By Mariana Álvarez Castillo •
Originally published on Afroféminas •
Delphine Desane (B. 1988) places moments of her world in limbos of colors: from her experience as a Black woman in Europe, she brings situations, outfits, faces and hair to the canvas. With flat colored backgrounds and penetrating gazes, Delphine makes visible the black corporality that surrounds her, from a place that involves the intimate, the meditative and the forceful.
Born in France and daughter of Haitian immigrants, Delphine Desane studied Fashion Design and after many years as a stylist in Paris and Milan, her career changed direction almost unexpectedly. Four years ago, after becoming a mother, she began painting as a form of therapy during her postpartum depression, until in January 2020 she covered one of the seven historic covers of Vogue Italy about sustainability, and at the end of the year, she had her first solo exhibition as a visual artist at the Luce Gallery in Italy. She currently resides in New York, where she has her workshop and does most of her work. Hence, her images draw disaggregated snippets of her experiences as a black woman, mother, migrant, and daughter of migrants.
Delphine evokes the faces of the African and Afro-Caribbean diaspora, giving them a forceful corporality: to see these paintings is to allow the interpellation of their characters who seem to stare at us, in a gesture that at times seems meditative and at times firm, resounding, immobile. When I say that these characters consist of forcefulness in their faces, I mean that Delphine places their bodies there, in front of us, in such a way that it is impossible for us not to see them. They are the object of the painting and they are there, showing themselves without dispute. The image belongs to them.
In an interview with ArtNet New, Delphine expresses that throughout her life and especially during her growth as a fashion artist, she did not find in her environment black artists with whom she could identify:
“Growing up, I didn’t really know who to look up to. There weren’t a lot of Black artists that we could reference. The only Black art that was part of my life was the Haitian paintings my mother had around the house. We didn’t have a Black power movement in France. I started to learn a lot about Black artists after I moved here. And needless to say, representation is important.”
Today, Delphine has been a migrant in Italy and the United States, and has also traveled to places like Oaxaca, Mexico, to visit Black communities as invisible as hers in France. Her search as an artist consists of showing what the environment of different Black communities is like to a system that, even today, considers racial inequality non-existent. From her words in another interview for CFHILL:
“As a Black versus a white woman in Paris, you are living in two different worlds. I need you to understand what it feels like to move in the world like I do. What I see and what I experience as a Black woman is really different for me than a white person. I think that the artist can and should show that, their personal experience of the world, but just show it on a bigger scale so people can understand and see different things, and bring awareness to what some people might not think could happen to them, because they are privileged.”
Almost always with flat background colors and in a vibrant palette that combines warm and cold tones, there are three things that stand out in the corporality of this work: the eyes, without a doubt, penetrating and hieratic; the dark skin that stands out from the rest of the pastel shades; and the hair, long, curly, wavy, black. As stated by the artist about the Black women of Oaxaca: “hair and women are a really big subject matter”
It never hurts to remember that for us Black women, the decolonization of our manes is a struggle that we embrace from self-care, sisterhood, the deconstruction of beauty standards and the fight for the representation of our bodies. However, it is often assumed that the “afro” type hair (4b, 4c) is the only racialized one, or that it is the “Black” hair par excellence, when the reality is that in our hair there is a wonderful diversity of curls, textures, porosity, volume, etc., And that is something that Delphine represents beautifully: some of her women have long, wavy manes, while others show twisted locks or round afros.
This diversity in her work is due to the fact that she traces a kind of visual genealogy between African-American, Afro-European, Afro-Latin and Afro-Caribbean women, which serves to remind us that Black women have a common political identity, but also great diversity in our cultures, in our ancestry, in our mixtures. We exist and we resist in this beautiful constellation of tones, textures and curls that unites and diversifies us to infinity.
Mariana Álvarez Castillo is a Diasporic, Caribbean and Decolonial Feminist, who holds a Bachelor of Arts from the Central University of Venezuela, and a Master’s Degree in Image Studies from the Alberto Hurtado University of Chile. She currently works as an Audiovisual Producer in Mexico City and writes for Afroféminas Magazine.