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Guy Weladji

Founder of the Manufacture 111

Guy Weladji is the founder of the Manufacture 11 and co-founder of the Juste Debout hip hop school. The Manufacture 111 is a urban art center that recently opened in the 20th arrondissement of Paris.

{Artsper}: Could you introduce yourself and present your Manufacture 111 project in Paris?
{Guy Weladji}: The Manufacture 111 is a hybrid cultural space dedicated to contemporary art. It is a 300 meter square exhibition space with an auditorium able to accommodate 80 persons, a programming of movie projections and live shows as well as a bar and a restaurant. But the Manufacture 111 is, before all, a place for creation and encounters. Most of the exhibitions we propose are the result of a work on site by the artists. All artworks have to be created specifically for the place.

{Artsper}: Is you promoting other arts than street art in your manufacture?
{Guy Weladji}: Yes, we have a multidisciplinary programming built around the themes tackled by the artists we exhibit. For example, for the exhibition “Calligraffi” on writing, we have invited two calligraphers from Morocco (Larbi Cherkaoui et Nourredine Chater) for a collaboration with The Blind and Someone. Middle-east culture will therefore influence the themes of our concerts as well as our brunches, after works, and even our dance, theatre and cinema programming.

{Artsper}: What do you think of street art in France? What is people’s vision of it and does your project contribute to bettering its image?
{Guy Weladji}: I got into street culture over 20 years ago and I feel like what is happening with street art is the same than what happened with dancing in the 1990’s, when contemporary choreographs started to work with hip hop dancers. Seeing hip hop dancers in theatres and institutionally recognized created a real split among these dancers. On one hand, there were the purists who did not want to leave the street, and on another hand, those who immediately adapted to the real stage and demands of choreographs. Today, street art is entering in museums, galleries and major auction houses, and collectors are massively buying it. Some street artists’ market value is very high at the moment.
I think, both sides can coexist: every artist has to be able to live off his art, so he should take into account the economical aspect. The most important word for an artist is freedom. Whatever happens, an artist should be free to create. And money should not take over this creative freedom. It is a fragile balance. Our ambition at the Manufacture 111 is to provide artists with a space to create freely. Our main objective is to offer visibility to the artists, and not to sell their work, which differentiates us from galleries. It is maybe too early to say that we are contributing to bettering the image of street art, but we hope to do so with time.

{Artsper}: What are your long-term project for this place?
{Guy Weladji}: We have a lot of ongoing projects. Each exhibition last 3 months, which means that we have four artists in residence per year and we also have weekly concerts, shows and movie projections. We also work on project outside of our center, like the exhibition “We Art Urban” at the former hospital of Lagny-sur-Marne. We are used to working on several regional projects in unusual places like this.

{Artsper}: How do you see the future of street art in Paris and in the world?
{Guy Weladji}: Graffiti arrived in France in the 1980’s. Those who witnessed the phenomenon are 30 or 40 today. It is a part of their culture, and I think each generation evolves with the art and music of its time. As for dancing, today there are hip hop choreographs running national dance centers and places dedicated to hip hop culture start to open in Paris (La Place) and Lille. I think that within the next 10 or 20 years, we will see museums entirely dedicated to street art or integrating it in their collection. And perhaps street artist will be in the driving seat. It will also strengthen the market value of street artists. Based on the success of all the exhibitions on street art recently, I think it is the natural developments of today’s situation. As for the future of street art in the world, it is harder to say, but in any case, artists like Banksy, Shepard Fairey and Os Gemeos have made it a global phenomenon.

{Artsper}: Urban art is a way to reconcile people with contemporary art often considered elitist, isn’t it?
{Guy Weladji}: Street culture and urban art in particular are more accessible than contemporary art, even if urban art is the most contemporary state of art today. Everybody is familiar with it, since there is graffiti even in remote rural areas. It greatly contributes to its accessibility. Urban art can then be an introduction and a way to other forms of art, and in this sense, reconcile audience with contemporary art.

{Artsper}: You have opened a hip hop school, and you now open a center dedicated to urban art… What inspires you so much in this underground and alternative culture?
{Guy Weladji}: I co-founded the “Juste Debout School” with Bruce Ykanji in 2009. We train about a hundred dancers a year from every corner of the world. Let’s just say that I am an open-minded person: my passion for hip hop culture and my entrepreneurship nature lead me to launch all kinds of projects. It is always a challenge, since we have been the first to open a school solely dedicated to hip hop dancing. Today, a place like the Manufacture 111 is also completely new in France. If it takes off, it will probably inspire other similar initiatives.

{Artsper}: What do you think about the relation between art and internet? What do you think of Artsper?
{Guy Weladji}: Internet is everywhere today: computers, tablets, and cellphone have put the world at everybody’s reach. Everything goes faster with new technologies. Connecting art and internet helps making art more accessible.
It can be very intimidating to enter in a gallery when one is not a collector. It is like entering in a luxury store: we always feel like we do not fit, and that we cannot afford anything. Artsper goes against this, and help people realize that art is more accessible than it seems. Even if we cannot afford a masterpiece, we can still buy a screenprint of the same artist. Artsper brings art to everyone.

{Artsper}: Who is the artist you would like to spend 15 minutes with?
{Guy Weladji}: It is a rather predictable answer, but I would say Basquiat, even though it is not really an option anymore.
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