Words: Kazeem Kuteyi Photography: Kahlil Hernandez, Nefertiti Hernandez
I spotted Safia in a Levi’s campaign and I didn’t know who she was or what she represented. But I knew she was interesting. Before I even emailed her, I made the customary move by checking her Instagram page and it was filled with pictures of her face photo-shopped into popular images. Things became more confusing when I checked her website to view her work and on her site were seven carefully written biographies. One of them read, “At 4 she was a model for Keith Haring and then improved her technical skills by becoming a copyist.” Another one read, “At 20, she left prison and worked as a janitor at ELLE magazine to pay her way, and it was there that her work was discovered”. When I asked her about the different biographies, she says, “Only one of those bios are my real life. It’s natural for us to tell stories.”
It’s hard to pinpoint what she actually does, what earns her the most money or what she’s best at. If I had to give her a title, I’d say, “creative polymath”. Her resume is stacked. From publications, to photography, videos, music and oh, add tattoo artist to the list. Check her Instagram page, it’s the perfect snapshot into her mind. Her art is provocative.
It’s no mistake that our conversation with Safia was short. We were supposed to meet at her studio a day prior to this meeting but her schedule changed. And on the day we were supposed to meet, she was running late. She told us to wait at a cafe, one that oozed American culture. Most of the customers spoke fluent English and the servers reminded me of the guys who served coffee at a café I frequented back home in Toronto. And during our conversation we were interrupted by one of the servers who politely asked us to leave if we weren’t buying lunch. He said he had customers waiting.
At the end of our interview she said I could send her more questions if I wanted to. But while I was putting this piece together, I thought to myself, I could send her questions and make this interview longer and have it fit with the other longer reads in order to be consistent. But I felt that our short conversation had captured the true essence of New Currency- to inspire any young creative kid to simply go out and do.
What do you do?
A long time ago, I was a drug dealer and I didn’t have my high school education. I stopped just before the final exam because I had to make money. One day, I tried to draw something just for fun and when I finished I said, “Oh fuck, I can draw ”. My life was all over the place. During the day I was drawing and with my money I earned I bought the best camera, the best printer and I could do whatever I wanted in my place, then I got pregnant. I was scared. I felt like I couldn’t do anything else but wait for the baby. And then I enrolled in art school and discovered I could do many things like photography, videos, print, books. When I have an idea and I feel a video is the best way to show the idea, I’ll learn how to do it.
What’s creativity to you?
I don’t know. It’s a good thing but it’s a hard thing for me because if I didn’t do drawing, a text, or work on an image in Photoshop, I’m dying. I need to create more than I eat or sleep.
You think everyone’s born creative?
I don’t know. I think we’re all different. Maybe the society that we live in doesn’t give us the place to be creative.
What pushes you to do what you do every day?
I begin each day as if it was the first and end each day as if it was the last. I could be dead at any moment and that makes me want to share as much as I can.
What influences your work?
Life. People. Meeting new people.
Do you think meeting us will influence your work?
Yeah. You know, last week a guy told me that the drawing that I did was based on our discussion and I think he was proud of it. I don’t overthink it. I’m talking with you right now, right?
You’re a part of my day and I’m meeting you. I’m about life, I’m about real things, and feelings.
What’s the Parisian creative community like?
Yeah. I mean it’s not my objective to be…..I have to be with people that I can share. I think I only have creative people around me- I have this creative friend who is an architect-that’s a type of creativity. Define non-creative people?
Well, in my own opinion, I think everyone is creative. Kahlil can come up with a cool idea or concept for a surprise birthday for his friend, that’s creativity. Or if he comes up with a cool gift idea and thinking hard to what his friend will like, I feel that’s creativity. You have an idea and you’re bringing it to life. I do think that creativity gets educated out of us. For example, I went to school for criminology-I wanted to do music production first and my parents were like, that’s not gonna happen. But then on graduation day I’m super miserable and I ended up going back to school for advertising. It’s brings me to this-do you believe in the idea of following your dream?
I think that’s a touchy subject for me but you have to follow what’s inside you. I’m the one in a group of friends that you call on a Sunday morning because on the Saturday night you made a mistake. You know, it’s life and we make mistakes. I have a book publishing company and I published a book on a famous French rapper, Booba- he lives in Miami now and he’s been making music since 20 years and for me he’s someone really important-my grandmother knows him and my daughter knows him. He’s an icon for our generation; he’s like Jay Z. One of his first tracks was, ‘No Time For Regrets’. I grew up on this since I was a teenager.
What would you tell someone who wants to get into art?
Don’t follow the hype. Try and listen to what what’s inside you. Even if it’s hard, you have to finish something to figure out if it was good or bad for you. If you don’t finish it, you won’t know. Think, don’t talk and just do it.