Loulou João’s immersive worlds provide a safe space for contemplation about identity, society and representation
The Belgium-based illustrator and animator turns towards her medium as means of escape, using toys and play to deal with the hard subjects she tries to discuss.
- 4 March 2021
- Ayla Angelos
As an only child with a single mother up until the age of ten, Loulou João – an illustrator and animator based in Belgium – kept herself busy with her vivid imagination. Of course, this resulted in some humorous projects where, for example, she once built a village for the ants in her garden. Another time she’d thought it a good idea to hand sew her own witch gown: “It didn’t really work out,” she jokes. Yet despite these naturally creative instincts, Loulou studied science, to only find herself constantly battling being underestimated and treated as if she were incapable of her talents. “Then some childhood traumas started catching up on me and I had to go a different route,” she tells It’s Nice That, calling her high school years of studying architecture as meaning “nothing” to her. Instead, she felt an indescribable urge to pursue the medium of storytelling, steering away from the written word and focusing primarily on visual narratives.
Since the realisation, Loulou pursued her new-found interests at university. Studying Illustration, even in this context she still found some difficulties: “Even here I felt underrepresented and misunderstood, which got me into creating my own digital world to escape to.” This gives context to her outlandishly colourful and in some ways nonsensical creations, where reality goes amiss and the creator can build on her wildest thoughts imaginable. Which, of course, has been recognised greatly for her iridescent style; she’s recently picked up many commissions and worked for the likes of MTV, producing a purple-hued ident; a colourful music video for Cautious Clay x LLusion; a Zoom animated background for Giphy; plus a bucking hotdog scene for Adult Swim’s Film Festival ID to name a few.
On the topic of how she builds these joyfully animated worlds, Loulou tells us that she mostly relies on personal experiences and her surroundings. She’s constantly searching for her place in the world, and thus seeks out the meaning as to why our society “with its discriminating foundations” is the way it is. “I’m also analysing the effects it has on those pushed into marginalised groups,” she adds. “These effects can have harsh outcomes but this can also result in some great and innovative tendencies.” In doing so, Loulou reads as much as possible on the topic in order to further understand and “give all of this a place”, she says, which includes books such as Sister outsider by Audre Lorde, Black skin, white mask by Frantz Fanon and The Black Atlantic by Paul Gilroy.
“Ok, now that I’ve shown I’m incredibly smart,” she jokes, “I can talk about how I live for internet culture. I think it has some amazing effects on building communities and providing a space for expressing and bonding with peers. Besides that, I take a lot from my childhood as well; aesthetically I’ve chosen to start from the toys I get up with. They give me the same sense of coping with reality through play, and provide a softness to the sometimes hard subjects and realities I’m trying to discuss."
First thing’s first, Loulou would like to direct us towards her debut short animation titled Birth Of The Black Venus. Of great importance personally and contextually, it was created at the start of the BLM protests – thus serving as an outlet for her to express her emotions. Inspired by the first chapter of Fearing the Black body by Sabrina Strings, called Becoming Venus, Loulou draws on the lack of representation found in the imagery of renaissance paintings that depict goddesses, like the Birth of Venus by Botticelli. “These representations have formed a standard of what was perceived as beautiful during that era and which still affects the ideals of the present,” she says, further noting the lack of diversity, especially regarding Black women. “Even though they were included, mostly as servants but also as muses in their own right depending on the region and time.” In her animation, then, she’s giving a voice to the thee Black Venus, her character and protagonist, and in doing so referencing a Black Venus sculpture discussed in the first chapter.
A further piece is called The Black Venus Breaking Her Silence, and is a development of the work and character mentioned prior. Based on the essay The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action by Audre Lorde, Loulou references the message of death as being the ultimate silence, and how “breaking this silence can be a source of power,” overcoming fears in the process. Inevitably thee Black Venus is brought into the spotlight once again, utilised in a way that depicts her power and courage, “to make her existence known”.
Loulou’s portfolio is playful on the exterior, yet once you go deeper into the context you realise it’s so much more than the aesthetically pleasing outer surface. Within her immersive worlds, Loulou hopes to provide a safe place for those who might need one, just like she did. Not only this, she also hopes that others can courageously reflect on their own identity and notice how they can do their part in society. “Finally, my goal is to bring more representation into the industry and into the mainstream,” she concludes. “Fundamentally, I’m just an Afropean girl trying to show her point of view.”
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.