Photography Volker Conradus
Styling & Production Kadeem Greaves
Hair & Make Up Philipp Koch Verheyen using Chanel
Styling Assistant Caitlin Hennessy
Conversations about life with people on different journeys who happen to currently live in Berlin. Kadeem Greaves talked to Kirikoo Des, Fa’Empel, Sam Dye, Julius Petit and Dreea Pavel.
Who are you?
Actually, I’m Koo aka Kirikoo Des. I’m a french guy who grew up in Sorbonne and that lives in Berlin now. I’m an artist, I do music, dance, performances and I combine everything with installations.
Does what you do define who you are?
Being an artist defines who I am. I analyze my life through this artist lens, you know. My parents strived to be artists, I believe it is freedom to do what you want and being an artist has a really heavy meaning for me.
What’s the meaning?
When you’re an artist, you have to constantly criticize the society. Play with it, you know?
I like the definition, because honestly, I have a problem with people who call themselves artists because I feel like sometimes they try to exclude themselves from the rest of the society. It’s like “I’m better than everybody else” type of feeling, but I agree with your definition. I think everyone is an artist, so I really really like your definition.
For example when people say “I’m a philosopher”, I remember, I always said to my father, I want to become a philosopher and he said “Yeah, but you have to be better in school”. The definition of a philosopher for me is someone who tries to understand the society. You have to be more and more a part of society and I think this is how I practice being an artist. To be honest, I don’t think I ever chose to be an artist because I never liked schools of art, I attended dance academies etc., but my experience made me into this gender. Being a black guy who travelled a lot. In the end, all these little details, make you want to criticize and to have an opinion on the world. The more you see, the more you will realize what is going on and what is wrong in this world.
You mentioned as an artist your call of action, your purpose is to criticize the world. So what do you think are the problems in this world?
My field is working with new technology. I do dance, but I combine dance with new technology, how we can use computers to augment ourselves. I think the good thing about new technology is that I talk about it because it’s my field, you can express yourself. When it starts to become standardized, for me it is the beginning of the problem. Your wishes and mine are totally different, for me the problem with all this stuff is like the modernization, meaning when you want to create a global system for everybody, for me this way of thinking is totally like archaic. You have to be more precise, we don’t have to create “one-size fits all” system. You need a cell phone, but maybe I don’t need one. This is my problem with society actually. We loose so much small stuff, for example many tribes start to disappear because we are so passé, like we don’t give a fuck about the rest. The competition for me is the beginning of the problem.
I agree with you.
Wide-cast messaging is another problem, if you say something and it makes sense to your audience, cool, but if you say something to the rest of the world, for me it’s the beginning of the non sense because somebody in Brazil for example doesn’t really understand what you are trying to say, they don’t have the tools to understand this. I put my finger on all that stuff the whole time, because the global story is not the same as the local story. We don’t really take care about the pace of anyone else.
An observation I made, I moved here in May, but before that I was travelling for work a lot and everywhere you go, even when I came here, the places are not that different from one another. I wonder how this place was in the 80s or how Paris was in the 80s or London or Italy. We all dress the same, we all do the same things and consider it cool and then you read articles about “This is the age of individualism” and I’m like “No, everyone does the same thing, like right now the cool brand is Vetements and you see photos, every fucking one has it. Well, it’s like so cool, but it’s not .. I like a little bit of individuality in there, like “this is mine”. It sounds very selfish, but in terms of clothing and things like that or perspectives, I think like “This is my perspective and I don’t need to acquiescent to the rest of society”. I agree with you, that’s the globalization… Anyway, how do you think you are perceived?
It’s funny, because when I see the actualité, it is really bad to say I’m a nationalist, because within politics, nationalism is like racism, but if you just pull out your focus, nationalism means thousands of people taking care of the tradition of where they from. Right now nationalism has a negative connotation, because it is associated with racism etc. When I came to Berlin, I thought “Ok, I’m gonna meet people more raw.” That was my goal, I arrived and realized that people in Berlin were trying to be very similar and connected to the United States. I noticed two ways here: either it’s super American style or super raw. The people/society, is not connected. That was a bit problematic to me, everywhere it’s the same. There are these global villages, so I can go to Copenhagen or London, I will see the same people. It’s cagy, man.
Do you think the problem are the cities?
