The Africa Centre recently unveiled vibrant artwork on the hoarding at the site of its new headquarters in Southwark, London. The colourful illustrations have totally transformed the area around Great Suffolk Street and brought much buzz.

Typically, building sites are covered by uninspiring hoarding designs that focus primarily on construction messaging. However, we saw an opportunity to bring colour and excitement to the local area with our hoarding design. So, we commissioned Paris-based illustrator and artist Aurélia Durand to design powerful and compelling artwork. Her bold illustrations have disrupted (positively) the public realm around our current location and created opportunities for public engagement. Aurelia’s colourful and vibrant Afro-pop style reflects our renewed vision for the future – engaging with members of the community across generations.

We also worked with Peckham-based visual artist Sani Sani to paint a mural on a section of the hoarding. This was a collaborative project with students from nearby Borough Academy who actively participated in the process. Sani’s mural depicts African and Caribbean icons, both past and present from across generations and disciplines.

The overall hoarding design also shows elements of our new brand identity designed by South Africa-based Mam’gobozi Design Factory. We plan to officially reveal our new branding in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we expect more interaction with our hoarding artwork as COVID-19 guidelines are relaxed further and people start coming back to the streets of South London.

We reached out to Aurélia, whose artwork represents Afro-descendants as joyful, proud, and empowered, a united community whose destinies are intertwined. She graciously provided the following interview:

How did you get started as an illustrator and at what point did you realise that this is something you wanted to do for a living?

AD: I studied art and design for six years in France and Denmark. I wanted to be a product designer, to design objects every day, but after I got my Master’s, things changed; it was hard to find a job as a product designer so I just started drawing to express my frustration. My desire was to find a way to connect with communities and discuss subjects that matter to me, diversity, and my African heritage.

How would you describe your unique style and how do you want people to feel when they interact with your work?

AD: My work is deliberately colourful and is inspired by pop art, African wax, pop culture, afro-pop, Afro beats, and more. I like my work to be playful, joyful and to make people smile. It’s a feel-good art that is designed to bring joy.

Out of all the brilliant work that you have done over the years, is there one that stands out as your favourite? If so, why?

AD: I have no favourite artwork as such; I would rather say that I like to see my work and style evolve over time. For example, I appreciate the work I’m producing today more than what I was creating two years ago. I can see that through practice, my work is constantly evolving, and that makes me happy.

What was the inspiration behind the illustrations you did for The Africa Centre? How was it different, if at all, from what you’ve done for others before?

AD: I wanted to represent the Black community and express unity and joy through my art. It has also opened doors for me to interact with others and celebrate their culture.

London, much like Paris, is a vibrant and multicultural city. However, marginalised communities still get overlooked in the midst of all the vibrancy through cultural appropriation. From your perspective, what role can art play to ensure that all people, particularly the young, are seen and heard?

AD: Art is an excellent way to express ideas and to spread new perspectives. It always fulfilled that purpose. It reflects our world. I am glad to be part of a new movement whose potential and impact are not fully realised yet. Part of the Black Lives Matter movement, a global movement fighting for more diversity and inclusion in the world. We, artists, are utopian; we help elevate ideas.

Your work is so bold and colourful, does it reflect your own personality too? How do you remain joyful and exuberant in the midst of challenging times such as the COVID-19 pandemic?

AD: My work is different from my personal life. I am not as exuberant as my work. I am actually an introvert; art helps me to open up more and to express my fantasies. I am not always that happy, but I like the idea that my work is bringing joy because it helps me to be more optimistic; that’s why I do it.

What advice do you have for other talented young people across the world that want to pursue a career in art but are not sure where or how to start?

AD: To all aspiring artists out there, just tell your story through your art; people are interested and will respond to your honesty.

Your work has brought so much joy and excitement, what have you learned about The Africa Centre since being commissioned for this project?

AD: I have learned that The Africa Centre aims to connect people and transmit the richness of all the cultures from Africa and its diaspora. It is the place for African culture in London and promotes diversity and social interaction.

We look forward to inviting you to the opening of our new building later this year – do you have any words for your fans in London?

AD: I want to come and do a new exhibition at The Africa Centre and connect with people in real life. I used to come to London a lot and I like the energy of the city. It’s inspiring. I look forward to seeing you soon, London!

The Africa Centre’s hoarding design will be in place until spring 2022 when we expect to open doors to our new home. We look forward to welcoming everyone into our new home!

**The high-quality printing and installation of Aurelia’s artwork was done by Lavastar.