Aurélia Durand on how illustration is a “joyful protest”
Interview by Rosanna Dodds
Aurélia Durand grew up in Paris and the French island of Réunion, in the Indian Ocean. Her distinctive illustrations, representing “Afro-descendants as joyful, proud and empowered”, have been commissioned by a roster of high-profile clients – from Nike and Apple Music to Evian and Instagram. Her work can also be found in Jamia Wilson’s upcoming release, This Book Is Feminist: An Intersectional Primer for Next-Gen Changemakers.
What makes your practice unique?
My work is colourful, joyful and playful. It aims to show nuances and diversity. I also work with different mediums – animations, digital illustrations and paint – and every work is a new story. I like to make work that has an impact on a big scale; that’s why I work with big brands.
What inspired your colourful style?
When I moved to Denmark a couple of years ago, it was pretty tough. The winters were very dark and I didn’t know if I could be an artist. So that I didn’t feel so alone, I used my work to create a community – one where people could interact with my work and feel represented. To do that I needed my work to be a celebration – a joyful protest. I wanted it to be catchy, so that’s why the colours are so vibrant. The images are easy to relate to because they’re fun.
How do you hope your work empowers others?
People can create their own stories within my illustrations. Sometimes people say, “Ah, that’s my sister!” or, “That’s me and my friend”. They feel represented. When companies ask me to create something for them, it’s because I’m showing diverse faces – and because of who I am. My father is white and my mother is black, and I’m also French living in Denmark. I’m just like everyone else. Our cultures are a mix of so many things now.
And how does your work empower you?
I’m an introvert, which is a reason that I create a lot. It gives me energy to be alone, work on stuff and reflect. It helps me stand up for myself and what I think – and also to be more confident.
What projects do you have coming up?
I’ve illustrated a new book that’s coming out in August called This Book Is Feminist by Jamia Wilson. It’s full of portraits of women who have influenced the world – writers, journalists, singers, actors. We’re all very excited about its launch.
You’ve recently auctioned your work to help raise funds for activist Malala Yousafzai’s education programmes for young women. Why is that cause so important to you?
I've been very touched by Malala’s story. My mum is from the Ivory Coast and never had an education, but she fought to get a better life. She always told me that I needed to take care of my education so that I could be independent and fight for myself.
Aside from your mother, who are the other women that have inspired you?
My close friends, and musicians. I listen to music all the time, especially Solange. I really like her album A Seat At The Table – and that she wears her hair in an afro. It’s inspiring to see a black person who is proud and standing for herself. I’d never seen that before – even in France. Hair is a way to express yourself. I remember when I was six, I said to my mum: “I don’t like my hair, everyone is making fun of me.” I always felt that if I had my afro hair, then I wouldn’t be able to get a proper job; that my hair was too expressive, too different. It was only when I left high school that I started to become proud of it. It’s so important to be who you are, not what everyone wants you to be. The more we wear our hair how we want to, the more people will accept it. It’s important to talk about it so we can go in that direction.
What advice do you have for young women looking to pursue a career in the arts?
It’s important to put yourself into your work so it will be more original. The more you can tell people about yourself with your work, the more unique it becomes, and you can bring something new to the table. I never dreamt of being an illustrator. Many events in my life happened to leave me where I am today. I was open to situations, trying different things and seeing what made me happiest.