GT: Tell us about Delphine Diallo, the artist, and your background.
DD: I’m French Senegalese, born and raised in Paris. My mom was teaching me how to draw and paint at a really young age. At 23, I became a graphic designer/animator. After seven years of that, I traveled to Africa to discover more about my family in 2003. Then I started to shoot my first pictures, and I did the Magic Photo Studio series.
How did your heritage influence who you are today?
My mom could never live without art. She was painting while she was pregnant with me. My Senegalese dad was very disciplined and tough. My dad was Muslim and my mum was Christian, but they didn’t practice. The education was pretty strict. When I was young, my mum put me in a martial arts class, so I had this discipline with education.
You dabbled in the music industry as well…
I worked in the music industry for seven years, on graphic design, album art, and ads. One of the artists I worked with for two years in Paris was Manu Chao. He was one of my first mentors. He allowed me to see the purpose and journey of an artist. Manu Chao was very successful, and he works very hard. It was really good to see that and relate to it at my young age.
So when did you move to New York?
I came to New York in 2007. I learned English in about six months. I was hired by a video editing company, and I learned how to video edit in about one month from scratch. I was so focused. That was the period when I started to understand how the brain works. If you believe strongly in something, nothing’s going to stop you if you’re determined.
I have seen some amazing videos of yours online. Are they all by you?
Some I did, and some are by Coodie Simmons from Creative Control. He’s really good. I think it’s very important, if you’re doing art or conveying a vision, to control your images. You need to be consistent in your message. People have to understand that you’re smart as well as cute, so the message you’re trying to convey doesn’t get lost. You know we live in a very superficial society.
So why New York City?
Going back to my background of mixed race, there was a time when I was in crisis with my identity. I had to find a location that related to my own beliefs, which was really hard. There isn’t really a multicultural world in Paris. Yes, there are mixed people, but it’s not reflected in the work. I was the only black girl in the entire division of the production company where I worked. Sometimes I would say I was a model to go on the set to shoot. After a while I realized, I don’t think I can evolve in Paris. New York is a believers’ city, one of the best places to be. You can relate to people. There are so many stories.
By the way, congratulations on your Kickstarter project. How did that whole experience affect you?
It changed a lot of my perspectives on a lot of things. First of all, it was only 2 ½ years ago that I really decided to become a full-time artist, I mean doing that every day, all day. I was never really looking for photography jobs. I always thought it was against the vision. I was trying to create a stamp of my work, and the only way I could do that was to not work for anyone for a while. I didn’t watch TV, and I didn’t watch movies. I realized life is much more beautiful than a movie. Unless someone would hire me to take a portrait, I would refuse to work for anyone, because I knew it would go against the vision. Iactually felt I had to work faster than everybody else. So all my work that you seewas produced in the past 2 ½ years, except the Magic Photo Studio series.
That required a lot of discipline, right?
You have to learn how to say no most of the time. For the Kickstarter campaign, it became a moral and ethical contract of giving back to people who trust you. It was a pretty fascinating process. It’s like martial arts, you are actually training your brain to be wise and strong. For me, my technique to stay inspired is to watch around me every day and be totally amazed, and just be 100% in the moment. It can be anything around you that inspires you. You don’t even have to travel to find out the world around you is beautiful.
You’ve referenced martial arts a lot…
Six months ago, here in New York, I started Kung Fu. If your body is not strong enough, the art is not going to be so pure. The honesty and purity of your art is what keeps you alive. Success for me is to be as pure as I can in my art. That’s a big goal for me. There are a lot of fake ways to be successful these days, and I don’t want to step away from the good essence of the work.
How have your trips, in particular to Africa, inspired you?
Wow. It was like, this is crazy. People are alive, they’re sharing, there’s family helping each other, it’s a kind of circle of life that works despite the problems. There’s so much spirit and wisdom and heart there that the society doesn’t have here.
Outside of everything else, what do you do for fun?
I have a lot of good friends for sure. I’ve been going to some good exhibitions as well, and doing my martial arts, so I’m very focused. When you start to produce your own work, you do need to spend a lot of time with yourself.
What’s in the future?
A lot. The future is going to be big. My concept is to actually create a movement. I decided now that people know me, I want to go back to the universal message towards the art and the gift. The concept is to produce four minutes of documentation of 26 artists in New York. The concept of the show is related to wisdom, spirit and the creative process. As the casting director, I don’t care if the person is famous or not. What I’m looking for is people who have power that I can see and shoot with my camera. They’re amazing.
The name is of the show is?
The Gift New York
So where can people find your work?
My website, DelphineDiallo.com.
Any last words?
I always say my biggest inspiration comes from love. I believe sharing love is important, and I don’t mean in a sexual way. You have to believe there’s love everywhere and realize that when you give it out, you get it back.