Malaika Francique peers into her family photo album to inspire posters around Caribbean history
Striking in their ability to be both personal and tell three Caribbean island's histories, the London-based artist's posters show us the beauty of digging through family photos.
- Yaya Azariah Clarke
- 19 July 2023
At the heart of one of the most striking posters in Malaika Francique’s family-inspired collection of works is a polaroid photograph of her paternal great-grandmother, her second husband and his daughter, taken at a car service station in Princes Town, Trinidad. She titles it A True History is Within Your Family Archive – perhaps a word for her younger self who sought to design work that wasn’t so personal, or a call to us to pick up the old family photo album box too. With a collection comprised of scans of decades past, hailing her Jamaican, Trinidadian and Grenadian heritage, what is personal becomes widely significant for its broader Caribbean narrative. “I was feeling uninspired with what I was producing and began to really think about the work I wanted to put out there,” she tells us. “I looked back on my work when I was younger and themes of family, unity and identity were present. This is me branching off of that,” she adds.
A lover of reinvention, Malaika started out re-designing album covers of her favourite artist’s work. And although fun, she didn’t feel like it brought her closer to her own style or that it was a true reflection of her individual aesthetic. Growing up in Nottingham in a home filled with Afro-Caribbean diaspora art, the masks hanging on the walls were once daunting – and now they make up a wider part of her style. “The faces were portrayed so seriously,” she tells us. “But I have learned to love the craft of them,” she adds. Now, her sketchbook dons drawings akin to a continuous line style that can be seen in her earlier posters, where the eyes, nose and lips could all tell a story individually, but join together so effortlessly to give us a wider scope of her history. “I draw them from the memory of what they looked like to me as a child. And I’ve only put them on posters of my parents and siblings as they were the ones there at the time.”
Malaika never met her paternal grandfather or maternal grandmother, but the conversations she’s had with her parents have made the distance feel only physical. “When I’m working with images of them, I feel emotional but comforted,” she says. The posters arrive at an equilibrium of personal narrative and nationhood, with postcards, stamps, mottos and colloquialisms specific to the region or island– “belly full,” “yaad,” “together we aspire, “land of the hummingbird”. She adds, “When I initially gathered all of the images from my parent’s home I separated them out based on the islands. My approach is not to assign a specific colour palette or style to them based on the country, but based on the colours that were in my home, plus personal favourites that I love.”
With such personal names for each of her pieces and a design style that preserves the photographs so beautifully, it feels as if she has spoken to each and every family member in her posters. There’s something so powerful in her ability to simultaneously retell and amplify the family album. And for this we understand that a true history is within your family archive.
Malaika Francique: Caribbean Buckeye (Copyright © Malaika Francique)
About the Author
Yaya (they/them) is an editorial assistant at It's Nice That, with a particular interest in Black visual culture. They have previously written for publications such as WePresent, and worked as researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.