Johanne Affricot is a freelance consultant working in the field of communication and events. She was born in Italy to a Haitian mother and a Ghanaian-American father. Two years ago she founded GRIOT, an alternative hub celebrating an aesthetic, creative and cultural diversity through arts and style. With her team, Johanne also designs and develops projects for companies, brands and institutional organizations related to culture, art, music and fashion.
Johanne is proud of her team and isn’t shy to shout out to them. Celine Angbeletchy, the editor in large of GRIOT mag supervises the English version and she is an Italian-Ivorian based in London. There’s also Janine, who writes content, edits French texts and develops relations. Gaylor Mangumbu, is the only man on the team and he is Italian-Congolese, writing GRIOT mag articles.
May you introduce Johanne Affricot to SLA readers.
Sure. I was born in Rome, the city where I live, to a Haitian mother and a Ghanaian-American father.
Once someone told me that I am an activist. I prefer not to be associated to an activist. I would love to but I am not. I know some activists in Italy, they put all their energies on a cause. I do really admire them, so compared to what they do I can’t say I’m an activist. If I had to define myself, I would say that I’m a “culture activator” and a networker. That’s the only definition I feel comfortable with, that makes me feel like I’m not stuck in a box. I can be a filmmaker, a writer, an entrepreneur, everything that is devoted to spreading culture.
I’ve been working in the field of communication and cultural-art events for almost ten years. I started with a short but important experience in the former Communication Department of the General Direction for Cooperation and Development of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (which I travelled to Mali for). Since then, I’ve always worked for communication and creative agencies. Four years ago, I decided to pursue a freelance path, working for artists such as William Kentridge (South African) and organizing exhibitions and music events. Beside this, I’m also running and trying to grow this project, GRIOT. The goal of GRIOT is to collect, recount and share stories that can inspire people and “activate” culture.
When you moved to NY what exactly did you expect? And can you say your expectations were met?
I haven’t moved to NY. I often travel to the Big Apple because I have many relatives there. Last summer I went to visit them and to shoot The Expats, a web documentary series (in Italian, English and French) that explores the lives of Italian creatives with African (and Caribbean) origins who chose to leave their motherland in the search of new opportunities, as their fellow white Italians do and as their parents did in the past, from Senegal, Haiti, Eritrea, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, etc.
The title of the series is meant to be provocative, seen that in the international community this term, expat, is often associated with white people who emigrate for work-related reasons and are privileged because of that, while Africans and other nationalities are called migrants or immigrants.
But above all, I wanted to encourage a reflection not only about the existence of black Italians in Italy and abroad (when I travel many people still find incredible that there are “black” Italians), but also Italians who do not know this “different” or “diverse” Italy. In two weeks I’m launching two new episodes shot in London.
Let’s talk about GRIOT! Take us through the first 6 months.
The first six months were of discovery. I felt the need (I still do today) to see and spread a different image of everything related to Africa and its diaspora, without necessarily excluding other realities I’ve grown up with.
I created GRIOT for myself, for the people who feel the same as me and for my children (even if at the time I wasn’t a mother yet). GRIOT is for all those people who wanted to discover different stories or share their stories.
I grew up in a “white” country, and most of my family lives between Haiti and the US. While growing up, without giving the same importance I’m now paying to it, I always missed an aesthetic and cultural diversity, something that I’ve always enjoyed and experienced in my trips. But every time I got back to Italy, I missed it. And so I created GRIOT.
I’m a perfectionist when it comes to work and I had never written for a magazine before. Furthermore, I was afraid of ending up writing boring stuff, or experiencing a “cultural clash” with a world that was mine but truly not mine. You know what I mean…but in the end everything has become so familiar… maybe because it has never been something alien…it was just asleep somewhere at the back of my mind.
Four months after I launched GRIOT, I designed and developed the first Italian event for African-Caribbean-Italian creatives, and proposed it to the American Academy in Rome, which is the most important American art institution outside the States. The American Academy in Rome was organizing an exhibition called “Nero su Bianco – Black on White”. 27 artists (African, African Americans, and Italians) were invited to explore the radical shifts in perceptions of the Afro-Italian identity and subjectivity in contemporary Italy, from cultural, social and political points of view. So, on that occasion I organized “AfroItalians in the Arts Today”.
How is it looking at the moment?
It is growing. After the first episodes of The Expats came out I was contacted by a media agency to develop content for some other projects. Same thing happened three weeks ago. Let’s see.
It’s not easy, because GRIOT is self-financed and everybody involved in GRIOT, I’m talking about the core members, is investing in it, in terms of time, which is something very precious today, and creativity. They see the potential of it.
What business priorities are you focusing on now?
The main priority is always producing content. I believe we cannot talk about business without talking about content. It means culture.
In terms of business, the main focus is producing music and art events, editorial and videos, and develop projects related to fashion.Sometimes you have to put aside friendships and sacrifice for what you believe in Click To Tweet
Business development and project management are your strengths. Tell us how you do it.
It’s right. These are my strengths. The key skills I need for it are vision, determination, and perseverance. Vision, you must have a clear idea of what you want for yourself and for those surrounding you. Perseverance, you must try until you can to achieve a goal. You can quit only when you see that there’s no more room for trying. Determination, sometimes you have to put aside friendships and sacrifice the time you would commit to your family and invest it in what you believe.
Diplomacy, is another fundamental skill you need to develop businesses and manage projects. Passion is another important factor. I have no memory of working on a project I didn’t feel passionate about. And last, but not least, people skills. I am from Rome, so I’ve got a good balance of people skills.
What can you say is the experience that made a great impact on your life or one that made you to see things differently?
There’s not just one experience but many experiences that impacted on my life and made me see things differently. The more people you meet and have different experiences, the more you evolve and see the world differently.
What is your vision for your community or the world at large?
With regards to Italy and Italians with African origins, my vision for my community is to keep up what I’m doing, that is building a cultural, creative and artistic movement where people can meet, share their stories and arts.
My vision for the world at large, especially Africa and its Diaspora, is the same: narrating and sharing their stories.If I hadn’t fantasized a lot I would not have been able to do many of the things I’ve done Click To Tweet
Are you a realist or a fantasist?
I am incredibly realist, sometimes too much, but there’s also room for imagination. When I was a teenager I always used to fantasize. Growing up I found the right balance.
I think that if I hadn’t fantasized a lot I would not have been able to do many of the things I’ve done. So I cannot stop fantasizing because it’s my fuel, I would not be able to create and do what I’m trying to do.
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