Interview by Lauren Heinz
Translated by Corali Houlton
Photographs by Marie Hudelot
Marie Hudelot tells Lauren Heinz about using caricature to explore her biracial French-Algerian identity, experimenting with dress and cultural props to illustrate the sometimes humorous, sometimes painful experience of growing up straddling two worlds.
What was your inspiration for the Heritage series?
For this series I was largely inspired by my own family history, with my mother’s family coming from Algeria and my father’s from France. Their stories and journeys were both so different, in terms of perspective and social class, but instead of dividing them based on these factors, I looked to reunite them.
I was very inspired by the humor of my Algerian family, using mockery and caricature to express but also downplay the differences between the two cultures and traditions—such opposing forces during my upbringing—and place them on the same level.
I was also inspired by Woody Allen’s ‘Zelig’ character, as if the chameleon-esque Zelig had found himself a part of my family and transformed himself in relation to the events they overcame, such as the bombings of the Second World War and the move to Provence, but also the apprehension and the discovery of each other, of another culture, the experience of being a mixed couple (for my mother and my father) and the meeting of one other’s families; the journey across Spain for my Algerian family, the females’ fight for their independence, the French upper-class-style upbringing, racism, and so on…
“I was very inspired by the humour of my Algerian family, using mockery and caricature to express but also downplay the differences between the two cultures and traditions—such opposing forces during my upbringing—and to place them on the same level.”
I was also influenced by painting, particularly still life. On my father’s side of the family, there have been multiple generations of painters and I have inherited some paintings. This was very important for me—it was basically my only link to art because at the time I was not allowed to think of art as a potential profession or field of study. I was the first in the family to attach myself to this medium and so it was a new path to carve out.
Does your background have an influence on most of your personal work?
Naturally, my past, my personal experiences beyond those of my ancestors influence me, and do so more and more. Generally speaking, I’m exploring biracialism, the meeting of two cultures with their different customs and dress. ‘Camouflage au drapeau’ and ‘l’Ananas’ are more personal, they explore the racism that I found myself in the playgrounds at school. That moment where they pointed the finger at me to tell me that I was different, because of my origins and the colour of my skin. My pictures help me to remain positive in the face of these unhappy experiences but equally remind me of lines we must not cross.
“I feel particularly concerned by the theme of biracialism. It seems to me to be natural to cement it in portraiture. The human by the human, sort of.”
Why do you think portraiture is best suited to express the ideas and themes you want to communicate through your work?
I’m talking about identity and human experiences at the point in history of my ancestors, but also in terms of my own [experiences] and what I observe in our contemporary society. I feel particularly concerned by the theme of biracialism. It seems to me to be natural to cement it in portraiture. The human by the human, sort of.
What were the challenges you encountered in creating this series?
I make portraits to give me some distance to see the breadth of the socio-political subjects I am concerned with, those which affect or challenge me. You could say I give myself two challenges in each series. On the one hand, I liberate my thoughts, my ideas, questions, my memories as I shoot. It’s kind of like an act of self-awareness. Everything I have collected is released into the frame at the moment my images are created. There is a frame, a limit: to the place and the theme but especially to time as I work with natural light. During the creation and the placement of props, it’s kind of like a meeting where all my ideas live together and come together as a whole. So I have the technical challenge on one hand and on the other, the challenge to keep a good distance between what affects me personally and how to explain this in a way which is accessible to the viewer. I look to create a dialogue, an exchange, and not a self-centred monologue on my life. It’s also because of this that up until now, my characters have not been personally identifiable, sometimes I even try to blur the concept of genre.
Do you have a favourite image from the series and if so, why?
[‘Camouflage au drapeau’ is ] one of the first images in the series where I realised that I had managed to mitigate my feelings and my personal challenge had begun to find the right way. For this image I created a double dialogue. On the one hand to talk about racism in evoking the flag and the skull, reminiscent of vanity but also a nod to the KuKluxKlan series by Andres Serrano (who I met and worked with after). It was my way of raising the issue of barbarism. Is it inevitable, something we can all experience, and in what ways does it show itself even today? How, depending on context, it could be the start of new atrocities or will it remain in the past? On the other hand, with this image we can see the vain side of painting which at the same time is a homage to my paternal French family who loved hunting. I like being able to evoke different readings from the same image from the most happy and positive to a chain of more politically engaged ideas.
Marie Hudelot was born in Toulon in 1981. After studying cinema she enrolled at the Université Paris 8 to study Photography and Multimedia. Fuelled by autobiographical elements, her work questions notions of identity and cultural affiliations. She constructs symbolic portraits inspired by her family’s heritage and culture, divided between France and Algeria. Hudelot’s work was recently exhibited in Paris in her first solo show and has been presented at European festivals such as Circulations in Paris, Econtros Da Imagen in Portugal and Fotofestival in Poland.
nineteensixtyeight presents a selection of 8 images from the series Heritage, available to buy in our shop.