Ep.60 Brushing Against Stereotypes | Miora Acker

Her muse is society itself: its inhabitants, their everyday experiences


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Miora Acker [EP.60]

[00:00:00] Miora Acker: When you talk about Madagascar, many people say, Oh, the movie, you know, so, which is very sad because it has nothing to do with Madagascar at all, except the lemur, perhaps.

[00:00:12] Afrika Design Ident: [Afrika Design Ident]

[00:00:15] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): And also you can correct me if I'm mispronouncing your name. Miora? Acker?

[00:00:20] Miora Acker: Yeah, Miora. Miora. Yeah, it's perfect. Better than most people.

[00:00:28] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Thank you. So does it have a meaning or a reason behind it, your name?

[00:00:33] Miora Acker: Miora means actually in Malagasy, it means Myrrh which is the perfume that one of the three guys gave Jesus when he was born. What's the term, mage, in English? So it's perfume, basically.

[00:00:48] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Yeah. I think it's Myrrh. Y R... Oh, I don't want to get the spelling wrong. Okay.

[00:00:54] Miora Acker: yeah, yeah, exactly. In French, it's la myrrhe. So Miora in Malagasy.

[00:01:00] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Yeah, yeah. You asked me before where we found your work and I think we'll... we'll figure that out in future. I'd love to understand because I saw that your work features a lot... you mentioned color and a lot of places when you talk about your work. So what is your relationship with color?

[00:01:18] Miora Acker: My relationship with color is actually quite instinctive. I don't necessarily match colors. When I create, I don't look to match colors. I just grab colors instinctively and somehow it gives out this explosion of emotions when an artwork is finished. So yeah, that is my relationship with color in my art.

[00:01:45] Personally, I find that colors is just what makes everything around us, like it's part of us.

[00:01:51] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Is there any way that you've ever found your senses to interconnect?

[00:01:57] Miora Acker: What do you mean?

[00:01:58] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Well, what I might mean by leading this question is I'm very curious. I have something called synesthesia and it means that you match your different senses and this is very random and it's very different for everyone. For me I have graphene color synesthesia, for example.

[00:02:16] So when I hear letters and numbers and words and music as well that's another one that I see colors and all sorts of different things. So for some people it relates where they see the color green and they might taste something very random. Or maybe they hear the sound of guitar and they'll taste lemon.

[00:02:37] Miora Acker: Oh, yeah, I see. Well, for me, colors is like, it's not an interconnection, I guess, it's just like an extension of myself. It feels like it passes through me and it comes out through different colors, and usually it's very bright colors, so I cannot really explain with words. I don't link things or what I see or what I hear to specific colors. Yeah. It's really instinctive and it doesn't work for me like the sea is blue so I will use blue. For me the sea can be green, purple, a tree can be yellow, it's really very based on instinct at the moment. It's like I'm giving birth to colors. It feels a bit like that.

[00:03:24] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Do any of them have particular symbology to you, or they represent something in particular, or it just depends on the particular work you're completing.

[00:03:33] Miora Acker: The colors I use actually depends on the work I am completing. So it's for example, right now I'm working on a series of linocuts streets. So it's quite graphic. So I use colors that are bright, but not necessarily pink bright. I use like ultramarine blue, which is, quite incisive or grass green, bright red, which are also graphically speaking, I could say some standards like black. For example, cyan magenta, like the CMYK, you know, so through the linocuts, which I can consider is a graphic practice. So I use CMYK, the primary colors because that's how printing works.

[00:04:18] So, yeah, could be bright, more purple, more earthy, more electric. Depends on the theme.

[00:04:26] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Love some of the stories that you're telling, the street scenes and the woodcuts or lino cut processes as well. Could you tell me how some of those match or overlap? How have they come to be? Your use of lino cutting and wood cutting and some of the stories that you're telling as well?

[00:04:44] How have those two occurred?

[00:04:45] Miora Acker: Yeah, so in my art, I am fascinated by society and especially its people and its culture. So what makes up someone and one's identity and I am normally a painter, so I make I can say big paintings, not huge, so there are big paintings and I paint so figuratively, so, a societal phenomenon, and it's figurative, and the Lino Cut came when I moved to Berlin, which is an European city, so everything's expensive, actually. So I had to adapt my art practice to the space I have, and the Lino Cut came, as usual, quite instinctively and naturally, like, Berlin inspired me linocutting, which is very graphic, techno, you know, like the atmosphere.

