Hello Elisabeth, we’re delighted to have a chat about your background and your artistic practice.
Could you tell the readers about yourself and your background?
My name is Elisabeth Gomes Barradas. I’m a Black French photographer, a big Rap and RnB lover - the “Ghetto-fabulous” style coming from the 2000’s. I was born in 1993 from Cape Verdean parents who emigrated to France 30 years ago in order to give a better quality of life to their children. Together with my seven brothers and sisters, I grew up in the Parisian working-class area, between Malakoff (Haut-de-Seine) and Stalingrad (Paris). These are cosmopolitan places, rich in all their cultures and ethnicities.
"When you come from the working class area, and you’re educated by African parents, art is not considered as a “valid” job."
When did you start making art?
Art wasn’t part of my African education. I recall that my big brother, my little brother and myself, were the only ones practicing art. When you come from the working class area, and you’re educated by African parents, art is not considered as a “valid” job. It’s more like a hobby you’ll do by pleasure apart from your “real work” (the one that makes you earn money).
My mom was working as a cleaner at that time. She didn't have enough resources to afford leisure activities to all of her children. So I would say, my interest in art started when I visited Parisian museums with my school or with youth centres. I discovered the Classical and the Pompier movements. I also developed a particular interest in the paintings of artist William Bouguereau.
When I was younger, I used to draw Manga that I would see on the screen, such as Naruto. As time passed by, I stopped drawing Manga, and I started making realistic portraits. I would spend hours, sometimes days, drawing meticulously portraits of male models I had a crush on. If my drawings weren't realistic enough, I would tear the papers up, and start all over again.
Elisabeth Gomes Barradas, "Covers" , analog photography, 40x60cm, 2021
"It was also very difficult to be confronted by white teachers only, even more when I talked about race and Black representations in my art."
Can you tell us more about your artistic journey to where you are now?
I graduated from High School in 2012, and I studied a year at Saint Denis Paris 8 University. In 2013, I went to the Ateliers des Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris because I didn’t have a studio to practice my art in the previous University. It was one of my favorite years of studies. I had access to a lot of studios like painting, photography and serigraphy, which would later become an important part of my artistic practice.
In 2019, I obtained a Master’s of Fine Arts from EESAB in Rennes. I loved the first three years there because I had the opportunity to discover new media, such as analog photography and oil painting. I worked with those media a lot at that time. Unfortunately, my teachers were criticizing figurative painting, so I slowly stopped making it. During the last years at EESAB, I had the impression that my creativity was really crushed by my art school teachers. It felt like I had to avoid certain topics, like beauty, races, feminism, racism and so on.
My work became more personal over time. It was more centered on the Black identity and the working class area. It became really hard to have a decent discussion with my professors. It was also very difficult to be confronted by white teachers only, even more when I talked about race and Black representations in my art. My position and my capacity of talking about the Black race and African diaspora was always questioned. It was put in tension as if I was the one committing a discrimination and “showing a bad and stigmatized picture of the Black community”, which wasn’t my artist statements.
I left art school somehow disappointed and furious. For more than a year, I didn’t want to make art as if I had to take in all the information that had been given to me by my professors. And one day, I woke up with the desire to paint again. It’s been seven months since I’ve started practicing again. I managed to create a low cost photography studio in my living room. I also bought all the photographic material that I couldn’t afford before. Lately, I’ve been working on my current project Covers. It’s a series of photographs I wanted to make for years. But I was afraid that my teachers would criticize it again.
What is the story behind your artworks?
My photographs try to depict a phantasmagoric picture of ourselves as an archetype we would have wanted to be in an alternative universe. During the time of a shoot, my photographs are used as a way of shining a light on popular cultures and humble backgrounds.
"I want my photograph to be as glamorous as possible!"
Your work revolves mainly around photography. Could you tell us more about your artistic practice?
One of my specialities was oil painting, which I stopped practising. Nowadays, my artistic practice is multidisciplinary and multicultural. I mainly use analog photography. Staging and embodiment are important in my photographs. My works take their inspiration from many art movements and styles, such as the Academical, the Pompier movement, the genre scene, the malian 60’s photography, the rap and r&b style, the showbizz and so on.
For my photoshoots, I first search for racialized models that could fit my project. I usually contact them on Instagram, and ask them to send me a playlist of rap and r&b music they used to listen to in the 2000’s. I work alone which means I spend a lot of hours on creating moodboards that will include all make-ups, hair cuts, and stylings for the shoot. Then I collect clothings accessories from market exits or second hand stores directly coming from the working class area like Guérissol, Secours Populaire, Emmaüs, Action, Noz, Maxplus. I always find weird and sparkling accessories just like the one we used to see on RnB clips at that time. The kitscher, the better - I want my photograph to be as glamorous as possible!
Elisabeth Gomes Barradas' home studio
By the way, what is your studio like? Could you share some pictures with us?
Well, I can’t afford to get a studio at the moment, so I’ve created a low cost studio in my apartment, between my couch and my fridge!
A model in Elisabeth Gomes Barradas' home studio
What does your typical work day look like?
When I have a photoshoot, I start building the set the day before to have more time the following day for the make-up and the light setting. When I’m shooting, I work around 6 to 9 hours in a row. I ask my model to come early in the morning, usually around 10-11 am, and we then talk about our respective lives. I see it as a moment of sharing. I really want models to feel comfortable, as if they were at a friend's house, chilling and listening to music. I like getting to know more of my models, sometimes it even helps me during the process of creation.
Elisabeth Gomes Barradas, Covers, analog photography, 40x60cm, 2021
"I remember listening to Mariah Carey’s, Aaliyah’s and Nelly’s songs with my sisters. We used to dance on them wishing that one day we could be like those celebrities."
Who are your biggest influences and how do they influence your practice?
My work is considered as a photographic testimony of my personal influences. Since my youngest age, I’ve been drowned by so much education. On one hand, African education which was given by my parents at home. On the other hand, Western education, which was given at my school. France is a very cosmopolitan country with mixed cultures. It’s even more visible when you come from the suburbs. When you grow up in a humble background, watching TV shows or video clips is not only a way of dreaming but it’s also a way of escaping from our current life condition.
I remember listening to Mariah Carey’s, Aaliyah’s and Nelly’s songs with my sisters. We used to dance on them wishing that one day we could be like those celebrities. We dreamt of reaching the American Dream and tell “I can do that too!”
Do you have a role-model?
As I don’t have a role model in particular, I’m more influenced by a citation I’ve heard during a speech. At first I thought it was funny, but it was actually very realistic regarding my situation:Last but not least… I wanna thank me. I wanna thank me for believing in me. I wanna thank me for doing all this hard work (…) I wanna thank me for never quitting. I wanna thank me for just being me at all times.
- Snoop Dogg on Hollywood walk of Fame, 2018
If you had all the money in the world, what would you do with it?
I would buy myself a Hasselblad 500cm with its numerical back, and a huge house for each member of my family ;)
How do you imagine the future of art?