Aurélia Durand on finding her identity, celebrating African culture, and the importance of diversity

© Aurélia Durand. All images courtesy of the artist.

Graphic artist Aurélia Durand creates vibrant work that celebrates the diversity she experienced growing up in a Parisian suburb.

Whether augmented reality, animations, paintings, murals or illustrations, her vibrant, afro-pop artworks, full of nods to her West African heritage, represent black men and women as joyful, proud and empowered.

Working as a freelancer for brands such as HP, Facebook, Apple, and Adobe, Aurélia also recently illustrated the best-selling book by Tiffany Jewell, This Book is Anti-Racist. Following her recent work for Magnum, we spoke to Aurélia about her career so far.

What was your childhood like? When did you realise you wanted to be a graphic artist?

Growing up, I lived in lots of different places. I lived on the French island Reunion, located in the Indian Ocean. This island is multicultural; people come from around the world; Europe, Africa, and Asia. It's a mix of different cultures. I learned to know the difference at an early age, and it has made me curious.

I decided to be a graphic artist pretty late. I studied art and design for six years, and I did not know what job I would do after graduation. I guess I was searching and exploring. Four years ago, I figured out what I wanted to do: to illustrate and express a message about diversity and afro culture. My art allows me to tell my story.

Windows of Hope for HP © Aurélia Durand

Windows of Hope for HP © Aurélia Durand

IWD © Aurélia Durand

IWD © Aurélia Durand

Talk us through how you developed your style

It's colourful, playful and vibrant. It aims to show diversity – something that's a big part of my work and life. This focus began at university when I realised women of colour were underrepresented in our study books.

I also wanted to feature women with afro hair and braids, as this is how I connect with my heritage. I am mixed race. My mother is from the Ivory Coast and my father is from France. I was born and raised in France and went to the Ivory Coast only as a child. My mum told me a lot about our culture through hair, but also food. But I wasn't seeing a lot of this elsewhere in France. As I have a mixed cultural background, it is important for me to explore my identity through my work. To find out who I am and where I'm from.

Couple © Aurélia Durand

Couple © Aurélia Durand

Black History Playlist for Code Switch © Aurélia Durand

Black History Playlist for Code Switch © Aurélia Durand

You also represent other voices?

Yes, the art that I shared on Instagram three years ago was very personal. But then I started to hear other people's stories and connect with them. I'd go to events, talks, exhibitions. I was inspired by women from all different backgrounds and wanted to illustrate their experiences, too.

Although the issues we face are negative, my work is very optimistic. It's very important for me, as I feel the best way to spread positivity is with colour and joy.

Your work is very colourful – but it wasn't always this way?

Yes, my colour palette was not the same three years ago. The colours I use, express the pride of being different. And I guess since I started to share my work online, I began to be more proud of myself. Art has allowed me to grow; I grew up ashamed of my identity because I didn't understand it. But now I realise that my identity must be celebrated. That is why my art is so colourful. My art is unique because it comes from my story.

On s'enjaille © Aurélia Durand

On s'enjaille © Aurélia Durand

Sônge - album cover for Warner Music © Aurélia Durand

Sônge - album cover for Warner Music © Aurélia Durand

Your recent work with Magnum shows that brands are giving more artistic freedom to creatives. Can you tell us more about that project?

Imagined Pleasure is the campaign Magnum created to support women cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast.

Its team asked me to reveal more about my story through the visual I would create for them. I used an old picture that my father took when visiting the Cathedral of Yamoussoukro. This is part of my story, my parents come from two countries, and I have an attachment to the Ivory Coast. It felt natural to work on this campaign.

People Power for The California Endowment © Aurélia Durand

People Power for The California Endowment © Aurélia Durand

Do you think art has the power to change the world?

Art can participate in making the world more understandable. My work aims to inform and raise awareness about serious matters.

How have you been coping with lockdown?

Throughout March and April, I was in my apartment in Paris. In France, we had to sign a document to go outside and visit grocery stores. Even just to take a walk, but no more than 1km from our home. It felt like a long day. I worked a lot on personal projects; I organised an auction to help the NGO Malala Fund to support girls to get an education. I can't help myself making art, it's a need, and it makes me feel happy.

From a new series of small canvas artworks to raise money for the NGO Malala Fund © Aurélia Durand

From a new series of small canvas artworks to raise money for the NGO Malala Fund © Aurélia Durand

What has worked for you in terms of marketing?

My work is shared on Instagram by many people; it's the people who talk about me that promote my work. From one project to another, people notice what I'm doing and get in touch. I also try to diversify my work, so I can reach out to different people.

What advice would you give to other artists hoping to follow in your footsteps?

When I began my journey, I had no connections. I was shy and lacked confidence, but I knew that if drawing was my thing, I'd have to get over my fears and meet people. I went to events, sold my posters, connected with people on Instagram, learnt from my mistakes, and kept on "doing". I found inspiration by listening to entrepreneurs at events, and podcasts.

I do art, but it's also a business because I am selling products/services. It's possible to succeed with talent, luck, and determination, and you can end up working with your dream clients.