[00:05:36] So I adapted myself to the city I'm in actually, and streets is always the link of my practice, which is and my passion, which is society. It's people, it's culture, it's identity.

[00:05:50] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): And what about some of those stories you were telling from Madagascar as well?

[00:05:54] Miora Acker: Yeah so stories from Madagascar. So Madagascar for me is my core inspiration because it's my homeland and I grew up there and I, lived in a few places, but my biggest projects are inspired by Madagascar. And so Madagascar is mainly, I treat the theme mainly with paintings, big paintings and colors depends on the theme I work.

[00:06:18] For example, I have worked on a series I called Nobel. Which is a series of this societal phenomenon in developing countries where you have this image of old white men coming or women coming to find some love or attention in a country where it's cheaper or more accessible, perhaps, and where life is smoother. That's where I found my style actually, like the socio figurative, because I've treated the daily lives of these women.

[00:06:50] So for me it's not prostitution, it's it's a job and it's in the case where there's no human traffic I find that when each party is an adult, then there's no judgment to be put on whatever is happening, you know, because when we say prostitution, people are like, oh, prostitution. So yeah, so through these paintings, for example, Nobel. I wanted to show that beyond the basic, what a person would see prostitution, poor country, rich country, I wanted to show that actually it's the women that are leading, you know, like and the men are there and looking for attention for company, because, you know, if they're old, maybe they've lost their wives and they feel lonely in Europe.

[00:07:35] So they go there and it's warm. And so these women give attention. And so I give through my art especially on Madagascar, I tried to change the people's perception, especially the Malagasy people's perception of things because we're on an island, we're islanders, and which is quite secular and a bit of a conservative society.

[00:08:01] And yeah, so my main public, of course, is the world, but I would really love to be able, through my art, to propose some other possibilities of ways to see things to Malagasy people instead of this like conservative way of being like yeah, very religious too, you know.

[00:08:20] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): I just had to take a note of that to make sure that we capture that because that's really great, and I'd love to know more of the ways that you're helping Malagasy people see their own world. And also, perhaps some of the ways that you need to clarify for people what Madagascar is from the outside as well.

[00:08:43] Perhaps when you're in Berlin or somewhere else.

[00:08:45] Miora Acker: Yeah. So So I've already started with the Malagasy people that I wanted to propose another way to see things because in a society, the beliefs, the standards, codes build up one's identity and somehow we are strongly influenced by these standards and codes, for example, I'm mixed, I am French Malagasy, so that I believe has built me in my way to be more, perhaps more open to other cultures. And I propose, for example, to treat things like the Nobel, the women, the young people and this searching for foreigners or whatever reason that is and to tell them actually that it's none of your business, you know, like just, and it's not necessarily bad in this world, we are all trying to find our own ways to get out of things and have a better life.

[00:09:40] This is what I see me as an artist. For example, I see these women walking on the beach. It's like I go to the office from eight to five and these people, it's the same thing. It's just a different setup and all. And from the outside world... so let's say I am showing situations and setups of making Madagascar more familiar, you know, because when you talk about Madagascar, many people say, Oh, the movie, you know, so, which is very sad because it has nothing to do with Madagascar at all, except the lemur, perhaps, but yes, but yeah, you'd be amazed.

[00:10:18] I mean, how many people in Europe that I've encountered like Madagascar. Oh, the movie. So for through my art, I'm proposing a view through Malagasy culture. Malagasy culture, it's very diverse, very rich because we come from many parts of the world and yeah, so to give them a peek into Malagasy culture and so that they know more about Madagascar and they see beyond Madagascar, the movie.

[00:10:48] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): You're the second person on this podcast I've interviewed from Madagascar and probably, I don't know, maybe the fourth designer I've spoken to, and none of them live in Madagascar. So what can we learn about the design industry if there isn't one, then the need for solving problems is surely there in Madagascar.

[00:11:09] So, do you know of designers in Madagascar and what's the industry like?

[00:11:14] Miora Acker: Yes, of course, before Berlin, I lived in Madagascar and I've worked quite a bit in Madagascar. So, I have a lot of good friends who are artists and what I can say is perhaps It's getting better. We have private investors who have created like art foundations and galleries very huge ones actually that have international reach.

[00:11:40] In the last three years, I would say that the artists and designers have opportunities but before that, of course, you have like alternative... can you say alternative spaces? So it's like self run. And so you have a lot of people who do that too, but it's hard because there's no subsidies.

