On May 28th, ECFA's Conversation Piece took to the airwaves in a live stream with Tiffanie Delune and Enuma Okoro. Here, we've collected our highlights from their conversation.
And right away, I was drawn to [Tiffanie’s work]. I was drawn to the colour, I was drawn to the vibrancy. [...] I just wanted to know more about who was making this work, and where I could find more of it, because it awakened in me something both childlike and playful. But it also felt like a call to like to remember to dream and to remember possibility. - Enuma Okoro
On becoming an artist
Tiffanie Delune: It was quite a difficult background. We didn't have much, we were moving around a lot and we could never afford [...] to do thethings we wanted to or even just the materials and supplies. You just had to use what you had, and I think this is what you're seeing in my work and what you've seen in my practice; I probably still function the same.
Obviously now, I can afford canvas and paint and so on, but I still get very curious and playful and a little bit childish as well. ‘What if I use garbage bags, or threads or flowers or leaves, or a key?’ That thinking definitely comes from my childhood because I never think that there’s just one way of seeing things. I never think, ‘Oh, that's not how it’s done, so that’s the end of the story’.
Enuma Okoro: It’s about realising that it's okay to do things in ways that feel authentic to you. Because it seems like your father raised you to […] well, ‘make do’ isn't the word — maybe more a matter of ‘recognise what you already have’.
TD: Yes, and not to focus on what you don't have. Say you have a list of supplies and something’s missing...well, it doesn't matter! […] This way of thinking taught me to be very positive and very resourceful — my father was always very resourceful. He was never negative, despite the poverty. He was always saying, no, come on, I have an idea!, that kind of thing. And I still think the same way; as I say, I have the funds, the possibilities to make whatever I want, but I [hold on to this idea]. I find it very pure.
On No one dance like we do and the right to dream
EO: The work we’re going to talk about is No one dance like we do, which is right behind Tiffanie. What I love about Tiffanie's work is there's so much happening, and you really have to take time to look at it. There are all these constellations happening: it looks like an explosion of joy, like balloons and to me [the forms] also look like Chinese lanterns. You can see birds, the natural world… I thought this would be a wonderful way to talk about not only your oeuvre, but some of the things that you are hoping you will put into the world through your work. [...] Let's chase out one theme that you think has significance here, that kind of inspired the piece.
TD: Where my mind is currently — that’s what you're seeing in the piece. In a way it is linked to my personal history, but it is also linked to current events and everything that's happening in the world right now. And it's about the right to joy, about how [joy] should be as normal as breathing. [...] It’s also about the right to dream. We know that for certain people, depending on where you come from, it can be difficult to dream. And the last thing to say is that [the work] is not white, it is not black, it is not left or right, ‘a’ or ‘z’. It is a mix of many things, many influences and many colours.
It's multifaceted. This is why you have a sense of the cosmos, but you also have a sense of flying, the moon and stars, a sense of this constellation. That’s why you see many different references in general, and even many cultures — because I don't stick to being just French, or being Belgian or being Congolese, or my influences in the Caribbean. I look at so many things, because I am many things. It’s recognising that everyone is multifaceted, based on their background but also what they like: the music they listen to, the art they are attracted to, whether it's their culture or not. [...] My work is basically inspired by the freedom to be yourself. Wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever you want to do, it does not matter. Just step into yourself, step into your truth and step into your right to dream.
On building bridges
TD: [Mine] is the art of bridges: creating bridges between me and others in the past and present, the present and the future, bridges between different perspectives. In making the work, I don't have this intention; I make the work because I want to make the work, but I know it resonates [with different people because] I’m showing internationally, and I have all kinds of collectors. For me that’s important, because then I can have a real conversation.
EO: I started off by saying how your works seem to have so many multi-layered stories within them [...] and I think that’s part of the ongoing gift of art — that there's always a continuous dialogue between viewer and artwork, and it will be different for everyone. Because we all bring our experiences, our baggage and our beauty and our embedded stories and narratives to everything we encounter. So it makes all the sense in the world that for those who encounter your work, you might get lots of different conversations, because it'll trigger lots of different things for people.
On embodying one’s practice and Feelings will come find you
EO: I know that your practice is a very embodied one… not only while you're making the work, but even your preparation for it. You have rituals in the morning before you even start, so that you are coming to your work with your full self. And for you to explain even how you think about a piece like [Feelings will come find you] gets to the sense of living a very embodied life; I say that because many of us don't live embodied lives. A lot of us live in our minds [rather than] paying attention to the world and listening to our bodies.
TD: It’s about encouraging people to step into their bodies. What is your body saying? What is your spirituality saying? What is your mind saying? And it is not always pleasant and that's why [I chose that title]: ‘feelings will come to find you’. It’s the future — whether you want them or not, they will find you! [laughs]. So you have to open yourself fully, intentionally and mindfully. It's not always pleasant, that is for sure.
On honouring the night
EO: I love how you speak about honouring whatever the night has to tell you. [...] There's that sliver, that threshold of time between waking, between night and day, between waking and really waking into the world, when we’re very receptive: so much more receptive to our subconscious and to its messages [than we usually are]. But so often, whether because we're forced to or because it's just our routine, we can feel rushed into the day… so ‘listening’ to what the night has to tell you is a beautiful way to think about it.
TD: I read somewhere — and I'm paraphrasing — but essentially what the person was saying was, never go to bed without asking the night a question, without planting an intention, because you will receive your answers. In a lot of non-Western cultures there’s a much deeper recognition of how humans are connected to the world and the environment, connected to nature. Especially as women, the moon literally affects our bodies — but many of us in Western societies aren't taught to think about how the moon affects you physically; your physical body and your physical cycle.
Enuma’s questions to Tiffanie
EO: If you could meet one artist from history, who would it be? What would you want to talk about?
TD: Hilma af Klint.
When she passed away, she asked that her work not be seen until 20 years after her death, because she knew the world wasn’t ready for it. I would love to ask her why she did this. […] I would love to ask, what did it feel like to know that you were ahead [of your time]? And how did you keep going, even though you knew that nothing would happen in your lifetime because no one was ready for your work?
EO: I can see that connection […] between you and her.
EO: If you were to plant a message in a bottle in your backyard for a random person to pick up and read in 50 years, what would the message say?
TD: The world is no worse than it's ever been. The only difference is that we have access to non-stop media and non-stop news, we have access to a wide worldview, and a very detailed view of everything that is going on, which is a first. But if we’d had this [in the past, we’d see that] the world has always been this way. […] Maybe I'm hopeful, maybe I'm naive, but I do believe that.
So if I were to give a message to someone, it would be ‘you will be okay’. Do not lose yourself in the message that is being given to you; keep creating, keep communicating. Whether you want to write, whether you want to photograph, whether you want to paint, to write letters, you have to keep communicating because that’s what’s going to remain throughout history. And when we look back, that’s what we’re looking at.