Araki Koman's Multicultural Experiences Translate into Beautiful Illustrations
Paris, but transitioning to London in one week before moving to Tokyo in Spring 2017
Milk & Honey - Rupi Kaur /
Currently listening to:
Vespertine - Björk’s album
A perfect morning would include soy milk, cereals, nuts & honey, fruits and a cup of green tea. But in reality, since I am not a morning person, I usually end up taking only one of them or nothing at all (laughs)
M: A little about yourself, where you are from, and what you do.
A: I am Araki, 29, born and raised in Paris. I grew up in a Guinean and Malian family with my parents and my 4 siblings in a multicultural town called Bagneux (Paris southern suburb).
From a young age, I developed a strong interest, both for drawing and for the world’s cultures and diversity. The need to discover the world was so strong that I ended up choosing to pursue my graduate studies in an international Business School for the opportunities it would offer me abroad and also for the “safe” job opportunities it would offer me. It’s only after I graduated from my Masters degree in Marketing and got a job in a top IT company that I realized I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t fully expressing myself and felt like something was missing. Few months later, I decided to embrace my creative side, moved to London, and took a certificate in Graphic Design. Since my graduation in 2012, I have explored different aspects of my creativity: from graphic design in a small London studio, I started selling vintage & second hand clothes in East London, then ended up as a textile design intern for an Icelandic label in Reykjavik, got admitted in a fashion design school in Denmark and finally ended up coming back to Paris to focus on my anthropological project OUM x YUKI for which I interviewed people with multicultural identities in their space for about a year while drawing occasionally on the side.
After a burn out and a lot of loss in my family early this year, I took the decision to focus my full attention on illustration. This is the craft that’s the most natural, soothing and enjoyable to me. Also I loved everything else I’ve tried before, drawing is something I’ve been doing for the longest and it doesn’t feel like work to me. My goal is to freelance fulltime someday.
M: Which aspects -- growing up or currently, affected you the most in terms of how you express yourself now and who you are as a creative person today?
A: I would definitely say multiculturalism! My nationality is French, my family is West African and Muslim, my skin is black, I grew up in multicultural Paris with friends and classmates with roots from around the world and on top of that I was born with a natural interest for Asian cultures, especially Japan; and to this day, I have lived in 6 different countries in less than 10 years.
All those cultural influences I got involved with shaped my identity and my vision of the world.
In my mind there’s no boundary between people and cultures. It definitely translates into my work because I am rarely thinking about my characters nationality or racial background when I draw them. Sometimes I mismatch elements of different cultures into one character unconsciously. Somehow, using a lot of black and white create bridges because people feel connected to the essence of my characters whether they look like them or not.
All those influences, made my perspective so broad, that I am basically allergic to boxes and labels, even the one that are supposed to empower you like “feminist” or “POC”. I am not so much comfortable with words in general, and sometimes prefer not giving name to things as I feel like labeling them can become a distraction and dismiss the essence of it. I don’t want to get credit because I am a black female artist drawing women. I want people to appreciate me as an artist for the quality of my work and how it resonates with them.
M: Any one person, time period, or movement that resonates most with you as an artist?
A: Björk! I love how real and deep she is. Her essence can be felt heavily in everything she does: her music, aesthetic and style, the choice of environment she chooses for herself… To me she expresses very well the spirit of Icelandic people. They are carefree, quirky, raw and very proud of their singularity. It definitely inspired me the 6 months I spent living there.
M: How important are the roles of graphic design and illustration in relation to the rest of the world--how important are they to you?
A: Graphic design and illustration are so necessary. They don’t only make our daily life more pleasing and entertaining, they are also powerful tools to inform, communicate and share values and ideas. When used effectively they can even influence people and impact society. I personally like the fact that they allow me to create the aesthetics and things I value and would like to see more of.
M: How would you describe your illustration style?
A: My style is very minimalist using simple strokes with limited color palettes and tools. Women, fashion, travel and multiculturalism are also very recurring themes in my work, mostly because that’s what I know best.
M: What’s something you need to do in order to start or help with your creative process?
A: Whether at home, an office or in a coffee shop, it is very important for me to feel comfortable, relaxed and inspired by my surroundings. If the space or the people I am with are making me feel uncomfortable, I can get serious creative blocks. I would still produce something but it would definitely be less organic or take more time. It’s a bit of a paradox because my current nomadic lifestyle challenges me a lot, as I rarely have my own space and I don’t really have routines. Illustration requiring more stability than graphic design, so I am now daydreaming of a studio where I would unleash my creativity to the fullest while being surrounded by all the things that inspire me!
M: What’s something you’ve always wanted to study and know more about?
A. Japanese language (working on it now), visual anthropology, photography, ceramics, and so much more! I love learning new things, and I am glad the Internet can help with that!
M. Describe your style. What’s the oldest piece of clothing you own?
A. I like to think that my illustrative style and my clothing style are very linked. I tend to draw what I wear or would like to wear. Just like my work, my style is minimalist, with wide and comfy shapes combined with fitted pieces. My favourite pieces are off shoulder tops, deep V neck bodies, oversize denim dresses, overalls and high waisted pants and skirts. I love textures and interesting fabrics. In terms of colour, I tend to wear a lot of black with some earthy and pastel colours. I don’t wear white as I tend to be clumsy (laugh).
Being often on the move, my wardrobe is pretty small and I often don’t hesitate to declutter whenever I feel like I have too much clothes or when I have to move and have no more space in my suitcases. I guess my oldest piece of clothing I own are vintage kimonos (haori) I purchased during my first trip to Tokyo in 2013.
M: Which projects are you working on, or plan on working on in the future?
A. I am currently working on developing and diversifying my illustration portfolio while preparing my application for a Working Holiday Visa in Japan in 2017. That's where I would like to settle down. Wish me good luck! ;)
Photography: Kirico Ueda