I really wanted the last episode of The AYA TALKS the podcast-formatted audio series produced by our communication consulting firm to end on a note that would resonate with creatives, especially Black women creatives because after all the aim of the series was to begin to sketch a / the world in which Black women based in the West unapologetically own their craft.s and can continue to reflect on what they have accomplished and what they aspire to be, do, create.
From the onset of the conversation with refreshingly brilliant artistic director, event planner/organiser and fashion business graduate, Laetitia N’Goto, I knew that I and the many who listen, would learn about the actual process of making a grand yet simple idea a reality. What is the trajectory from concept to event? How do you ensure that your vision and that of many like you before and beyond takes form in the now, particularly in a culturally saturated yet unsatiated space such as Paris?
With great humility and greater legitimacy since she created her collective Art’Press Yourself five years ago, Laetitia who originally hails from Central African Republic and grew up in Bordeaux, shared how she and her team mostly composed of womxn communication graduates, have taken space in the artistic and cultural scene in Paris. Offering a suite of creative events ranging from music-infused festivals with pop up shops, workshops and talks during the year or in the summer to creative talks with Paris-Based and international artists who can partake their experience to the younger generation, Art’Press Yourself has become a movement that stems from N’Goto’s deep appreciation for the ways in which Africa and its diasporas have influenced, shaped and significantly contributed to every single domain in the creative industries.
Her Afro chic sometimes vintage aesthetic sense reflects the vast diversity and plurality of African and diasporic cultures – from creating a festival inspired by Afrobeat pioneer, Fela Kuti to a smaller event series aimed at deepening our knowledge of Yoruba goddess, Oshun whose cult can be felt the world over. Yes the artists promoted are international but she also makes the point of inviting and therefore specifically supporting avant-garde Afropean creators, fashion designers, artisans, chefs, singer songwriters, dancers, bloggers, producers in ageless, well-known and beautifully curated Parisian venues.
Her objective is not just to acknowledge what can today simply appear as facts but rather to ensure that the contributions of the continent and the African diasporas are interlaced, and I use the term purposely here, in the very fabric of contemporary western societies at large, and French society specifically. People, Black folks included, must lean in and learn. Our histories are also founded in and upon theirs and therefore cannot be occulted or dismissed.
“We do as much, we eat as much, we want as much.”
The power of such an approach resides in Laetitia’s generous and enthusiastic temperament, her willingness to share what she herself finds transformative and enriching as well as her community-building tendencies and aspirations. She sees it as her mission to support emerging artists but also the womxn in her team who busy themselves daily planning, organising, PR-ing and digitally communicating on original and inspiring events, moved by the common desire to make each event a success. Feminism in deed not just in discourse.
She acknowledges what many creative professionals often purposely forget to mention in that she attends a considerable number of events and does plenty (!) of research before launching a new project. And when she speaks of the racism and sexism she has faced in approaching private investors or venue owners, she does so with a mixture of realism, grace and intelligence never an ounce of bitterness or frustration. Perseverance is key. Solidarity is essential. Resilience is indispensable. As Mame Fatou Niang, a French-Senegalese author and university professor recently hinted at, there is such potential in this generation of women and men creators and thought leaders in dismantling systemic oppression by simply existing as legitimate, powerful beings, our story owned and shared for the world to bear witness to and to celebrate. Laetitia makes us believe we are almost there. And for that, we say, in the Ifa tradition, Asé.
“The past is always tense, the future perfect.”
For all things Art’Press Yourself, follow their Instagram here. A new website is in the making and should be out soon. Out of their virtual Creative Talks series, a landing page was created where you can also subscribe to the collective’s newsletter here.