A few months into the launch of Jardin Orange's residency program in Shenzhen, we interviewed CEET about starting China's first residency dedicated to street art.


China Residencies: Tell us a little bit about your background. When did you start making street art and developing your Chicanos?

CEET: My name is Fouad, my artist name is CEET. I’m originally from Morocco but I grew up in France. I started graffiti a very long time ago. I’m super young, though, “22” years old {*winks*), and I [like to] paint my chickens everywhere.

When I first started, I did conventional graffiti writing: doing letters, bombing trains, tagging in the street and I also used to do some characters. I grew up with my friends from Tru Skool in Toulouse but, step by step, I was working on developing my own style. I always liked to play with colors.

When I first came to China and started drawing my chickens everywhere, it was super funny. I decided to keep it up because, for me, it was the best way to enjoy graffiti, even more than painting letters. The chickens were also to communicate with a non-western people. They also let me play more with colors, so now I do chickens instead of letters.


CEET's chickens chicano mural in Shenzhen

CR: What first brought you to China in 2003? And how did you decide to move from Toulouse to China?

C: A guy from France asked me to come to help decorate his shops in Shenzhen and around China. So every time he made a new shop, I would come back. After one or two years of doing this, I had made more and more contacts, Chinese and foreign. I never imagined I would live here for so long, but I decided to come for a short while. Even after all this time, I feel good. China is a nice place.

CR: You’ve been working on getting Jardin Orange ready for artists since the spring, but when did the idea of this residency originally take hold?

C: In the fall of 2015 a former roommate and friend of mine, April, contacted me with the idea of painting walls for [real estate developer] SoFun Land. When I met with this organization, they asked me to make murals for them. When they showed me the plans for their huge development project of a large district in Nanshan, I told them I would love to have a studio in this area. Then, they offered to not only provide me a space to create my own art -- they also offered me a whole BUILDING to create art…if I could give them a good idea. I took some time to reflect. I came back to them with my idea of what to do with a whole building: an amazing residency, like Jardin Rouge in Marrakech, that produced phenomenal art and housed artists who are on the edge of contemporary art… both young and experienced. They loved the idea. Our first group of artists will soon enter our studios, and we hope many more will come over the next few years.


CR: Can you tell us a little bit about the relationship between Jardin Orange in Shenzhen and Jardin Rouge in Marrakech, and with the Montresso Foundation?

C: The original concept for Jardin Orange came from Jardin Rouge in Marrakech (Morocco), created by Jean Louis. He is my good friend and mentor. Once we decided to work together, to link Morocco and China, things just started to click. Jardin Orange has a filial partnership with Jardin Rouge: we openly share and promote a similar philosophy towards art as the Montresso Foundation and we strive to host our local and international artists in the same manner. What makes Jardin Orange different is its location in Shenzhen, China - which is one of the most rapidly transforming and modernizing urban areas in the world. Also, whereas Jardin Rouge boasts of a private venue that provides an idyllic retreat away from city life, Jardin Orange embraces its urbanity and invites the public to its front doors. We also actively encourage the artists to go outside and interact with the local people and also add to the walls of the cityscape.

Overall, it is the same concept as in Morocco, it’s an artist residency. We receive artists, they stay a minimum of one month and try to push their creativity beyond what they are used to do in their own studios. We try to bring them to China or Morocco so that they can explore their own style and experiment with evolution. We want to make sure that all artists leave happy. We also create exhibitions, both group shows and some solo shows. For solo shows, the artist would have to stay longer. I think its a good concept; it’s the best way for young or budding artists to create and grow.

CR: How did you decide on the location of the building within the SoFun Land development project in Nanshan?

C: This residency is a project inside of a much larger property development plan for the northern Nanshan district of Shenzhen. Surrounded by universities and art schools and parks, the Tanglang area is quickly being transformed into an artistic and design-focused neighborhood that will be full of young students, foreign restaurants and families. Within the next two years, SoFun Land, as the area is called, is projected to become the most dynamic in the whole city. Jardin Orange will help to introduce the Chinese population to the global contemporary art scene and the world of street art. It will also strive to bring the spotlight to the potential that is within China. Our residency building has been built and designed as one of the project’s main features to promote an artistic culture

Jardin Orange's residency building within the SoFun development project in Nanshan, Shenzhen

CR: Why is Shenzhen an interesting place for artists? And how do you see Jardin Orange fitting into the region’s artistic growth?