My partner’s family is from Essen and Essen is very distinct from here and it’s not like Berlin, it’s not like New York, it’s not like Paris. It’s like Essen. I think it’s something with the internet, man. The problem with the information, is that there are people who leak the information, who we call the influencers. These people are so powerful, so they can say “This is cool and this is not”, people are not selfish enough to say “I don’t give a fuck. Your point of view is cool, I see this, but my point of view can also be cool.” More and more with the Internet, there are no frontiers. There are no doors, you can be close to everybody, but I think the city now starts to loose the frontiers. The real cities are currently the web, in my opinion. These analytic worlds are the beginning to run parallel day by day to whatever reality is.
So how do you think you are perceived?
It’s a super difficult question.
Ok, I’m gonna break it down. Paris, how do you think you are perceived? An then in Berlin?
When I started to become a dancer in Paris, I used to be a hip hop dancer, so I did a lot of battles and stuff. I was an UFO back in the days.
What does that mean?
Means I was worrying all the time about the stuff I wore, my haircut, my tattoos. I was a bit avantgarde. In the beginning it was like I was this funny guy doing all the stuff upside down and when I started to do more projects and signing to a label, I was there avantgarde upside down influencer. People don’t really exactly understand what I do. They enjoy it, but for them it’s something too far, too crazy for what’s going on in that moment, so I was like this type of guy.
And how do you think you’re perceived in Berlin?
I don’t know. The funny thing is I live in this crystal castle. I see Berlin. I don’t have much interaction with the city. I have 10 friends here, even less, maybe 5. i don’t really interact with the rest of the people. I go out a lot, but I’m pretty shy. I’m not really an extrovert, most of my friends never saw me play my music for example, so people don’t really know what I do and who I am, so I can’t really give you an answer.
It’s kind of a crazy juxtaposition with you, because you’re shy, but also a very dominant person. Your stature, appearance, you have tattoos. You are striking, but then you’re shy.
It’s funny, because maybe it’s also because my English is not that good. In this city, everybody speaks English and German very well. It’s difficult for me to interact with people, I’m more of an observer, it’s totally different to when I was in Paris.
And how do you want to be perceived?
There is a lot of stuff, what I really wanna do in this city, I want to share my visions here, maybe continuing to be closer to this underground community. The stuff that I made in Paris need to keep doing the same in Berlin. Having a free mind, free spirit with no barriers, maybe try to be this kind of philosopher, I was talking about before. It’s important to me to be part of this black diaspora, try to share that there are no barriers for us with no problems at the end. It’s a bit difficult, but you can continue to try to achieve our dreams. I have this dream about continuing my work and as I am an artist in Europe, it’s gonna be more and more difficult, I wanna be this guy who fights for everything, to be free, to share.
When we first met, what were your thoughts? What did you notice first?
That everybody was young.
And what did you think about that?
I don’t know how old you guys are, for example in Paris, I still see my friends and these magazines and it is usually older people leading the way. It’s really important to have media, it’s the only way to share what you think. The problem is the politics involved, media is one of the tools to open the brains of people, for me that is problematic. Politics should be going to the greek. It means going close to the people, for me this exchange is the beginning of sharing. It is important when you are young to understand this and take it as something serious. More and more it is difficult to have real information, real stories, because we start to make people blind. That is also one of my critiques, all this fashion stuff is cool, but for the moment, I put it in second place , because there is more important stuff to say.
Alright, so two things. I agree with you 100%, I don’t like the message, that media sent through, especially through the fashion media. they create “beauty” stories, where they try to infer the message, that beauty is everything expect the natural. They disseminate the message, calling it beauty. Girls and boys striving for that – what are we telling people? One of the reasons I grew out my hair is due to that. What is my conception of beauty and nature? Thoughts on my own nature? Negative connotation with black hair.
For example, I used to have dreadlocks, when I went to a casting for a show, people wouldn’t book me, because of my hairdo. Dreads are similar to black freedom and spirituals, you want to get out of the system, because our system is not a good one. Dreadlocks indicates something out of the system, that makes us happy.
In America there is a brotherhood between people with dreads, here in Berlin, that same brotherhood exists between African men. That brotherhood between black men does not really exist in the states. I wonder why, that brotherhood doesn’t extend to everyone, as a culture we have this legacy of passivity, when it comes to war and atrocities, we enable. I like Gosha, but it’s not what is most important.
We have to change the tendency a bit, what I think we have to illuminate things people don’t really know. We only talk about cultural information, it’s cool to have this Vetements stuff and all this fashion. Yes, it’s cool, but the problem is there are too many things we don’t really have resolved from our past, our culture, that’s why I’m a bit skeptical from time to time. I can criticize people and people say “yea, just chill”, but it’s difficult to chill, I will give you an example, because for me it’s difficult to explain. If you live in this world where happiness is expected, the status quo and when you aren’t happy, you can not express your displeasure. There is a problem, because you have to be able to say I’m happy, but you also need to have the same power to say, I am not happy. (If someone says “oh, you are not happy” you can not say that, means they are the problem.) For this typical reason, sometimes there are some insistences, when people overreact, you have to ask why did you overreact in this way. I just said I am unhappy .. I have noticed that our society really has a problem with this.
