Soufiane Ababri on using intimacy as a means of analysing a social construction in his brand new book

“Drawing is often marginalised or seen as something secondary to other mediums, so I decided to put it at the centre of my work,” he says.

10 August 2021

Artist Soufiane Ababri makes every choice a deliberate one – whether that be in his work or his personal life. “The choice to keep my first and last name is a way of fully assuming where I come from and of trying to ask questions about the need to be visible when one belongs to a sexual and racial minority,” he tells It’s Nice That. Born in Morocco and based out of France for the last 17 years, Soufiane crafts strongly coloured, oft-humorous, and provocative paintings that are as entertaining as they are intelligent. He’s a favourite of It’s Nice That, having appeared on the site twice already. “My first relationship with art during my childhood was near and far at the same time,” Soufiane says. “I spent a large part of my youth voluntarily disinterested in visual art since I had not seen the right artists and I thought it only had to do with the senses and the contemplation.” After continuous ventures into wider forms of art, Soufiane came across the work of contemporary American artist Bruce Nauman, which he tells us changed everything. It’s ultimately what led Soufiane to find his signature visual language today.

“My signature visual language has come about over time but involuntarily,” Soufiane says. “When I compare what I’m doing now with what I did four years ago it's very different, but I think my style is more in the protocol I put in place to tackle the drawing and the subjects I tackle head-on.” In his first published book of work La rose donne naissance à une épine et une épine donne naissance à une rose, we see Soufiane’s portfolio and subjects in cohesive harmony. Edited by The Steidz, an exclusive series of 34 drawings by the artist covers masculine portraits to flowers of every type. It feels carnal and passionate, often provoking a very personal insight into the subjects of each drawing. “My work has focused on drawing for a few years,” Soufiane adds. “Drawing is often marginalised or seen as something secondary to other mediums, so I decided to put it at the centre of my work.” As a result, La rose appears as a uniquely beautiful book, allowing Soufiane’s drawings to take up the space they deserve in the material tangible form.

GalleryThe Steidz: Soufiane Ababri, La rose donne naissance à une épine et une épine donne naissance à une rose (Copyright © The Steidz/Clément Philippe, 2021)

“The drawings that I call Bedwork are drawings that I make in bed,” Soufiane explains. “The bed interests me since it gives off a lot of speech, and it can be the place of rest, love, sex, death, and depression.” By replacing the workplace with domestic space, Soufiane conjures up ideas of dissolving the border between public and private spheres. “The second dimension is the fact of working in a lying position like the models painted by traditional MENSA artists,” Soufiane explains. “These women, odalisques, slaves, and Arab men were painted in a reclining position – passive, weary, offered to viewers therefore dominated.” By resuming this position in his drawings, Soufiane aims to “speak on their behalf.” It’s essentially these intricate, somewhat sociological, aspects of Soufiane’s subjects that make them so alluring in the drawn form.

Decorated in a cacophony of bold and striking colours, it’s clear that Soufiane doesn’t shy from portraying personal subjects in ways that catch the viewer’s attention. “I think the relationship to colours for me is often beyond form,” he explains. “Colour has a story and is never neutral, there is a history of violence in the colours.” For Soufiane, he believes the colours “captivate, attract, and seduces” the viewer, leading them closer towards his subjects, which tackle “the violence suffered by marginalised communities.” This is what Soufiane likens to a “trap” that he hopes pushes people to “problematise what they are seeing, therefore what they are going through.”

The book itself took three years to complete. “The starting point was a bouquet of flowers,” Soufiane says. “The book consists of a letter that I address to my lover Guillaume, a series of drawings with boys and flowers and an essay in the form of a letter which is addressed to me written by sociologist and historian Antoine Idier. Originally conceptualised during a residency in Slovenia, Soufiane wrote the letter to his lover as a way to rectify a reaction to their relationship he deemed as “a revival of virilism education that I had been fighting for several years.” Jumping from that starting point, La rose is essentially “a book that uses intimacy as a means of analysing a social construction linked to immigration, a post-colonial situation and the relationship to violence of events for gays and therefore to communities of hunted people,” Soufiane explains. Going forward, Soufiane plans to channel these same passions and intricate explorations of the personal in his new solo show in Istanbul, starting in January 2022. Judging by the contents of his new book with The Steidz, we know his Istanbul show will continue to generate spades of reflection, analysis, and catharism in audiences.

GallerySoufiane Ababri: Bedwork (Copyright © Soufiane Ababri, 2021)

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Soufiane Ababri: Bedwork (Copyright © Soufiane Ababri, 2021)

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About the Author

Joey Levenson

Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.

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