[00:12:01] Like no help necessarily, like money wise. So of course, when the money is lacking, then artistic structures are not how they can be or can reach. And especially, I also find that art is not so valued in Madagascar. Unfortunately, we have a lot of talented artists, but art is not what it should be, and it's not considered as it should be, it's not valued.

[00:12:30] So being an artist in Madagascar. It's possible, but it's a life of struggle, I would say. Yeah.

[00:12:38] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Yeah, well, we invite always not just people from Madagascar, but from all over to get in touch with us. I'd love to have a conversation with people from every corner of the continent and beyond because we can always learn from anyone we speak to so how about some of those conversations you've had with people on the streets of Berlin or otherwise, and what have you learned from them and shown that through your art?

[00:13:04] Miora Acker: Well, I've learned a serious freedom explosion in Berlin. It's my what I sense here. And that's why people come here, actually. There's people from all over the world. And people in Berlin, you can be whoever, whatever you want to be. And that's the first thing I see in Berlin. So also the streets of Berlin are very busy and it's full of different people.

[00:13:29] Yeah. And Berlin for me is like many cities put together. And what I've heard on the streets, it depends where, because you have a big Turkish community, a big Arabic community, which is very diverse, and then you have some serious gentrification going on.

[00:13:47] So that's also very diverse. And then you have the, locals, the Berliners who are here since so it's very different aspects of Berlin. I couldn't really say that there's a specific conversation I've had with people in the streets, or it's just freedom and people minding their own business, doing their thing and being who they are without any obstacles. That's the Berlin feeling in contrast to where I'm from in Madagascar, Antananarivo, which is the capital. It's drastically different. So it's quite interesting.

[00:14:25] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): So Berlin is more people minding their own business and moving forward and in Madagascar, you have more human conversations, or?

[00:14:33] Miora Acker: No. I would say, yes, I have more touch. It's smaller. So we have more reach to the people, but it's just since in Madagascar, it's a bit conservative. It's changing nowadays slowly with the new generations, but it's more conservative. You can feel that sometimes there are these judgments on this person or this person and people cannot really be who they want to be. So that is why many people maybe move out of the country. No, I would not say why exactly and so in Berlin, you can be whatever you want to be. If you're a guy, you can wear a skirt you can wear jewelry.

[00:15:14] If you're a half a guy, half a woman, you do whatever, you know, so you can wear a thong on the streets and no one would care. You can be naked now in Berlin. Apparently it has been voted that you could be naked in like swimming pools. It's just different preoccupations.

[00:15:32] Yes, from one culture to another. It's just the differences that are very interesting to me. That the problems they are dealing with here in Berlin are not the ones that they are dealing with in Antananarivo, for example.

[00:15:48] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): It's a really good point, the different preoccupations.

[00:15:51] Miora Acker: Yes.

[00:15:52] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): That's what we place an emphasis on. And at the time period, it seems to be the most important thing to us. Right?

[00:15:59] Miora Acker: Yeah, I'm not saying one culture is better or another. It's just for me, like, how different one culture is from another, the preoccupations, the possibilities, the advantages, disadvantages, it's just very interesting and It should be outlined because in my ideal world we would be all the same and we would all have the same possibilities but that's not the case.

[00:16:27] So yeah, it's very interesting to me, this difference.

[00:16:31] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): And I don't know the story of how you got to be in Berlin, so I don't know what advice you might have for other artists and creatives who are trying to go from one place to another and trying to discover opportunities and how that journey, some of the things that might make that journey easier for them.

[00:16:50] Miora Acker: So I would say my personal experience, so artists or Malagasy artists, because that's,

[00:16:57] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Go for both, whichever you prefer.

[00:16:59] Miora Acker: As young artists in general, from my personal experience, I would say be serious and respect deadlines and be on time and show people that you are a serious artist. Break the idea that an artist is high up in the sky, you know, like, yes. Because usually that's the case.

[00:17:21] Like artists are in this category, like not so serious, always late not reliable. So show them that you are reliable, actually. Creating is very nice, but the paperwork is also for an artist to get residencies and grants, perhaps prizes. The paperwork is very important.

