MALICIOUZ’s internationally renowned paintings come in layers of paradox and participation. Calling our attention with their neon colours, self-proclaimed afro-urban style, and momentous feminine figures, the aesthetic of her works oscillates between the spontaneity of street art and the refinement of abstraction. All the while, a juxtaposition of affirmed lines and blurred hues, often exemplified in her signature graffiti-spray paint crowns, imagines a vision of matriarchal beauty defined by strength and grandeur.
And in just the first words we exchanged at her downtown Montreal studio, I came to find the person of MALICIOUZ comparably complex. MALICIOUZ speaks carefully and succinctly, but with a remarkable intensity – and she is distanced, but deeply emotive. In effect, the artist of Haitian descent has painted in the streets of Cameroon, New York, Haiti, the Ivory Coast, and, of course, Quebec. But perhaps more pertinently, her artworks take place in our reactions to and experiences of them, as they actively participate in dialogues with us the viewers.
One of my first questions to MALICIOUZ was the story behind her name.
“It’s a name I chose during a period of intense frustration in my life, where many of the things I was doing, many of the positive things I was doing, came from negative intentions,” she reveals. Conversely, this negativity was born out of her frustration with people judging and imposing their racist and sexist prejudices on her since she was a young girl.
“Whether I was doing good or bad things, it made no difference to the perceptions of many strangers who already had a negative apprehension about me.”
MALICIOUZ is a name revelatory of the tendency that opposites are closer than we often imagine. The extreme of a quality transforming into a fault, for example. Maliciousness is defined by ruse and intelligence pushed to excess beyond the confines of morality. As such, the artist (literally) draws a parallel of this in her art through her depictions of dangerous or illicit elements including cigarettes, firearms etc.
“If we see a gun, we have many biases; already, it’s something illegal, and yet, within the context of the artwork it isn’t negative at all. That’s the paradox.” affirms MALICIOUZ. Pre-existing bias, in fact, creates more meaning than it imports if exploited by the artist’s awareness of it.
MALICIOUZ defines herself as an artist par excellence.
“It’s like an exteriorization of a part of myself, which I discover at the same time as I create.” For MALICIOUZ, art is not only something to identify in, but a way to exist, as she engages in an ongoing dialogue with the viewer. The defining aspect of this communication? A delay in response time that permits the viewer to react without personally knowing the artist behind the object.
“What is interesting for me to see and to know is not spoken communication because between the commentaries that people make about your art and what they really feel and what they really think, it’s two different things. [..] What I find the most interesting is seeing people looking at my murals without knowing that it’s actually me the artist. That’s when I see a real reaction.”
MALICIOUZ continued to recall a time where a certain work of hers was especially critiqued by exhibition goers ignorant of her presence right beside them. Nevertheless, rather than being shocked or upset, she was at ease listening to the commentaries by the mere virtue of their truthfulness. MALICIOUZ, likewise, prefers emotive reactions that shine light on the psychology of their onlookers.
“There is a side, that I cannot necessarily call therapeutic, but people often project onto my work, and will sometimes tell me these elaborate stories that they really searched for deeply to find in my murals [..] and while my artistic intention might be very different than their image, it still remains valid. What they see is the art even if I didn’t create it that way.”
In discussing the significance of being active on the African continent and diaspora, MALICIOUZ vocalizes a desire to explore her cultural and ancestral origins. The murals in her parent’s country of Haiti reflect the artist’s desire to reconnect with her most intimate roots.
“Otherwise, I would love to go to as many black countries as possible because it’s where my values and my art would be most welcomed,” she continues. The artist equally brings up the concept of welcomeness later in describing how the phrase “second generation immigrant” left her in a constant state of disorientation under the impression that she would always be a stranger in her home of Montreal.
Furthermore, MALICIOUZ is very interested in the reversed participatory dynamics involved in the reception of her artworks within black countries.
“It’s really an immensely different context than Quebec. Whereas here, I’m a minority, in black African countries it’s the norm to be black. So, I find this interesting for my art because it changes the relationship to the work, to the subject, and to the other layers of the work apart from the visual representation of the characters I depict.”
Moreover, in Haiti, wherein Voodoo is an integral part of the culture, the artist finds elements of the religion in her art practice.
“There are symbols that I use often, for example natural elements. The stars that I represent are inspired by the stars we see in veve, the symbols that are connected to ‘lwa’ [or spirits] in Voodoo, but they also reference the universe in general.”
MALICIOUZ also commented on the respect with which titles of “maman” or “veille maman” are accredited in a number of African countries, where ancient and sacred matriarchies persisted for centuries before colonization. For MALICIOUZ, feminine energy defines itself easily.
“I think it’s an energy of creation. Women are literally the gatekeepers of humanity.”
I also wanted to ask MALICIOUZ about the sense of spirituality in her work through her portrayal of goddess-like beings and celestial bodies. In effect, as it exists apart from an attachment to organized religion, MALICIOUZ views spirituality as something necessary to keep humankind benevolent and fulfilled as a conduit to deeper meaning.
Overall, MALICIOUZ’s art is characterized by the interplay of representation and interpretation as a distinctively original artistic style elegantly implicates itself in problematics of self-expression, antithesis, blackness, womanhood, and an ascending spirituality.