Delphine Dénéréaz is establishing herself as an emerging contemporary artist from Marseille, boldly weaving carpets that strike a chord in these times where we are spending more and more energy ruminating on the true significance of ‘home’. At once arresting and childlike, she rides the fine line between eco-artisan and artist whilst making the point of reaching out to the ‘people’, using emblems and slogans that they are all too familiar with.
Growing up, Delphine Dénéréaz’s life was worry-free, something that she admits was not too far off in fact from the imagery we would expect in airy French pop music videos. Born in the countryside, close enough to the unyielding and gutsy city of Marseille for her to hanker for some action, but sufficiently distant for her to enjoy the blissfully endless summers of youth. Surrounded by friends, it was for her, the perfect preparation for her career. She explains ”We would smoke weed and were totally free, our parents just let us disappear on motorcycles”. This world is firmly rooted in the work that was a standout at Manifesta 2020, the famous nomadic art festival that still managed to take over this port city during the pandemic last summer.
“I love my city, street life, beach life. These elements are so important to the people here and I am inspired by this melting pot'”
It is a work that firmly reflects the Marseille she calls home as it is slowly cleaned up, presented to the world and gentrified. ”I have never lost sight of where I am from, this city is very special, there is a sense of community and grassroots organisation. My work has to be populariste”. Dénéréaz’s work exudes warmth and a naivety that harkens back to days of scribbling on pencil cases or the graffiti of youth, of righteously stating your claim. ”I love my city, street life, beach life. These elements are so important to the people here and I am inspired by this melting pot”.
Her work yearns to reflect this: Marseille is a city that is overcoming its reputation as one of the poorest in Europe, where buildings are left to collapse in densely populated neighbourhoods and social injustice have highlighted the plight of a post-colonial France struggling to understand who and what it represents in post-Brexit Europe.
Where Delphine’s work aims to reach out and communicate to you; it is political but not preachy, an innocent rebellion of sorts. ” We live in a patriarchal and capitalist society and I am not very optimistic about crushing it” she says, ”but being a woman artist is political in itself. For a long time, women didn’t work in art, we didn’t get to exhibit in the best galleries. Textiles were always considered only to decorate the home and were not even considered art”.
“I want people to reflect and hear my message without screaming at them. At least that is my mission.”
Her defiance becomes clear: ”I feel myself getting more political”. It is true that the more weight the artist has, the more inclined they may be to wield that power. But in this polarised world, perhaps attacking people with hashtags and cancelling them does not have the desired means to effect change. Delphine is more focused on drawing people together. ”I want people to reflect and hear my message without screaming at them. At least that is my mission. Upcycling, for example, should not be a trend, it is our future and I have been working on this from the beginning, I hate fast fashion”.
Instagram has been a means for artists to garner a bigger audience without the great fear of cheapening their message. Working with brands has also become the norm and the concept of ‘selling out’ has become a confused and dangerously outmoded concept. Dénéréaz appropriates famous logos but has also worked with the very brands she takes them from. How does she avoid being a corporate shill?
”You have to have values, to defend human rights and the environment. Working with brands is difficult. If they wish to work with me it is difficult to say no when they ask me to weave something” She says. ”Just trying to brand wash will not work with me though- I won’t let them take advantage of my image”.
The concept of having to pay the rent will not die easily. Olympique de Marseille football club and Gucci have been more than happy to accept her work as a homage and in turn, these brands are fiercely worn in the grittier neighbourhoods such as Noailles. Here, young men, many wearing the city emblem of their football team, peddle Marlboro red cigarettes in narrow streets as North African life extends itself into a world of consumerism in modern Europe. Nowhere else has popularism been hijacked more successfully than in commercial sport, and Dénéréaz openly sees the contradictions between uniting people and the bread and circus of modern football, a culture in which inadequate footballers live like rockstars and have completely forgotten the true significance of what they stand for. Of who they are supposed to be.
Representing ‘the people’ is a dangerous game, but Dénéréaz insists on remaining a popular artist. ”It is important that my work is accessible and not just for museums. I would love to organise exhibitions in communities. What I do is pop culture and it is for everybody. I want to occupy public space and use soft materials to reflect the hardness of the street”.
She continues: ”My carpets are symbolic objects of the home and a sign of permanence. The first thing you do when you are comfortable in your house is to buy a rug. People sit on it together, they eat on it. There is a power in this object.” Her dream, using old bedsheets and towels to create these colourful feel-good pieces, whether they be exhibition-worthy or affordable rugs for the average member of public are forging their own way. Here, Dénéréaz is confidently navigating the cynical and institutionalised art factory and reaching into the homes of those who could not care for art one bit – something that is powerful in its own right.
Immerse yourself in the sound of Marseille with Delphine’s Summer Mix