Johanna Tagada interview

"The idea that happiness can be reached quite simply is strongly present in my work." Say bonjour to the delightful Johanna Tagada.

Interview by Casey Hutton
June 2013

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i. Textile design and tote bag
ii. Dimanche soir, working in the studio
iii. Drawing in the studio
iv. Paint, 2012
v.  Géométrie Suisse
vi. COLLETION #1 — zine by Johanna Tagada, 2012
vii. Analog Diary, paintings on the wall
viii. Deux autoportraits

All photographs © Johanna Tagada 2013

Hi Johanna! What are you up to today?  

Bonjour! Today is Sunday. I visited a new apartment, as I decided to keep Berlin as a home base! I'm really excited about it. After that I had lunch with friends and we went to a local flea market, where I got myself a book about Egyptian art in the 19th century. Now I'm back home working and photographing my last zine, published by the Australian Sunroom Press. Later I will start to pack ­– in two days I fly to France for a ten-day trip!

You work across textiles, photography, publishing, painting, drawing… Where did it all begin and how has your practice developed?

Drawing and painting came at first – they’re media with which I like to experiment and have fun. With time, that led me to pattern design and allowed me to fulfil my textile work. I turn some of those drawings into patterns, select a few of the patterns to get printed digitally on fabric, and use the fabrics to sew items like bags and wallets, which you can purchase in my online shop but also in selected stores.

My photographic work – mostly an ongoing project named Analog Diary – simply began after an analogue camera was given to me in October 2011. I see a lot of similarities in painting and analogue photography, and I think of the same things when doing both of them – things such as colours, frame, texture and, of course, feelings.

How did you end up collaborating with Sunroom Press on your latest zine, Petit Studio, a Studio Portrait? 

One day Liam from Sunroom Press left a kind comment on my blog. I followed the link and that's how I discovered Sunroom Press. I immediately loved it! It looked simple and good to me – also unpretentious, which is something that I like.

At the moment I publish the Colletion series of zines on my own but I always have so many ideas for zines and books in my head, and would love to make more (which means don't hesitate to get in touch if you are a publisher).

I contacted Liam, explained my idea for this zine, and we quickly started working together (thanks to the internet!). Rey [of illustration and graphic design team MMav] and myself designed the zine in Paris while I was visiting him, and Liam published it in Australia. It's not always the simplest thing to work at a distance, but working with Liam was easy and nice. Sometimes when writing emails the stuff mentioned became really detailed, and I thought, 'Pff, what I'm saying is impossible to understand,' but Liam always understood it exactly. I'm incredibly happy about how the zine came out.  

"I can remember I wanted to have an amazing life..."

What were you like as a child? What did you want to be when you grew up?

As a child I was hyperactive, and that's not a joke! I was reading a lot, doing a lot of sport, building stuff... I imagined myself being a dancer or a painter in the future.

I can remember I wanted to have an amazing life – go here and there, learn this, learn that. I made my grandmother crazy with all I wanted to do. I had notebooks in which I stuck images of the countries where I wanted to go, the animals I wanted to see.

Do you come from a creative family?

My grandmother used to do a lot of work with textiles (sewing, knitting, embroidering) and is able to fix everything in or outside of the house, which I believe you have to be creative for. But besides her, no one in my family has a creative hobby or job.

One of the most striking things about your work is your sense of pattern and colour. What has influenced your style?

Two things are at the origin of what you nicely refer to as my ‘sense of pattern and colour’ ­– my daily life, and folkloric art. I have always paid a lot of attention to my surroundings, wherever I am, and always like to capture elements that I judge aesthetically interesting in my sketchbooks and, for the past few years, in my photography. And it's those elements I have in mind when creating a part of my body of work.  

The second thing is linked to my roots but also to folkloric art in general. I love traditional techniques… I can get lost for hours in books about traditional fabrics or things such as ceramics.

Your own cultural background includes French, Caribbean, Algerian and Jewish ties. How does this affect your outlook and your art?

My roots – or precisely the fact that I am of mixed origin – have a strong influence on my approach to life. I believe I'm quite open-minded and always doing my best to understand, even when it seems hard at first glance. To have this plural cultural background hasn't always been easy, but as the years go by I see it more as a gift. Some elements of those cultures also have an influence on my art and design, and on what I decide to undertake (writing for African Digital Art for example).

"To have this plural cultural background hasn't always been easy, but as the years go by I see it more as a gift."

You're from France but have been living in Berlin. How have you found Berlin?

The area where I grew up in France borders with Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg, so since childhood it's been normal to spend time in other countries. That's a different reality than the one of a person growing up in Paris, for example.

After my studies I went to Canada for a short period, but I had this thing with Switzerland in my head. I was studying really close to Basel and went there every week. I was wondering, ‘How would it be to live in Switzerland?’ Well, that's what I did soon after! I moved to Zürich for almost a year. It was like a postcard life but honestly hard to afford financially.  

That's how I found Berlin. I went there for holidays and loved it! Financially you couldn't even compare it to Zurich. At that time a parking place in Zurich was similar to the rent of a small but lovely apartment in Berlin!  So, I left Zurich for Berlin in May 2011.

What have you learnt from living in other countries?

First of all to adapt, but also to question myself as well as my culture and the cultures of others. In Berlin more than anywhere else, I’ve met people from so many places in the world. My friends here are from everywhere, and the ways they think and behave are sometimes incredibly different. I'm glad not to judge with a negative eye but to always do my best to understand.

You also learn to get tough. It's not easy 365 days a year when you are a young woman living alone in a foreign country. You might have to face some issues but, as they say, there is something to learn from every situation.

And, of course, languages! My English became fluent in Canada, as did my German in Berlin. A lot of my friends here are Japanese; hopefully with the classes I take my Japanese is on the right track.

What ideas recur in your work?

My work is partly autobiographical, so deals a lot with intimate feelings and experiences. The idea that happiness can be reached quite simply is also strongly present, I believe, as well as the idea of uncertainty and ephemerality.

Quick questions:

My favourite time of day is… waking up with music and having breakfast alone with a book, or with friends.

I love… books, my friends, travelling, my camera, internet, tea.

The best advice I've been given is… don't be scared.

Home is… where you want it to be!