BROWNCOFFEEMOKA is a designer, illustrator and visual artist, whose creations are black, defiant, and socially and environmentally conscious. She is also strongly connected to environmental concerns, and creates her art sustainably by drawing on recycled paper, employing reused fabrics and upcycling. We talk to her about her recent collection NA BOLAYI YA EBALE CONGO, the Afropunk exhibition and working with sartorial menswear brand Art Comes First. Through her work, she follows in the footsteps of her Congolese ancestors, who shine a guiding light on the harmonious relationships between nature, animals, art and humanity.
Tell us a bit about your upbringing.
I grew up with my two little sisters in a multicultural family. My father is Congolese and my mother is French. We have a lot of different origins: Polish, Russian, English, Spanish, Indian, Northern African, South American… I did not really see that there was a difference between black and white when I was at home.
But the outside world has shown me that black and white are not the same. At home, my mother was not white and my father was not black. They were just two people who had chosen to love, respect and grow together and even if they knew who they were, what mattered were their hearts, their souls and the energy they were sharing.
Respect, open-mindedness, sustainability, knowledge, culture and art have been part of my life since my childhood. We have learnt that all life matters: flora and fauna, human lives, mineral lives, previous lives, spiritual lives – all have their importance on Earth.
Art has been probably the most important element in my everyday life. I started drawing when I was maybe 2 or 3 years old. It was very natural for me and it was the moment I could be at peace with myself and with my thoughts. I was happy to be alone to draw and to create. I visited a lot of museums and art galleries with my parents. They taught me a lot about art, culture and history.
Have you always wanted to become a visual artist?
I think so, yes. Of course, when I was growing up, I was trying to fit into society and to find a ‘real job’, like being a doctor, or a lawyer, but deep inside I wanted my art to flourish. I realised that when I was 14. It was hard to convince my parents, but they eventually saw that it was part of me and understood that they had been feeding my love of art since childhood.
How did your collaboration with Art Comes First come about?
I was their assistant for 6 months, helping them in the design, during the showrooms, etc. One day Sam Lambert saw one of my artworks on Instagram and loved it. It became part of their collection for Complex Con in LA. I stopped working for them in January. I have learnt a lot with them, but I needed to focus on my art and to work for myself.
Tell us about your exhibition at AFROPUNK Paris 2019.
It was a fantastic moment in my creative life. It was all about culture, art and energies. A lot will come from this exhibition. It was the first time AFROPUNK Paris curated an art exhibition during the festival. I was chosen alongside various artists to be part of the Arts and Times exhibition. Ami Weickaane, the curator of this exhibition, was very kind, helpful and a great listener. She felt the vibrations of my artworks and decided to highlight them. I have to thank her so very much for that. I exhibited 4 artworks about the universe: Mother Earth, the spirit of my ancestors and the essence of womanhood, and 4 photographs about my project NA BOLAYI YA EBALE CONGO that were taken by photographer Marc Posso. It was great to let the world see the versatility of my work and the message I want to bring to people. It was a great moment of communication, of gathering and a flourishing and creative time. I am currently working on the next chapter of my project. I can already feel the highest vibes of my ancestors.
‘My roots are essential. They have been part of me for all my life. I cannot even imagine creating without thinking about them. One of my uncles told me: “You are the reincarnation of your ancestors. Never forget where you come from and who you are”.’
NA BOLAYI YA EBALE CONGO highlights art and crafts across the different ethnic groups in Congo. What are your thoughts on the perception that due to the political unrest portrayed by the media, there is not much of an art scene in Congo?
One of the saddest things for me is that people want power, money and material possessions. They do not focus on the truest and purest essence of life. My ancestors were doing divine masterpieces – in textile, sculpture, painting, jewellery, etc… And still, we have a lot of gifted craftsmen and artists in Congo. Unfortunately, the country does not give them what they need to shine in the way in which they deserve. Our grandparents gave their lives for us to be an independent and free country. It is as if we have forgotten their sacrifice or as if we take this for granted.
Congolese artists are highly talented. We just need to showcase them, to help them to spread their magic, their love and their message. That is what I tried to do with this project. My goal was to let the world know about our rich culture, our great art, our magnificent pride, and about our traditions. I wish people knew the history of Congo better. What we have been through, how strong we are, how royal we are. My duty is to give light, respect and love to that land, which I have yet to visit. A part of my soul and heart were born in Congo, or Congo was born in me I don’t know. But there is this sacred link between my country and me.
What inspires your creativity?
I can be inspired by so many different things… A colour, a sound, a feeling, an energy can inspire me. History, cultures and roots also inspire me and I am always looking for cultures or traditions I have never encountered before. Beauty, spirituality and mysticism are also part of my essential inspirations. But my general inspiration comes from what the Earth, the moon and the universe give me. It comes from the sacred energy around me. Also, pain, anger and sadness can give me material to work with.
You incorporate the theme of ancestry into your art, why is that important to you?
It is very important to know my heritage, to be immersed in my culture in order to honour my ancestors. They have been creating those beautiful and strong traditions for such a long time. They share their history with me. They guide me in my everyday life. They bless me with their light and with their energy. I always feel their vibrations, so it is completely natural to pay tribute to them and to respect them by creating for them and with them.
Without my ancestors I would not be myself. My roots are essential. I cannot even imagine creating without thinking about them. One of my uncles told me: ‘You are the reincarnation of your ancestors. Never forget where you come from and who you are’, and this makes true sense to me. My parents have always told me about my past, my history and my heritage, which is why I am permanently flourishing.
Your art deals with spirituality, nature, culture and love, among other things, what interests you about these themes?
Those themes are the most pure, raw and deep to me. They deal with the true essence, the ancestral, and the most natural energy we can have. To really understand these themes, you have to connect yourself to the essence of art and creation. Everything starts with creation. You have to search your soul; through your pains, your feelings and your emotions to sincerely create. Most of the time it can be draining but this is the most real and sacred kind of art.