«To Ambroise and Aziza»
Neïla Czermak Ichti and Ibrahim Meïté Sikely
Exhibition at the Brétigny Theater
As part of the cycle «Family Spirit» (January—March)
Curator: Camille Martin
I was really very happy to know that the reference meant something to them. When I go back and forth with Neïla Czermak Ichti and Ibrahim Meïté Sikely about the text that has to be written to introduce the exhibition, I bring up with them a very local Essonne expression, que la famille, or “family only.” Raised by some to the level of a motto or even a moral principle, “family only” means that our close relations, our sincerest friends come first. Here “family” doesn’t refer solely to family ties but rather to all those who have proved their loyalty. The show pays homage over and above to those who are loved, beginning with the title.
Sorry, but I am not going to talk to you about Ambroise and Aziza, to whom Neïla and Ibrahim have dedicated the exhibition. The secret surrounding these two figures helps me clarify what I strongly feel when standing before Ibrahim and Neïla’s drawings and paintings, i.e., the aura of their models.
“Everything that I’ve done to this point has been inspired by my family, even when it has nothing to do with my family. For example, if I draw a vampire, despite myself it will look like someone from my family because they are the faces that have made the deepest impression on me. (…) I am really aware that I appreciate my family as well for their—I wouldn’t say mysterious side… but: So where were you for 7 years then? Which makes them odder, even more magical.”—Neïla
I experience this feeling, between the uncanny and magic, in the eyes and postures of Neïla’s characters. The artist adds fantastical elements that lend visible form to her personal feelings for the close family and friends she depicts.
“I remember the first time I drew Lounseny, a friend. Just before that, he had gone with me to some shitty job and I took his photo. Then, on Instagram, I added a filter with angel wings. And when I got back home, I drew him sporting big angel wings because right then, I saw him like that.”—Neïla
Her figures appear so familiar, so close to our reality that I get a very special pleasure seeing them moved elsewhere. Lounseny becomes a winged modern hero. It is that play with the border between the real and the unreal that I also see in Ibrahim’s works. His paintings are happening elsewhere, that is, sometimes in an imaginary world haunted by the contemporary one, sometimes the opposite.
“Actually I want to go to places where you can allow yourself to be bizarre, in narratives where no one is waiting for you at all. In Dragon Ball Z, the characters live in a world that doesn’t exist but their values are close to our own. That means that with Goku, the dude with a bizarre cloud haircut, you can feel close to him without it being real obvious like that he’s from here or there or there.”—Ibrahim
The stories told in mangas, comics or videogames are part of a contemporary mythology that has been mastered by a whole generation. Ibrahim includes these references in his paintings and it is not insignificant that he does so. A sort of new iconography, the nods to these narratives become symbols to be decrypted that speak of our values and moral principles.
“As a result, in my work it’s real important to convey all that, convey what I know, what I saw, what I saw that was funny and less funny when growing up in my neighborhood. (…) There’s always the importance of the context, but there’s also a bit of it’s ok, I got the right to bring my ideas to life outside of the place where I grew up.”—Ibrahim
What Ibrahim says touches me a lot and very personally. I share with him the urge, that “right,” to go and be elsewhere. When you come down to it, it’s that that makes his paintings salutary for me. Behind that shift lies hidden a deeper search for identity. Who am I when I’m not where you are waiting for me?
“For my dreams, Earth is too small.”—N.O.S, Shenmue
Neïla Czermak Ichti was born in Bondy, grew up in Paris, and now lives in Marseille, where she is currently pursuing her studies at the School of Fine Arts. She draws and paints, working from personal records (family photographs and videos) which blend with a repertory of images from a range of film genres, be it science fiction, horror, or even gangster movies. She depicts her immediate family and close friends and the invisible forces living beside her. Spirits, ghosts, angels, and monsters take part in the simple banal moments that are shared with one’s family.
Ibrahim Meïté Sikely was born in Marseille in 1996. His early years were spent between Marseille and Pantin. His family subsequently settled in Champigny-sur-Marne, where he passed much of his childhood. Currently studying at La Villa Arson (Nice), he is young graduate and holds a bachelor's degree. Since 2018, his art practice has focused exclusively on oil painting. Following in the wake of his drawings, which he began doing at a very young age, his painting has always been figurative. In contrast with the classic technique he employs and the legacy of 19th-century European painters, Ibrahim Meïté likes to include in his canvases a library of pop and contemporary references, from Dragon Ball Z to Tekken to the American comics of the 1950s.
Camille Martin is the Head of production at CAC Brétigny. After a bachelor's degree in art history at Paris Nanterre University and her mediation experiences at the Rencontres d'Arles and at la maison rouge (Paris), she is admitted to the curatorial formation of Rennes 2 University where she studied to become production manager and exhibition curator. Following this master's degree, she joined the CAC Brétigny team, ensuring for over a year the post of assistant exhibitions and residences (civic service).