Eric just photographed this beautiful fabric from the Goutte d'Or. It's a collaboration I did with one of the Cocoon organizers there, Smaïl Kanouté, who was born and grew up near the neighborhood. Smail created the design based on a drawing of a Cocoon skeleton from one of my Goutte d’Or storyboards, then silk-screened the cotton fabric by hand.
One of Smaïl's many talents is designing fabric. He's a founder and member of WEAR-T, which creates silk-screened T-shirts and other clothing, and he recently collaborated with Parisian designer Xuly Bët, designing fabric for the Xuly Bët Funkin' Fashion Factory. In the portrait below (also by Eric), Smail is wearing a t-shirt of his own design.
Smaïl also dances. Just yesterday he performed in the Pantheon in a piece by choreographer Radhouane El Meddeb. He also recently danced in a production of Raphaëlle Delaunay’s Bitter Sugar.
But the first project he showed me, on one of my earliest trips to the Goutte d'Or, is still perhaps my favorite of his. In it he mapped the ongoing connections between Fégui, a small village in Mali where his parents grew up, and Europe, between the people who stayed and the people who've left.
I saw the work he had done to link people and families over time and space, and his deep understanding of how a village is connected through its many generations. I soon hired him to be a field organizer for COCOON, in the village of the Goutte d'Or in Paris, to reach out to groups and individuals on behalf of the project and bring them into it.
It certainly helped me that Smaïl had grown up almost literally in the streets of the 18th arrondissement and knew everyone. Not that he was homeless. He lived with his parents and five siblings -- eight in a small studio. The streets were “how we discovered life,” he says.
During his childhood, his parents turned down several offers to move to larger apartments just outside of Paris, preferring the city's better schools and vibrant neighborhoods. After 20 years they got a bigger place in the Goutte d’Or. In the meantime, Smaïl graduated from the prestigious École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs.
Today, Smaïl still lives in the Goutte d'Or. I'm hoping to team up with him for another Cocoon project soon.