[00:17:43] I would also recommend that, for example, for an artist, a young artist, all the words, wording that he or she has to write about him or herself is very important because it's the ambassador of their artwork, their work. So it shouldn't be undermined just because it's a heavy job to write as a visual artist or as an artist but what you say, what you write about yourself is actually the ambassador of your work to people that actually are not from the artistic world. From my personal experience, that's what I would recommend. And from moving from one place to another as artists it depends on the opportunities you have, where you are, but when you have the opportunity, seize it.

[00:18:31] Just take it, although try to make sure it's not as how would you say, like a spam...

[00:18:36] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Yeah, don't fall

[00:18:38] Miora Acker: a scam.

[00:18:39] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): yeah,

[00:18:39] yeah,

[00:18:40] Miora Acker: Yes. Try to make sure it's not a scam because then you can lose time, which is very precious. But if you have an opportunity and if it's serious, if people ask you to do things, do not be scared, do not hesitate, just have some self confidence and just do it because that's how you start by doing things.

[00:19:01] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Hmm. Brilliant. And you just mentioned writing and I just spoke to a designer yesterday who told me that one of his mentors said he needed to start writing. And then I went five minutes later and saw him speaking and could see how much of an impact that writing was having because everyone was really intently listening.

[00:19:19] So, that's super useful.

[00:19:21] Miora Acker: Yeah. It's, it's very important and I just actually learned it not so recently, but still recently. And It's good if you can where you are or online to do workshops, actually, because the writing part for me was always very, and is still very frustrating because I draw, I paint, I use colors, I don't use A, B, C, D, like that's not my language.

[00:19:47] So I just assumed that people would understand through my art, but that's not the case usually. As I said, you need to write and what you write, you have to proofread several times and make your close ones like your family or someone else read it and see if they understand it actually because it's the ambassador of your work.

[00:20:09] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Mhm.

[00:20:09] Miora Acker: Yeah,

[00:20:10] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): And what about some of the things that you're planning with your art, exploring processes, exploring subjects, what can we expect from you?

[00:20:19] Miora Acker: So the series Streets is ongoing as always because it's a series of linocuts that is about the streets of the city I am in. So for now, it's Berlin. I'm going in Antananarivo beginning of next year. So I would do an exhibition Antananarivo streets, for example, because it's very diverse still, and it's very interesting.

[00:20:42] And hopefully I will travel or live in enough cities that I could make a big book of Lino cuts one day of streets. And of course on Madagascar talking I have two big projects. I'd like to work on if, if some funding would allow me, or if I have the means to create, to realize the work, have two big projects on the Malagasy diaspora and Malagasy traditional religion before christianism.

[00:21:11] So, always in this optical to propose what is because my work is not based on my... of course, it's my perception what I see, but it's also based on years of research interviews with people, you know, I'm not the one trying to say this is what's right. It's for example, the Malagasy diaspora, it's a combination of... it's a compilation, I would say, of many interviews and history of people, members of the world's Malagasy diaspora that I would like to put together in a series of works. So it's personal stories and I would say is also to show malagasy that this is what we are before everything happened, which is before colonialism, you know, like which is part of history.

[00:22:00] And that's also who we are now. But before that, I have the ambition to remind a little bit who we are, like, what was our religion, which was not Christianism.

[00:22:11] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Yeah. And what are some of those things? Maybe you're quite early into the projects. What are some of the things you've learned so far, either about the diaspora through your research or the traditional religions?

[00:22:25] Miora Acker: So in Madagascar, as an internal point of view, like, usually the people that leave the country people talk a lot about them, right? And we have set ideas on why they left, for example she or he found a foreigner. So vazah, which is a foreigner. We use the term to describe a white person.

[00:22:49] So that's why he or she left because he or she found a foreigner. So he left the country. And people outside who live in Europe are seen as maybe rich, you know. So, we have all these how would you... in French we say préjugé, like yeah a little bit, like prejudices, and we just expect and we assume that these people some are this way, rich, beautiful, very pretty, you know, like, and we have these ideas about them. And through the personal histories that I've collected, I would just like to show portraits and what is real, you know, like, and, like why these people left the country to break a little bit of this prejudices and ideas of what people think in Madagascar about the people who left.

[00:23:39] I would create that series and exhibit it in Madagascar, outside too, but I would like actually the Malagasy people in Madagascar. So which is actually the low and middle class who cannot travel elsewhere, I would like them to have a peek into the series to laugh a little bit maybe about the absurdity of certain situations, you know, like to make life easier and funny and to say, ah, yeah, you know, maybe I was wrong or, oh yeah, maybe I was right, you know, so who knows.

