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AOTW #3: Miscegenation, Metaphors and Marionettes- the artistic world of Maëlle Foix.

Maëlle Foix, our friend and long-term artistic partner, is this weeks Artist of the Week! She speaks with Manon Jourdan about her work, past and present, and her exciting future plans. We also speak about the power of creation, dreams and metaphor as a tool to help young people communicate and connect with other people- and themselves.

Maëlle is an inspiring graphic designer and talented illustrator from the ''School of Art and Design'' (Ensaama) of Paris. Looking through her various illustrations is like entering a bath of color - Maille creates a childlike, joyful and twisted universe of cheerful characters and stunning colors.

In June 2017 we were lucky to have her as an intern for one month, and in that time, we formed a very special bond and considerably benefited from her creative spirit. Not only did Maelle co-ordinate artistic workshops, but she also helped to build our PTC brand by designing all of our amazing bespoke logos and infographics (see right). Maëlle became one of PTC's best friends, and since then, she comes regularly to visit us in Berlin and to lead workshops for the children we help support.

She confided to us that her experience within PTC encouraged her to think more deeply about the challenges of inclusion for refugees kids. Interested by the benefits of creative activities for youth development, she is now working on her personal art research project, “How graphic designers can take part in the identity reconstruction of the refugee children in a resettlement context?”.

As part of her project, Maëlle is designing unique workshop series, completely adapted to young newcomers facing the distress and uncertainty of the asylum procedure. As an example, last November she planned and facilitated an Avatar class- Each child built their own Avatar from scratch, and then imagined and designed their unique alter-ego personality. Then, in small notebooks, they could describe the tastes and preferences of their characters and dream up their personality.

Always looking to develop and explore her ideas further, Maëlle conceived two new workshops series, around the theme of '' marionette '', adapted to the two different age-groups of the children we support.

For the children at the shelter in Spandau, Maëlle pre-built identical hand-puppets using wooden heads and material for the body. In the first session, she got the children to paint the face and body of their personal puppets, to make them unique. In the second session, she gave them a few examples of daily-life situations as a baseline scenario, from which they could imagine and improvise their own puppet show.

Kids and youth housed at the reception center in Pankow created their own articulated puppet and mini stage scenery. In their second workshop, the kids brought their puppets to life through the animation technique of stop motion.

We took the opportunity of having Maëlle by our side to talk further about her current research project, her initial observations and thoughts.

Maëlle – you prepared two workshops series for the kids from Pankow and Spandau shelters, around the theme of ''puppet''. Could you tell us a bit more about the reasoning underlying these activities? “I had several reflections when I started designing these activities. I think puppets are a good medium of expression, of emotional freedom, allowing kids to express their emotions in an easier way. I think a puppet is a way to visualize and transfer their feelings, their identity somehow, in an other reality – an object – and express them through theater play. That's why it was really important to prepare a show after the creation of the puppet. I gave them a situation context as a '' scenario '' and they had to prepare small theater pieces from that. I picked up situations from everyday life – precisely to see how they could find solutions to situations they probably already encountered and faced- for example: ''A new pupil arrived in your school''

Same idea in Pankow, but I pushed the concept a bit further. In Pankow we have young teenagers and I wanted to adapt the activity to their age. They had to build themselves the puppet, and, important point, this time the puppet had clothes on and a different haircut. Why? I wanted here to observe how youth are considering and representing themselves toward society, through the way they draw and design their look.

For the smaller kids, it was more about - ''how do you represent yourself emotionally in a specific situation?'', for the older ones, it was about - ''how do you represent yourself towards society and other people?''

In Pankow, youth had to animate their puppet in a stop motion. I thought it was really interesting to show them this thrilling animation technique, where you basically give fluidity to individually photographed frames, creating the illusion of movement when the series of frames is played as a fast sequence.

Here as well, they will have to animate the puppet – in a stop motion – you segment / cut steps to find again a fluidity in the action. Why I choose this way of animation? Because it deconstructs and rebuilds the logic of time- an assimilation of a succession of events.”

How did you build this project? Where did your ideas come from? “My first questioning was: What are the real needs of asylum seekers and refugees youth during this transitional and insecure period of resettlement in a new country and culture? To get concrete answers and build a solid project I met a child psychologist specializing in migration and resettlement issues. This meeting helped me a lot to understand the complexity of the situation for these kids. She highlighted four needs and issues to take into account:

1. The need of ''miscegenation'': In other words, these kids are brutally confronted with another reality and another culture. It is crucial to foster the inclusion and coexistence of these two culture through creative activities.

2. The need to make their mark in the space where they are evolving.

3. The need to accept the past, integrate the present and anticipate the future

4. The need for recognition

We must develop a good understanding of these specific issues, in order to develop appropriate support and social action. We should lead them, as much as we can, towards a resilient state, and try to facilitate their socio-development on a long term basis despite their often traumatic past.

One of the most important steps is to help them externalize their story, by taking care of the psychological aspect. Oral discourse is not always welcome, and has a number of serious limitations. We all sometimes don't know which words to use to describe our emotions, even the most basic ones.

I am thinking here as well about the asylum interview, where asylum-seekers have to always prove their story and provide evidence of their trauma. The asylum interview is hard and traumatizing in itself. For kids it would be unimaginable to do it this way. That's why I think creativity has a really powerful role to play, because we can use images, pictures and metaphors- it comes as a softer complement to oral discourse.

That's why I decided to articulate my workshops around soft narration through images and metaphors, between dream and reality, which are, in my view, more adapted to youth. That was the idea behind the baseline scenario I gave to kids for the hand-puppet show.

Last November, I did a workshop around the concept of '' Avatar '' following the same ideas. I was trying already there to encourage the engagement of the kids with their '' alter-ego '', which could help them exteriorize fears, desires and joy."

Since graphic designers have possibilities to communicate through images and illustrations, they have visibility and a power to share and spread messages in inspiring and more impactful ways. Do you think their roles should be informative, especially on major social issues? "Yes indeed, and this is one of the aspects of my project, and what I would like to implement through PTC workshops. We often have a really pessimistic and sad image of refugee children through newspapers and other media. These kids need to reclaim the power to form their own images. And that's what I want to give back to them. They would not be passive anymore, but active, empowered and part of the action.

As a graphic designer, I think my action is a bridge between these children and society. It is part of my role to find the right medium. This is also possible through digital- for example, it could through a video game, where the user could play with the puppet the kids created during a workshop. The user would then have the possibility to enter the universe the kids created, without any biases, without any moralistic tone - as a form of digital immersion."

And in the future, how would you like to develop your project?

"I would like to develop the notion of space in graphism and artwork. Find place and space in the reality or through numbers, where kids from different backgrounds could be gathered together, could find their place and express themselves freely. It's maybe for now a utopia, but that's the direction I want to take.

Since I am painting and drawing, I would like to develop illustration for youth as well. Lately, I am trying to find a universe which could talk both to children and adults. I am always trying to find a way to do metaphors. Through my artwork I always want to talk about tough subjects, and metaphors are a good way to do it. But there are so many things I would like to do. Like develop toys or plush. It's really stimulating- there are so many things to do!"

*** We are truly grateful to have Maëlle on our team- her vision and passion for art as a tool for empowerment and communication for children is an inspiration. If you would like learn more about her work, then please check out her website, or visit her Instagram page. Don't forget to 'like' this post, and share on social media. See you next week for AOTW #4! ***

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