Artist Malika Favre transformed the 26 letters of the alphabet into a book of erotic writing and illustrations
French artist Malika Favre has just published Kama Sutra A-Z, an audacious and original book. The 26 letters of the alphabet have been turned into artistic illustrations alluding to sexual freedom and expression. Individually laid out page by page, Malika’s illustrations are accompanied by handwritten erotic texts, focusing on poetry. Celebrated poets such as Sandra Cisneros, Yusef Komunyakaa, Stephanie Burt, Vanessa Kisuule, and Kyle Dargan have been included in the book–all of whom have inspired Malika over the years.
Designed by Counter-Print, the book is the culmination of a project exhibited at London’s Somerset House in 2013, the year in which Favre was selected to take part in Pick Me Up.
We interviewed the author to learn about her creative process and where she conceived the idea to combine the Kamasutra positions with the letters of the alphabet. She explains what the relationship between erotic writing and illustration is.
Hello Malika, where does this idea originate from?
Before 2013, I had done book covers for Penguin Books publishers. I decided they could give me an opportunity to develop the whole alphabet. I love British people because they take risks: they were enthusiastic about my idea and gave me their full support.
We’ll talk about the illustrations later, but there is a strong focus on female poetry in this project, with a collection of texts from the past and present. Were they your inspiration?
I had the idea to combine letters to poems when I read the work of Sandra Cisneros, an American poet with Mexican roots. There was something so pure and sexy in her verses that I felt it had a perfect connection with my work. Her words’ rhythm was an ideal fit for my lines’ rhythm, I suppose, so I went with this concept for the book.
You use modern designs and techniques in your illustrations. How did you manage to combine those with the texts?
When I was researching, I was drawn to the timelessness and universality of erotic poems. The possibilities were endless, and the more I read, the more I realized that the origin of the poet or which era they lived in was of little importance because the words were always relevant.
What I wanted from the beginning was to maintain a balance between the male and female voices. The further back I searched, the harder it became to find the latter until I came across these wonderful women. It makes sense because I am a woman and my erotic focus is from a female point of view. Having said that, there are a few male poets with incredibly sexy selections like Michael Faudet and Kyle Dargan. The book also reflects my interest in poetry.
In the 26 illustrations, the man is naked, and the woman wears gloves and stockings. Is this because they are garments considered erotic, or do they just help interpret the design?
I chose gloves and stockings as a visual element to bring richness to the illustration. I simply loved it when I created it, and painting only in white and yellow seemed a bit boring. Furthermore, the stockings and gloves are sexy accessories and bring more sensuality to the sexual position.
What about the color choices?
The colors were chosen both instinctively and through ideas. I started with black and red, as I felt they fit the theme, but I knew I needed a third warm color. I researched the meaning of colors in the Hindu tradition (as the Kamasutra is an ancient Hinduist book about human sexual behavior) and discovered that yellow was the color associated with ‘learning’ and ‘knowledge’. It was perfect.
The letters G and L have a gay and lesbian reference. How important is it to show inclusion and visibility of all sexual orientations in your work?
You are right. I decided to include these representations for the two letters to show that the alphabet is not exclusive and that it celebrates sex in all its forms. This is also reflected in my choice of poets. My work is minimalist, and sometimes it is hard to please everyone and keep my illustrations daring and direct. Therefore, I have to find small tricks such as those suggestions to share my viewpoint and show inclusion without compromising the images’ power.