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O’Plérou is an Ivorian artist & designer exploring the relation between art, culture, representation and our modern digital lives. He created 365+ emojis to promote African cultures, an app named to make them usable as stickers and is working on a collaborative platform to document traditional & modern cultural phenomenons of Africa. His work has been featured in The New York Times, BBC, CNN and he was named in Forbes Africa 30 Under 30 list.
Zouzoukwa is a project at the intersection of art, design, culture and technology created by the Ivorian artist & designer O’Plérou. Every day of 2018, he challenged himself to create a new emoji inspired by the daily life and traditional elements of Africa and publish it on Instagram.
After designing the 365 emojis, O’Plérou created an app to make them usable as stickers for iMessage and WhatsApp. The result: more than 100,000 downloads and hundreds of positive reviews. But why did he start that project and why is it important?
He told CNN “I noticed that the media and most articles about Africa were talking about the bad sides of the continent only. They reduce the image of it to a land in war where people are poor and hungry”. The representation of Africa as a depressing monolith was so far from reality that the artist decided to use his voice and art to share the sides of the story the media don’t tell: Africa is a diverse, multicultural and infinitely complex continent.
Inspired by technology and the digital world where he was not represented, he decided to create original emojis showing the diversity of rural and urban cultures. Food, hairstyles, masks, dances, gestures, he visually translated these elements using the codes of the modern day tools on the internet.
The importance of representation, decolonization and decentralization
Growing in Côte d’Ivoire, O’Plérou was often exposed to the pervasive fatalist thinking stating that African people are “cursed”, lazy, and unable to create anything good. He also noticed that people of his age were not interested in their own cultures, and were trying to look like copies of the West.
Understanding that this is a direct consequence of colonization, he decided to dedicate himself to using his art as he could to heal the scars of this generalized trauma. He wants to create art that will allow him to help his community feel represented, included, important and conscious that they still have the potential to make things change.
Today his creations can only be used as stickers because emojis are decided by the Unicode Consortium, but the designer is hoping for a future where technology will be decentralized without having to wait for the approval of one structure.
The need to expand of the project
At the end of the 365 days project, O’Plérou became aware of an issue with the project: most of his emojis were about West Africa only. Because he was the only one deciding on which element should be “emojified”, he didn’t know what people from other countries wanted to use, even if he accepted emoji suggestions while doing the project.
This is why he is working on a digital collaborative platform made by people from Africa to help people learn about African cultures through articles, photos, augmented reality, and where his artwork will be used as actual emojis.
He also plans to create a social token for the project, hoping to have an economic impact on the community because he believes the value of a community should return to it.
A selection of the 365 original emojis created by O’Plérou will be released exclusively on SuperRare to help him make an income and work on his vision.