"What I express in my works is mainly the magnificent complexity of humanity."
Coquelicot Mafille’s artistic research centers around play, the dimensions of dreams, and the space occupied by language, nature and human relationships. In her body of work, different times and places intertwine, highlighting the poetic elements of multicultural identity and the experimental possibilities of multilingualism. Many of her pieces are to be read like poems. They're an expression of her desire to tell all the stories of the world - a way to give a voice to those who are not heard. Thus, the artist draws a dreamy and playful universe of imaginary stories - a melting pot of cultures, identities, and thoughts.
Q. You grew up in Paris - how do you think your daily environment has impacted your work?
The fact that I was born in Paris and spent my childhood there until I was 12 years old was indeed a very important chance for me, for my formation, the construction of my imagination and my future choices. I grew up in a multicultural neighbourhood, in the 18th arrondissement, in Montmartre. The area held a mix of people from all over the world, but mainly from Africa. As a child, I spent a lot of time in the streets. We were a gang of six. We dreamed a lot and we did all sorts of things. I was part of a diverse world of people from different backgrounds and social classes. My passion for textile materials and patterns, African textures, and my wonder at the works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude stem from that period. I loved Keith Haring and Ben Vautier, Mittérand and the Minister of Culture Jack Lang. I was listening to Krafwerk, Michael Jackson, Claude François and Emilie Jolie. At the age of 10, I wanted to be a member of parliament. At that time I was already plagued by many questions concerning subjects such as the Holocaust, the wars in Lebanon and Chad, racism, and antispecism. The school I attended was very formative as well, with its focus on language, writing, literature and autonomy.
Q. Could you tell us a bit about your different studies and how they shaped your artistic practice?
There are always several factors that create an event. My bilingualism from birth; the feeling of displacement and the following adaptation after leaving Paris: and then, when I arrived in Milan in the 90's, my exposure to the world of skateboarders and Hiphop; my rapper friends and graffiti artists were all strong components of my formation. Later, I also got involved in a movement that occupied houses.
When it comes to studies: I chose classical studies in high school, studying philosophy, Greek and Latin. Then, despite the fact that almost my entire family had attended or worked in the fine arts academies, I decided to study Political Science with a specialization in Afro-Asian institutions. I felt a need to not only understand how the world worked, but also to connect with it. I graduated in 5 years with a thesis on the Algeria of Albert Camus. I learnt a lot during these university years and understood how important it is to deepen knowledge in order to be able to not only change one's ideas but to change one's perception of oneself and of others. To understand how complex the world is and how the story we are given is too often superficial and determined by a narrative that is mostly dependent on political power and its interests. In short, through these studies I have been able to forge a critical attitude.
I also had to question what I took for granted. To question myself, as a European, white, educated female, etc. For many years, I traveled the world. Making long, minimalist trips, blending in with the people and the landscape. I’d come back stronger and with a different idiom.
That all these discoveries and travels have rubbed off on my work is undeniable. What I express in my works is mainly the magnificent complexity of humanity. How, as individuals, we are all formed by different cultural backgrounds. I aim to express this richness and I also try to decontextualise commonplace thinking. I hope that my work leads the viewer to see themselves as an integral part of a world history made up of individuals.
Q. Much of your work finds its place in urban environments - in the shape of murals that become part of the space - how did you come to choose the city as your canvas?
As a child, I played a lot in the streets, experiencing elements of counter culture in the form of graffiti. It always seemed very natural to me to work in an urban context. It allows a margin of freedom and spontaneity that institutions or certain artistic circles do not allow.
Q. How do you select the urban environments in which you work and how do you choose the subject matter that fits to it?
It is necessary to distinguish between spontaneous urban interventions and commissioned ones. In the first case, it really depends on how I feel at that moment. I often find spots that seem ideal: very visible of course, but not necessarily obvious. I take the place where I intervene into account, the people who live there, the way in which the work might be received. For example, in a wall embroidery I made near the Piazza Sant'Anna in Palermo, the Arabic script is linked to the Arab-Norman history of the city.
When the work is commissioned by a municipality or an association in a specific area I think it is interesting for both parties, the artist and the residents, to get to know each other. Before an intervention, the artist is invited to participate in lectures and workshops in order to create an exchange. This is common practice in France, where urban art is highly popular.
Q. How do your smaller works, that are independent of a specific environment - your pieces on wooden panels and cardboard - relate to the rest of your practice?
Those works are part of a specific project related to my personal interests, thoughts, and experiences. There are no boundaries really, it all comes from the same personal flow of my body and soul. Only when I observe them as an outsider do I see common patterns and origins.
Q. You work in a broad range of media: embroidery, writing, and painting on a variety of surfaces - how did you come to develop this multifaceted artistic language?
It all happened naturally, one after another, like a flow. For me, embroidery is linked to writing, as a gesture and a form of meditation. Before I painted, I used to write: poems and diaries, reports and articles. I found this movement again in embroidery. It has to do with time, attention, presence, and memory. From writing in embroidery I moved on to embroidery painting. I use fabric as a support because of my passion for the material; I used to live above a fabric shop, and my mother was a stylist as well.
Q. Storytelling plays an important role in your work - what are the narratives you would like to convey to the viewer?
They are poems, visual haikus, visions of universal human experiences. They are made up of earth, animals, plants, objects, and landscapes. A whole that is chaotic and beautiful at the same time.
Q. Are the stories you tell based on personal experiences and desires or are they part of a dreamt up universe?
My works often contain a political message. They portray reality by turning it into a dreamlike landscape. A place where the different times, cultures, and species meet and enter into dialogue with one another. They are stories that can be read in a circular way, starting from anywhere. I've always loved encyclopedias, atlases, and dictionaries. In my work there is an impossible desire to tell all the stories of the world and give a voice to those who are not heard.
Q. Apart from a rich narrative component there seems to be a playful element to your work - is this emblematic of your approach as an artist?
Do you know the sentence: ‘If I can't dance it won't be my revolution’? The playful elements in my work are an expression of the woman I am rather than the artist, but I can say that it is the spirit that is central to my work. I want to tell the world of its complexity, its marvelous and joyful side, because that is where we draw our energy from. Despite the bad, life is beautiful and to make room for joy and humour is fundamental.
Q. In which direction would you still like to develop artistically?
I would love to experiment with new supports and skills like textile works on rug or other works on fabric. I would love to explore ceramics too and to conceptualize more land art. But I would also like to continue the projects I'm working on, to expand them in more international ways and to form connections.
Q. Could you describe your work in three words?
Poetic - Colourful - Alive