“Black allows me to get to what is essential,” says YZ - pronounced “eyes”. What is essential, for the Franco-British artist, is these people she renders frontally, using Indian ink, as well as the historical and political context to which they are connected. Descendants of Caribbean slaves, women soldiers from a former African kingdom, female figures from various ethnic groups emblazed in their finest ornaments… YZ depicts them on a giant scale, on wood panels, sheets of tin or the city walls. A way of rehabilitating some of the men and women that have been obscured or mistreated in History, and changing how we look at them, which has earned YZ the reputation of a socially committed artist.
However her commitment often leads off the beaten track, to places where memories and poetry come together. Sometimes her work merges with an exploration of family intimacy, as when she goes in search of her roots after her Guadeloupean grandfather. At other times she points to different temporalities that intersect with ours and give her work a particular aura. Her portraits remind us of bygone eras: Europe in the 1900s, slavery and colonization, eighteenth and nineteenth-century West Africa. All of these aspects make up an artistic approach that is truly outside of the usual and dominant codes of street art. In the urban art world, YZ absolutely stands out.
Another distinctive trait: YZ works with delicate techniques using kraft paper, marouflaged silk paper, papyrus. The medium complements the picture. It allows her to dive deeper into her subjects. In the same spirit, for her outdoor projects, she seeks to exploit the roughness of the walls. “I use the city as a material,” she explains, “and not as an exhibition space.” This attention given to her materials, not at all that surprising coming from this daughter of a sculptor and a ceramist, further adds to the embodying power of her portraits, making them even more emotionally relatable.
Yseult Digan, alias “YZ”, born in 1975, is a Franco-British artist. Her work has been presented in major institutions like the Centre Pompidou in Paris or the ArtScience Museum in Singapore. In 2017, she was selected to give a new face to Marianne - the national personification of the French Republic - as she appears on postage stamps, a reinterpretation which she named “Marianne l’Engagée.” In 2019, Eurotunnel entrusted her with the creation of a monumental work on both sides of the Channel. After having lived and worked for several years in Senegal and Ivory Coast, she now resides in France.