C: From what I can tell, Jardin Orange is a unique project in Shenzhen. We are creating Graffiti jam events, bringing renown artists from across the world to paint massive building murals, and we want to push local and regional Chinese artists to become famous one day, abroad as well as at home. We want Shenzhen to mix the cultures it has within its borders and to share what it has with the rest of the world. 

Being located in the growing city of Shenzhen, Jardin Orange has certain advantages. First of all, there is quick and efficient access to production factories that help artists experiment with various kinds of works. Also, the city itself has a constantly evolving social and artistic culture. There are art exhibitions always at OCT, there are street art events combined with music festivals… and in general, people are really open, maybe also because Hong Kong is across the bridge.

Often, several artists have lovingly described the spontaneous adventures and surprises of day-to-day moments in this part of the world as “#Chinalife.” It’s got it’s ups and downs, but you’re never bored.


CR: What kind of facilities are on site, and how many artists can you host at one time?

C: We are still finishing the final construction and interior design details, but we we will have 5 studios, a gallery, an office / store, a music studio, a café, some rooms for the artists and a common shared living space to hang out and make food or watch movies.


CR: You’ve held some pre-opening events, and have already hosted a few artists like Tats Cru, Zepha, Hendrik Beikirch, Ata Bozaci, Gorg1. Tell us about what’s happened at Jardin Orange so far? What kinds of projects have they worked on?

C: The pre-opening was to bring attention to the area, to let people (literally) see the big names we could bring from across the world. We had 12 artists come and paint massive murals around the industrial area in June, then create canvas pieces for the gallery opening party. In September, we had 13 artists come from the local region continue to paint smaller, more “street” sized murals in the same area. This was our first annual Graffiti Jam. We even had a party and live painting in Coco Park the first night.  We want people to see that street art and graffiti can be accessible and fun. On a personal note, my chicano murals are being painted in Nanshan, Luohu and other northern districts. Stay tuned!


An opening at Jardin Orange

CR: You also DJ and work on fashion and product collaborations. Is the residency specifically dedicated to street art and muralists, or are you looking to host all kinds of different projects in the future?

C: The residency will take its initial focus on canvas works. If artists come and also have some ideas or contributions for bigger murals, we will find them a spot. However, we are looking for serious, talented painters (oil, acrylic, spray) to join our ranks and create some works for the gallery.

CR: Are you hoping that the visiting artists will be able to connect with Shenzhen’s art, design, and tech scenes as well?

C: Our residency is for artists to come and work. Kind of like a monastery… they should be focused on what they’re doing and to use the time they have to push on their projects and not be too distracted.

CR: What’s the street art scene like in Shenzhen right now?

C: For the past years, we’ve seen a rise of Chinese artists and writers. There are more events going on like “Meeting of Styles” and other similar informal group painting events. We see some live painting at Music Festivals and in Coco Park bars. People are very receptive and open to street art.


CR: What’s the selection process like for the residency, and what kinds of artists are you hoping to invite next? Are you also planning on opening up the residency to local artists, and artists from other parts of Asia?

C: We are currently looking for local artists. We have already lined up one foreign artist per month. We prefer quality, not quantity. We want to invest a lot of time and resources into each artist, so what they produce works we are all proud of. During each artist’s time at the residency, anywhere from a few weeks to two months, the artist is fully sponsored so that he/she may research, design, experiment and produce inspirational works that will then be exhibited in the gallery for private/public viewings and sale.


CR: Is there anything else you'd like to add about the program, your mission, or the opportunities you provide for artists?

C: Artists are expected to commit to this mission: “Jardin Orange offers each artist the time and space for one’s creative mind to engage in a personal stylistic exploration; to be flexible and push beyond one’s comfort zone and to experiment with new forms of personal expression.”


This interview was conducted in October 2016 by Kira Simon-Kennedy for China Residencies.