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In conversation with Safae

Our Activist of Optimism

In collaboration with Zalando, Glamcult went on the hunt for expressive artists that wholeheartedly embody the spirit of an Activist of Optimism; consciously spreading joy through their art. As part of this studio trilogy, our next stop took us to Safae Gounane’s, where we went to talk with the artist and model about how she channels intuition into action.

Ever since she first picked up a drawing pencil at six years old, Safae hasn’t stopped living and breathing creativity. Forever experimenting with her subconscious mind and (in)direct environments, she layers on different experiences and emotions during her process. Safae admits, the painting hanging behind her on the wall will most likely never be finished (but that’s okay), as every piece of art is just as intentional as it is intuitive. Intuition plays a key role here, a quality Safae uniquely embodies. Bold colours help her express an inner world that we can’t always grasp on the outside, as being alone in her space is when she is happiest: painting by herself and for herself, without anyone watching, doing what she does best.

Hi Safae, how are you? How’s your day been so far?
Hey! I’m good. The weather is so nice today, I will be going to the beach after this interview…

As both an artist and model, you work a lot with your body’s essence and intellectual being. How do you experience this creative way of working?
I usually take every experience I have and just combine it into my work. With modelling, I like to meet and work with all kinds of people and photographers. Working with my body in front of the camera is something that happens quite naturally. With my art however (in terms of physicality and embodiment), a couple of years ago I had some performances, which were also interesting to do. Overall, though, I wouldn’t say my art and modelling go hand in hand right now, but I don’t think they need to!

It’s two different ways of working! In your art, you often abstractly play with the realm between fantasy and reality. When you paint or draw, are you being guided by a feeling, intuition, or rather a specific idea you hold in mind?
It’s super intuitive actually. I just draw a lot. I often take ideas from different drawings I make and combine them into a new composition. But recently I have also been trying to work with different melodies to combine with my created animations. I just listen to the melodies I made, close my eyes, and all sorts of images and narratives start to pop up. I really rely on myself. When I was younger, I would go online for inspiration. Now, I like to search through books, and Encyclopedia, and take photographs. It’s all just straight to the point images, and I like to just work my way around them.

This is such an interesting, yet raw development.
In art school, we are often forced to explain ourselves, and I must say it’s pretty satisfying for yourself to be able to do that and figure out if something stems from your childhood or subconscious memory. I’m very interested in researching that intuition.

Sometimes it’s almost impossible to put certain experiences into words. But going back to the basics, what led you to painting and creating in the first place? Could you take us through this journey?

It really started when I was young. I would draw a lot in school. When I was at my grandparents house I would draw with pen on flyers and envelopes my grandparent got in the mail. I randomly found this one tutorial of how to draw a realistic pencil when I was around six/seven. Being able to recreate something like that gave me a certain joy. From there I started copying cartoons I really liked. In high school, I got more into drawing abstract faces and making interesting bodies in these really weird concept and environments. At a certain point you have to pick which direction you want to go, but I had no clue. The only thing I knew was making. I’m really lucky to have my mom, because she really encouraged me to do it. I’m Moroccan, the immigrant mindset often is that there is no room for having jobs in the creative field, because it is quite unsure if you will make money. I’m happy to be one of the first generations of my family to be able to do what I really want to, and break that boundary. My mom did not have the options to pick and choose, yet she really wants me to. When I was younger, I would worry “should I really go to art school? Am I gonna make money off art?”, but now I know that just doing what you want is the best thing.

"Me just making things that I like to do is a really good feeling. Not being tied down to what people think, nor their expectations."

Having this new mindset, not only personally, but generationally must be liberating. Do you actively engage with your contextual environment whilst you work?
It starts off with just doing my thing, creating a lot, and looking at things that inspire me. But there’s things that regularly come back a lot: bodily figures, social settings and certain environments. Especially as a woman looking at social settings, you see how, for example, all these different layers of the patriarchy come back into your life. Working from my experiences and an observing viewpoint, I simply can’t ignore the things that are going on around me.

I imagine your art sometimes even forces you to look through all these societal layers?
Yeah, I often say, my hands do the thinking and afterwards, I start to make sense of it and connect the dots.

You play in the realm between fantasy and reality. For your most recent work, you illustrated, designed and recorded an animation video called “Field of Rhythm” drawing on the many intensities of intimacy. What was the inspiration behind this project?
Mostly wanting to try something out with music and narratives. I have no musical background, but I was just messing around with this tiny keyboard I could plug into my laptop. With Field of Rhythm, the first thing I saw pop in my in my head were these two women driving in the car towards something in a big field. I wrote it down and afterwards it became the “Field of Rhythm”. It’s quite poetic to me in a way, because rhythm is everything and everywhere, it’s all a pattern!

Would you like to pursue making music in your further work?
Maybe do it again within my animations, just to keep it very close to me. But I also have a partner who is into music. Let’s see if he can show me some things.

How handy! When it comes to the materials you use, is this an intuitive pick-and-choosing, or more of a meticulous process?
I’m very strict about only using acrylic paint for some reason. I always felt too impatient for oil paint, ha-ha. Maybe I should look into that as well, but because acrylic dries really fast, it pushes me to make decisions more quickly. I really like that way of working as well. Usually, I have a feel of what colours I want, and you can always add layers of course. You just need patience really! It’s a process of getting to know yourself within the making process.



There’s beauty in the struggle. Your paintings are often inspired by modern day pop-culture. What is your artistic relationship to the surrounding world?
I used to take a lot of pictures of my environment, of my friends, random items I saw on the street. But I also took pictures at parties. A party environment is particularly interesting to me, because people are really honest in their motions when in spaces filled with strangers, music, and also when alcohol is involved. It’s quite a loose environment, filled with all types of people. But this was one of my artistic inspiration before corona.

And what about post/during-corona?
I’ve always been especially frustrated with all the catcalling that goes on. Now summer is here, I realised I was having to think twice about what I wear – which I don’t really give a fuck about anymore, but it bothered me so much that I am thinking of making an animation based off of that experience.  So, it’s not only fun experiences, it’s also honest experiences that I try to capture.

Your first animation video ‘Corona Feelings’ touches on these similarly dense topics (such as loneliness), whilst maintaining a certain lightness. Overall, it resulted in a very personal video touching upon your lived situations during the global lockdown, and how art can save the dread of a boring day. Are you paintings and art therapeutic for you, helping you work through this experience?
Hmm… that’s a good question. When I did research about my family, for example, a lot of close stories came up which I never knew about. So, me uncovering that through my art is also something that could be seen as something therapeutic to me, because I get to know more about my family. With friends it’s also nice to see how you have this little moment together, it’s quite intimate to draw someone! Therapeutic doesn’t have to be crazy intense, it can also be a moment of joy.

Do you generally feel a lot of joy when you create your art?
Definitely. Me just making things that I like to do gives me a good feeling. Not being tied down to what people think, nor their expectations. I’m still young. Doing what I like to do is something I always stand by, also in the way I like to express myself, intuitively and personal, . Things that don’t necessarily always make sense, ha-ha. Sometimes people come up to me and ask me ‘oh wow, did you make that? I did not expect you to make that!’. My art is an extension of me that people don’t immediately get to see, because I’m quite timid. But my art expresses a lot about how I think and see things.

It seems a universal rule that something always gives you energy once you really enjoy doing it.
Yes, absolutely!

Photography: Lobke Leijser 
Creative direction & Styling: Rogier Vlaming
Words: Brechtje Polman
Production: Pieta Thuring

In collaboration with Zalando