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Ayoub Mounen: an artist made in exile

Updated: Jul 5, 2022

Incorporating elements of both the fine arts and applied art, former ESMOD Tunis student Ayoub Mounen’s designs transcend the boundaries of clothing to span all disciplines.

The Reborn collection presented at the Bastille Design Center in Paris certainly made a big impression last September. ‘Performance’ might, in fact, be a better word than ‘collection’, since Ayoub Mounen’s work focuses at least as much on the process as on the finished product. Performance in the creative sense, with the redesigning of existing structures to reveal what was previously hidden, analysing them to better understand what they are about, and performance in terms of staging and dramatisation; indeed, the Tunisian artist, born in 1991, was literally unveiled on stage along with 30 performers as part of this showcase.

Ayoub Moumen is the designer and artistic director behind clothing brand Refuge Engaged Wear (R.E.W Paris), which took 3rd prize in the E-fashion awards in 2018. A name with punch, one that sounds like a manifesto, but one that also represents a certain laying bare. The themes of the collections are mirrors before which the designer stands, talking about himself, about exile, and about his personal and political identity. This laying bare involves a significant use of recycled fabrics, which are (also?) getting a second chance at life, a fresh start. With regard to the technical aspect, meanwhile, this, too, has a grammar all of its own, using large scissor cuts to eloquently portray the fullness of the body,

so much so that you could be forgiven for questioning the young thirty-year-old’s actual profession, operating as he does so closely to the boundary between the fine arts and the applied arts. What if Ayoub Moumen was not a designer but rather a plastic artist at heart? What if he had really wanted to learn about clothing in order to become an artist? In a remarkable interview with magazine Artistikrezo, the artist explains the reasons that drive him to break down inter-disciplinary boundaries. “I dig deeper than a garment or what a garment means; the process of creating a garment is a combination of lots of different media. When you’re an artist, you’re free to dedicate your whole life to your discipline, but you also have the option of using all of the media around you, should you so wish. You have to allow yourself to do this, because we live in a society where you’re asked to stay in your little comfort zone. I find it so abstract that an artist wouldn’t step outside of their discipline, that they wouldn’t dabble in video, or sound, for example. The simple sound of scissors cutting through fabric can help me visualise an image, a picture that will in turn become performance”.

Performance. That’s a word that keeps cropping up. It was, in fact, by means of scenic expression that the designer once again, rightfully, expressed [LR1] with his latest creation that he presented at the Atelier des Artistes en Exil, a workspace created in 2017 by director Judith Depaule and now located on Rue d'Aboukir in Paris, in a building that also houses an Emmaüs Solidarité emergency shelter. This workshop, a branch of which has also now opened in Marseille, provides support for over 200 artists from all backgrounds and disciplines in restructuring and connecting with the professional network. “For this presentation I wanted to talk about disorder, because we all live with some degree of real internal disorder! I presented several videos, some of which I had already used for the performance entitled On marche sur des œufs (We’re walking on eggs) and staged at Subsistance in Lyon in 2020, as well as others in which I talk about disorder through the medium of a text I wrote. Clothing creates a character, just like it does on a stage or in an opera. I think about opera all the time, and my dream would be to produce an alternative opera”.

It was at ESMOD Tunis that Ayoub Moumen forged his education, with the teaching delivered by the group proving complementary to the cross-disciplinary approach required of a plastic artist. “Having a degree is mainly a source of reassurance for one’s parents, and that’s why I went to ESMOD - that and the fact that it was the only thing that was really anything like what I wanted to do in my head. All I wanted was to develop my highly artisan and very artistic skills”. The artist would, in fact, go on to complement his education not with further training but through practice. “I’m quite avant-garde; I detach myself from the past as much as possible when it comes to art history, and in my personal life as well, in fact. It’s the same journey. The artist and the person are one and the same - you can’t separate the two. It’s a personal, internal process, so you don’t need a degree in contemporary art in order to produce contemporary art. There are plenty of self-taught artists. What determines whether a piece works or not is whether it is honest, whether it comes from inside the person”.

More about the Atelier des Artistes en Exil (Artists in Exile workshop):

“The simplicity I seek is right next to the complication, and that line is so fine, so fragile”

Fragility gave rise to the NO BORDER PROJECT. The absence of borders gives rise to the imaginary. Borders are imaginary! NO BORDER is a ‘MADE IN IMMIGRATION’ project, a cameo of ideas, a hybrid mix. A minimalist dialogue of clothing. NO BORDER is an installation involving the use of responsible clothing language.

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