As someone who is perceived in the same light as me I am very interested on your perspective. How was life growing up in France?
My mother is black and my father is white. My father met my mother on the ivory Coast, because he used to be an engineer, I grew up with people telling me that I wasn’t half/half, because of my dark complexion. I had many fights with other kids, because of that. I have this double culture, the African from my mother’s side and the occidental from my father. With a young age I started fencing, in my class there weren’t that many black people, a few of them were from the West Indies. I was really into fencing, but for most people it was not the sport black people really participated in. Which was problematic in the beginning, to be one of 5 black people within majority white establishment. It was constant fighting. Also, in my area I grew up in (Sorbonne), the people in this area aren’t rich, so I felt uncomfortable with my situation, because my father used to be the boss of companies, so we never had dire financial straits. I was super shy to share anything about my life, because I didn’t want to be confronted with the life of others. I was not lying about my life, more like I would say nothing. I didn’t really share what I have witnessed, because I was travelling from super you and it was difficult to share these experiences with my friends. They never left France, you know? Maybe they never even left the Sorbonne, for them it was problematic, because of the difficulties of the culture of both sides. White people aren’t open and other ethnicities, similarly arabs & blacks, are not open as well. So I was put in the middle of this social problem. When I started to do dance, it was ok because for me, it was my first time in contact with queer people. First insistence of me thinking what means queer? I was probably 17, which is pretty late, for me it was ok, because I was comfortable in this uncomfortable situation, it was open and smart. You know when you have this problem being a minority, it can be sexual, racial minority you start to be more smart, because you try to understand the world. If you have no problem with understanding the logic, it means you don’t have to reach for something. I started making experimental music, because it was also supposed to be super white. All the time, I have this confrontation with my color to be honest. Paris is super conservative about this, if you are black you are supposed to be interested in hip-hop music or be a dancer. It is difficult to start to be an intellectual, because people won’t take you serious. When they see you for the first time, they imagine your life. You are this type of guy that is shown on TV you know.
I like that you confront and poke at the framework of you, you are supposed to be. I was thinking about it for example if the characteristics we attribute to men were originally attributed to women. What will we be? I don’t think I am black, a men or whatever else. I think I am simply a person. If we all consider everyone just as a person, what will that world look like?
Do you know Donna Haraway, she is a feminist and philosopher who wrote the Cyborg Manifesto. She posed the question “what will happen if the gender will be a cyborg?” How will we define gender when cyborgs will be normalized within our society? It’s super interesting to me, gender in society, in the system, is totally something different. It’s a concept they made you, there are some people that are going to pimp out the market to receive you. For me, gender within this society, is about how to make a market for these kind of people. How to make clothes, to build stories, make magazines, all this stuff. I agree you are just a person, what you going to make your gender is simply what you are going to do, not who you are.
One of the things I found interesting white editing the photos, is that your relationship seems to have introverted roles. What I mean by that is that Fa seems to be the protector and there’s a tenderness that emanates from you in the photos. Can you describe to me what love is to you?
There is something about empathy, when you start to be not one’s self, but when you start to become more than one’s self. I remember the love with my father and mother, when my father died, the first feeling I felt was “ok, I really love my father.” It was something out of sexuality, boy, man or whatever, it was the real feeling of love. Sharing your life with people that watch you grow, this is love for me. Love is not the feeling you have in real time, it’s something you notice when stuff disappears or you think it disappears.
Western society has a tendency to make everything a commodity (the Disneyfication of things, values emotions). I believe love is love, the love I have for my significant other is not different than the love for my family, friends, etc.
There are some black holes to how we perceive and receive information. Most of the people I grew up with, there is this Judo-Christian state of mind ( about family, love all these concepts). Speaking of my girlfriend and me, one day I was in Amsterdam in this club for a gig and it was so crowded, only with women. I was speaking to my friend about feminism and I said power can be everywhere. I am not a macho. I’m not like man power and all this stuff, really sometimes, I’m close to this animalistic state of mind. If you see a lion, if you see many species. The organization is from the female and good. It works well. It’s natural. I don’t know when this machismo came in our world, my girlfriend is a bit more practical, while I am always in my head. I share a totally different role, this is why I spoke about gender before, my role is not to do this, think about numbers etc. so can you define my role as feminine, because I don’t think about this? I don’t know.