[00:24:10] Yeah, and traditional religion I don't know if it's a subject I should tackle here because as you say, I'm still early in the process and it's gonna be a long, long, long process because it's not a light subject to dive into religion. And to sort of say this is who we were before christianism, which is actually a huge institution nowadays.

[00:24:33] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): How about some traditional practices that don't have to be religious, perhaps cultural cuisine or something that the Malagasy people should be proud of, or maybe the rest of the world should know.

[00:24:46] Miora Acker: Yeah, I think in my personal point of view, I think Malagasy should be very proud of who they are in every way because we are unique. We are a former colony, so we tend to copy ourselves or have this image of... I like to use the American dream. But like, you know, like this ideal and we copy everything we do and through that dream, which is we were a former French colony.

[00:25:13] So many things in Madagascar now are a bit like it's like a little France and speaking French is like privilege. Of course it is. Speaking many languages is also a privilege, you know. So Malagasy people are unique. We come from many different backgrounds. In the center, we have Asian descent.

[00:25:34] In the north, it's more Arabic descent. In the east and west, it's more African descent. So we are very diverse. And this diversity, instead of it to be a problem, we should embrace it as a unity to unite and be proud of ourselves and the food or so, but that's... that comes after, right? Yeah, but mainly I think we as Malagasy, because we have 18 different ethnic tribes, and it's the same problematic in Africa too.

[00:26:04] Instead of that being an adversity, I think it should be a unity, a reason for unity, and we should embrace it. Because I believe that in order for countries like my country to go forward, we should be united. And the first step for me is to embrace this diversity and to just become one and finally accept it.

[00:26:24] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): I was literally on a design thinking meeting workshop today and that's what I put that I'm excited for the diversity in the room because diversity of thought leads to better design leads to better results at the end of the day, right?

[00:26:38] Miora Acker: Yeah. And like it's just for me problems that shouldn't be anymore and that occupy our minds where we can, as you say, create, design, do interesting stuff. We are stuck in this. Oh no, you are from this, from that. You're not my friend. It's just problems that shouldn't be anymore.

[00:26:57] And we should just concentrate on other things, you know,

[00:27:01] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Miora, I think that's a really good way. I'd like to encourage you if you have any questions for me, by the way or for people who are listening feel free to put something out there as well And how you'd like maybe people to get in touch with you.

[00:27:16] Miora Acker: Well, there's my website, mioraacker.com, so you can send me a message if you want to reach out about anything. I am quite open to... well, anything actually, if you have questions I don't have questions for you, but thank you for welcoming me on your podcast and I would like to see more of my Malagasy friends, artists, creatives from different backgrounds, because there are many, many very talented creatives in Madagascar. I don't know who have you interviewed, may I ask?

[00:27:50] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Fenoson Zafimahova. He's actually as well based abroad. He's a industrial designer. He's worked for JBL and a bunch of other companies as well.

[00:28:01] Miora Acker: I think I see, who you are talking about, yeah, I love his work too. So it would be nice perhaps if you welcomed an artist or just a creative from Madagascar, based in Madagascar.

[00:28:13] And I would be, yeah, I would be happy to share some names with you if you want.

[00:28:19] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Absolutely. Yes, please. And that's an open call as well to anyone listening. And of course, Miora, I will be more than happy to get in touch with those people as well. Thank you so much.

[00:28:29] Miora Acker: Okay. Yeah, thank you.

[00:28:32] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Great.

In this episode, we return to the captivating landscapes of Madagascar. Our guest is Miora Acker, a visual artist with a fervent curiosity for societal phenomena. Her muse is society itself: its inhabitants, their everyday experiences, the ecosystem they inhabit, and the intricacies of human psychology.

She challenge's the prevailing perceptions that different groups within society hold about one another and delves into the disparities between German and Malagasy societies, shedding light on their respective strengths and weaknesses through her exploration, she emphasizes the potential for mutual learning.

She unveils the multifaceted and culturally rich side of Madagascar, dispelling misconceptions that might have arisen from popular depictions like "Madagascar the Movie."

This is the 30th episode under the ‘Shifting Narratives’ program supported by the British Council SSA Arts.

Episode Credits

Produced by Nairobi Design

HostAdrian Jankowiak

Producer, Shorts & Artwork: David King'ori

Music: Ngalah Oreyo (@ngalah_oreyo) and Mercy Barno (@merc.b_)