“It seems so far away,” says Soufiane Ababri of the moment that we last published his work. It was in June 2018 that we saw the Tangier-born artist impress us with his politically charged, homoerotic artworks, and since then he’s worked on various other new additions to his portfolio. Not only this but he tells us that there’s been many “great adventures” over the past two years, as well as solo shows in Istanbul, London, Ljubijana, Rabat Berlin and Paris.
As for his artworks specifically, he tells us how his aesthetic is constantly changing. “The style is always fluctuating but, it seems to me that there is an obvious will,” he tells It’s Nice That. “It is a voluntary regression and then an abundant production to know what really interests me.” This outlook on life and art has meant that his working process continues to create situations that still surprise him, even to this day. These surprises are then harvested and used for research. “As for the working process, I stick to it and do not change it; I’m still drawing in my bed.”
Soufiane’s background wasn’t so much intellectual, rather it was one more focused on art and activism – a combination that’s always been firmly rooted in his bones. “The ‘artistic’ encounters of my youth did not represent for me a revelation, since I have always associated art with a positioning, with an entrenchment that makes it possible to protect or defend oneself from the world,” he says. “What I’ve been able to see in Morocco from my youth was an abstract or folk art that did not appear to me.” Instead, it was the books and literature of his upbringing that enchanted him creativity. “That’s why literature is always so important to me.”
Besides that which can be found in books, Soufiane has various other influences. This includes French novelist Jean Genet, particularly for the “exclusion” from society that he has found himself in. “Being this homosexual, immigrant Arab of Arab-Muslim culture, and of a post-colonial generation, I have a view of the world which allows me to see what surrounds me. The history of art is a different point of view.” He continues to expand on the fact that he sees art as a tool for presenting the “different people in the world”, especially those that go largely underrepresented in the arts and how they very much deserve a space in this world.
Soufiane now points out a recent image of poet Frank O’hara [below]. A 62x49cm-sized drawing, he references the poet from his A True Account of Talking to the Sun. “In my drawing, the meeting takes place between Frank O’hara and the Egyptian sun God, Ra,” he adds. “The God floods Frank with his rays represented in my drawing by the urine of the dog as the Gay SM practice of the ‘golden shower’.” Within this picture, Soufiane has allowed for multiple interpretations as he includes references made from the history of domination, as well as this special encounter with the sun God, Ra, who “is the God chosen by Afro-futurists to link the Black community to its origin, in this space.”
Drawing and creating in order to highlight society’s stigmas, Soufiane’s explicit pictures are here to raise much-needed questions – especially that which brings light to the discrimination and violence that people of the LGBTQ+ community face daily. An additional new series sees him present a collection of illustrated portraits that use the phrase “I am not just a faggot”, in relation to queer greats like Allan Turing, Bernard Marie Kolt, Dider Eribon, James Baldwin, Oscar Wilde, Roland Barthes, Wolfgang Tillmans and Yukio Mishima. As for how he hopes his audience will respond to his works, he says that it’s not a question he asks himself often. But what he does know is that “if the person looking at my drawings is not thinking about this performative process of lying in bed, why I choose to work this way and who am I as an individual in society, then they are missing a good part of my work.”
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.