well-established artist, having exhibited at various museums and biennials. How has your artist practice evolved over time from the beginning to this point?

J: When I finished my architecture school, there was no decision from myself that I wanted to be an artist. I’m always giving this answer that you never decide to become an artist. When I was a 23, I met a curator who gave me the first show. Then this artist called Pascale Martine Tayou was the first person who invited me outside of France, so I went to Australia. I had this show with him at the new South Wallace Gallery. Then we had a show at the Musee d’Art Moderne in Paris, so it’s also about friendship and meeting people.

Joel Andrianomearisoa recently had an exhibition at Tyburn Gallery, ‘Last Year in Antananarivo’ from 4 October – 23 December 2016. Look out for his solo exhibition coming up at Milan and Paris this year.

Sharon Obuobi