Transforming an exotic skin, prized by the world of luxury and whose every square centimeter is worth a fortune into a work of art? There is aa more inspiring a priori for someone wondering about colonial history. Raphaël Barontini, 37, took advantage of an eight-month residency offered by LVMH and dedicated to the arts and crafts in a Singapore tannery, Heng Long Leather, which specializes in crocodile leather. Summoning both medieval European chimeras and the god of the Nile, Sobek (Soukhos, in Greek), half-man, half-crocodile, the French artist explored the symbolic weight of an adored, dreaded and persecuted animal.
After eight months freediving in Asia, including several weeks confined to his sewing machine, he produced “Pieces to wear”, exhibited until the end of July at the Studio des Acacias, in Paris. These ceremonial saddles, capes and collars are not intended to be declined in the collection. More than a hymn to luxury, they sound like a tribute to Sun Ra, this cosmic jazzman dressed as a pharaoh, who, in the 1970s, wanted to save the oppressed blacks on earth by sending them into space.
This figure of Afro-Futurism sits well in Barontini’s pantheon, alongside the Caribbean philosopher Edouard Glissant, a singer of creolization, who cradled his adolescence. In the HLM of Saint-Denis where he grew up, Raphaël Barontini fed on contrasts, between a father of Italian origin and a mother with Breton and West Indian roots. “The interbreeding was so natural to me, he confides, that, as soon as I left Île-de-France, I had the impression of not living in the same France. ” In this mixed family, commitment is second nature: the father is a communist, the mother pro-independence from Guadeloupe.
Author of tasty pilots
At the age of 18, Raphaël Barontini also campaigned and chaired a support committee for Mumia Abu-Jamal. A sympathizer of the Black Panthers, this black journalist sentenced to death for the murder of a white policeman has been claiming his innocence for forty years. Barontini will cross the Atlantic to demonstrate in his favor in Philadelphia. During this very first American stay, the young man does not visit any museum but « [se prend] in the mouth the America that we saw attacking the Capitol years later ”, he recounts.
Percussionist in a Caribbean brass band, Raphaël Barontini first imagines himself as a musician, before turning to art. Nourished by his postcolonial readings as well as the imagery of the carnival and the parade, his paintings sound like an invitation to cross imaginaries, identities and eras, to transform without getting lost. The artist digested everything, his first totems – Velázquez, Goya, Ensor or Rigaud – like the African-American painters such as Kerry James Marshall or Sam Gilliam.
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