africa is the future: just put it on a shirt

May 25, 2010
The cover of the Nneka mixtape is where I first saw the big bold slogan printed on a hoody “Africa Is The Future.” These four little words said volumes about current global economics, cultural, music and fashion! Once I sat back and thought about it, there is nothing bigger I would want on a shirt then that slogan! Africa, the birth place of civilization, IS the future. Through all it’s turmoil and wars and poverty, you will see it make it’s way back to be center, if you only pay attention. I was on the hunt to find out what Africa Is The Future was and how to get one of these hoodies (since they are not yet sold in the states. I mean if it is on Nneka’s radar, the shit must be real!)

Africa Is The Future: Just Put it on a Shirt
Featured Interviewer Iyana Gregory

My hunt lead me to Nicolas Premier. Currently living in France and the founder of AITF, he was quick to point out that the clothing line is just one element of an artistic message. With no formal fashion or design training, he sees his clothing as a gateway. “My background is more artistic, like photography, painting … My work in fashion is more a pretext and a way to highlight a new way of conceiving the world for a wider audience than the art.”

I was able to pick his brain and he opened my eyes to his goals and motivation behind his message:

Africa Is The Future is a very bold statement, what motivated the creation of the line?
The September 11, 2001, I was in Congo Brazzaville, a country emerging from civil war, “sponsored” by Elf (Total) and had benefited from the benevolence of the French state. The problem is that this war has claimed more than 300,000 dead and in France as in the rest of the World, this event was deliberately ignored due to Western interests. So, when I saw the media coverage devoted to the attacks of September 11, I really felt that there were double standards! Returning to France, I didn’t see how my artwork could not account for this imbalance and not fight against this “under-representation”. Then I began work painting portraits of Africans. Along with that, I was very interested in the African-American history (Free jazz, Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party) and I created dozens of slogans in that spirit. Among the slogans, there was AFRICA IS THE FUTURE. In 2002, during one of my exhibitions, the organization proposed I publish 30 T-shirts and I chose which seemed to be the strongest and I gave these T-shirts to my mates.

Then, in 2004 during the inauguration of a workshop that I shared with other artists, of the 300 attendees, a dozen of my friends wore the famous T-shirt. The interest it has generated has impressed us, Patrick and me, because Africa was central in every conversation! The approach to the continent changed radically and contrasted with the Western paternalism. This opened new perspectives on understanding the world, outside the box, by running critical thinking. The reactions that were cause by my paintings in privileged areas were suddenly increased tenfold because of the mobility and the accessibility of the T-shirts. Subsequently, we said that the best way to act for that to happen again was to put even more T-shirts in circulation! So we started to produce series of 100-200 T-shirts which were sold in a completely illegal way in the street, parties, concerts …

Until 2008, AITF was not a “brand” for us (and it’s still not!). We didn’t live through this activity and our primary concern was mostly that the slogan was the most viewed, that’s all! But there came a time when our food-jobs didn’t allow us to spend as much energy and time on AITF. So we decided to mount a “brand” structure (our Trojan!) that would allow us to do so while being 100% independent, without relying on state subsidies and without being recovered by majors. It was a very innovative way to envisage the artistic production, the role of art and the artist. While almost all young creative find themselves compelled to play mercenaries for major brands, we have created a new production model in which the artist is truly master of his freedom of speech. We were the first to act that way in France and perhaps the only ones until today!

After spending some time on the site, I can’t help but notice how striking the photography is! Who takes the photos for the site and how important is it to communicating the line’s message?
Thank you! I am the photographer! Indeed it is important to communicate the message another way. It actually looks that artwork will take precedence over the t-shirts themselves, as at the beginning. We have spent 5 years building an economic independence and artwork will now be able to really take his place. In an exploitation system like capitalism, art can be one of those grains of sand that impair the proper functioning of a well-oiled mechanism until such time that the machine breaks. This is to stimulate critical thinking, to open breaches in an formatted imaginary, to divert commercial spaces, to interfere with official speeches, to undermine the pillars underpinning ideological propaganda of the system . In short, these are acts of piracy! But acts of piracy, even metaphorical, can only be realized in complete independence. Moreover, we will launch by September LITTLE CLEAVER, an online store devoted to the distribution of independent productions so that the AITF website focuses primarily on the creation.

How did your collaboration with Nneka come about?
Very simple! During a festival, Patrick launched to Nneka a t-shirt on stage. Later, we saw that she wore it in concert. So we got in contact by e-mail and then we saw her in Paris. She is a very spontaneous girl! Since then, we keep in touch, even if she’s busy today! We really like her work, probably because she works with her heart and her head … We share the same desire to give the african continent another representation and to show the importance of knowing its realities to understand the basis on which the capitalist system has been built and to change it.

How about the Dead Prez collaboration?
We encountered Dead Prez and Aalikes in New York in 2006 thanks to Supreme and Madsol-Desar. When they came to Paris this year we did a photo shoot. We have great respect for this group, because they are almost the only ones, among all the “hip hop” artists , to keep a social and political point of view in their music. RBG’S for life!

What other collaborations do you have coming / or what you like to see happen?
I am currently working on a project, which includes music, with Dal-Gren, a young and talented French producer. For the rest, nothing really planned. We remain open to the unexpected …

What music inspires the line?
The good stuff!

What advise do you want to give to entrepreneurs that want to branch off into careers outside the norm, like yourself?
Read the Hagakure.