mercredi 1 novembre 2017

Trésors d'instagram 4 : Hand-painted Kenya

@handpaintedkenya est le journal de bord d’un aventurier marqué par l’art des enseignes peintes. Parti de son Brooklyn natal en 2013, Augo2000 se retrouve en Afrique de l’Est pour travailler dans le domaine humanitaire. Lorsqu’il arrive à Mogadiscio, les devantures de magasins peintes à la main, les enseignes chatoyantes et les murs recouverts de motifs et de personnages des commerçants attirent tout de suite son attention. Les années passées à discuter de graffiti à New York, traîner dans le milieu du street art, scruter les nouvelles fresques ou repérer les endroits susceptibles d’être graffés ont sans doute aiguisé et façoné son sens de l’observation et son attrait de l’art de rue. C’est ainsi qu’il commence à “scanner le paysage” urbain et à prendre des photos, afin de documenter l’art des enseignes peintes, qui commence à disparaître dans les grandes villes au profit des procédés d’impression plus modernes.

Mais ses découvertes picturales montent d’un cran lorsqu’elles se mêlent à son autre passion, celle de la moto. Sur sa Honda 400R de cross, Augo2000 sillonne les routes les plus sinueuses, les chemins les plus abrupts, boueux ou désertiques de la Corne d’Afrique, de Nairobi à Kigali en passant par l’Éthiopie et la Namibie. Petit à petit, au lieu de traverser les villages sans s’arrêter façon Paris-Dakar, il commence à faire des haltes pour prendre en photo les devantures des magasins, leurs enseignes, d’abord depuis la selle de sa moto, puis de plus en plus en négociations avec les propriétaires des enseignes. Il fait même le tour du village pour en récolter un maximum, nous donnant à voir les styles de décoration les plus singuliers possible, du milieu de nulle part. Pour son journal de bord d’aventurier-biker, c’est sur cet instagram qu’il faut le suivre: @augo2000.

Il a accepté de répondre aux questions de Tropicalizer. Nous lui en sommes très reconnaissants.

Can you present yourself? You seem to travel a lot in central and east Africa. What are your activities when you’re not taking picture of hand-painted signs?
My name is augo2000 and I'm in the humanitarian business which is allowed be to leave the safe confines of Brooklyn NY back in early 2013 and dip my toe into Africa. I have since lived and travelled in Mogadishu, Nairobi and Addis Ababa where I currently live. On top of that, I am also an avid adventure motorcycle rider, which has led me to some very far flung areas of East Africa and to some of my most valuable and unique hand-painted signs. I’ve done multiple loops around Kenya on bumpy and hard to access roads, rode from Nairobi to Kigali, and tried to reach Malawai from Kenya, before breaking down in Tanzania. When I’m not taking pictures of hand-painted signs, I’m working on humanitarian issues, exploring Ethiopia on my motorcycle, camping, or trying to find a place to go fishing.

From where come your passion for this hand-made art?
I attribute my passion for hand-painted art from the years I spent meddling in graffiti art and hanging out with graffiti writers. After a while you develop a sixth sense of looking out for new spots or for any new graffiti that may have popped up overnight. You learn to scan the horizon from the subway or bicycle for anything that seem out of place, which is usually some freshly painted graffiti from the night before you’re seeing for the first time. When I first arrived in Mogadishu, this was especially true as the hand-painted store fronts are the first to capture your attention in an otherwise destroyed, bullet ridden and white walled landscape. My first experience with African hand-painted anything was Mogadishu, by far the capital of everything hand-painted in Africa, that I have seen so far. When I started riding my motorcycle in Kenya, I would continue to scan the landscape, and for its lack in graffiti art, the vibrant and colorful hand-painted signs made up for it. It was soon thereafter that I began to stop and take pictures during my motorcycle trips. It would only be months later, that I would make it a point to stop in every village/town and begin crisscrossing inner streets and pathways to capture proper pictures of these signs and storefronts.

And what is so addictive in this type of popular art?
The individual style of painter is what makes it’s so addictive as you’re sure to see a different style everywhere you look, as every image, for the most part, is created by different artists. Though hand painted signs are primarily used to advertise hardware stores, butcheries, and other small businesses, it’s the kinyozi (barbershop) signs which caught most of my attention. The human form is not easy to replicate with a brush and paint, so it’s the kinyozi signs that I’m most attracted to, and those not so great attempts at drawing pretty people and hairstyle meant to attract customers.

You say that this kind of art is dying. I totally agree. Can you tell us why?
This style of art is disappearing together with the art of hand painted signs all over the world. In the developed world the art of hand painted signs and store fronts disappeared long ago and gave way to machine printed signs and billboards, and unfortunately the developing world in catching up. Print signs are seen as modern and developed, so as store keepers and barbershops who can access capital they’ll invest into their businesses by destroying and removing hand painted signs and replacing with print. Though I only spent two and a half years in Kenya, I have since gone back on visits and seen many of the hand painted signed I captured years ago now gone. And in all my travels around Kenya, only on a few occasions have I seen new hand painted signs being painted. The irony is, that as hand painted signs in Kenya are disappearing, in the developed world, or at least in New York, there is a resurgence of hand painted signs in some of the more upscale independent stores.

You're travelling a lot to find all those iconographic treasures, can you explain us how do you collect all those images? Did you ask the permission to take the picture?
As most of my travels across Kenya have been on motorcycle, the primary limitation on my ability to collect signs has been, “can I strap the sign to the back of my motorcycle?” Most if not all of my personal collection has taken place during these trips. I’ll be riding, see a sign I like, determine whether it can fit on my motorcycle and then begin the bargaining process with the shop owner. Most of the time the reaction is of disbelief, with the store owners asking why I want the sign, why I don’t buy a new one, or they simply say no, as its their business’s sign. However, I usually manage to negotiate as is the name of the game in Kenya. Since I am most captivated by painting of human, I have mostly collected kinyozi signs. I am now owner of over 30 hand painted signs, all originals, all from actual businesses, none from the tourist trade.
As for the pictures, I have taken over two thousand pictures of hand painted signs, also all from my motorcycle trips. Taking pictures is not always easy, as when they see a foreigner or “tourist,” they will usually ask me for money, or a group will surround me, and on a few occasions, I have been chased out. The language barrier also doesn’t help. However, on many occasions, people have welcomed me into their business and have been eager for me to document their shops. The number one question people always have for me is “why”, and I usually smile and respond “I like the paintings!”. And yes, permission is always asked before taking any pictures, otherwise a foreigner pulling over, taking a quick picture and driving away, would arouse suspicion.

Do you have contact with the artists, the painters? What can you tell us about their life? Their idea of the signs they paint?
Regrettably, I have had no contact with artists, the reason being that I’ve never come across one in the process of painting, nor have I reached out to any as my focus has been strictly original, business owned signs. Though I understand getting the artist’s view is fundamental in understanding the concept of the hand painted sign business, I never really got the chance to do so. I hope to one day publish a book on Kenyan hand painted signs, and return to Kenya to solely focus on interviewing sign painters, and include their perspective on this vanishing art form.

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