Marylène Agat “Homme de Lumière” or the slow birth of a Martinican painter (Part 1)

Marylène Agat

Born in 1962 in Paris and settled in Guadeloupe for 22 years, Marylène Agat “Homme de Lumière” (Man of Light) became a professional painter in 2005, at the age of 43. In her seventeen years of career, she has already produced nearly ten exhibitions based on various themes. Kariculture invites you to get to know this creator better.

Marylène Agat 1

Marylène Agat’s parents are from Martinique. In the 1970s, her father, who is from Le Vauclin, and her mother, from Fort-de-France, decided to go to France to find a better life for their future children. The couple arrived in Paris like other young people from the French Overseas Territories at that time.

It was the period of the “Glorious Thirty” when economic growth was strong, mass unemployment was non-existent and purchasing power was real. Three children (2 girls and 1 boy) were born, including Marylène Agat who was the first child : “It was a simple family, dad worked in a factory and mom helped the children at home. I was born in Paris 12th in 1962″, she says.

But the little Parisian girl left the capital for the suburbs a few years later. “Some time after I was born, my parents moved to Vitry-sur-Seine. I had a childhood in the Bellevue housing estate. It was the red and blue housing estate. There was a lot of delinquency, a lot of foreigners, a lot of West Indians, I must have been 9 or 10 years old. There was a blue building where the good families lived and a red building where all the bad guys lived. I want to say it because my children were also born in a housing estate, it feels like something new when it’s not new”, she says.

Marylène Agat 2

West Indies in painting

The very shy little girl would have liked to take refuge in studies but school was not her favourite place. “I was sensitive, crying for absolutely no reason. I was already in a world that I didn’t understand myself, I was very sensitive”, she says. One day, at the age of 9, Marylène met art, thanks to her uncle, Paul Degras, her mother’s brother, and she has a very precise memory of it : “he used to come home, he was a “little” writer, he wrote short texts. One day, he said to me : “Marylene, give me some paint with a brush” and I saw him make a magnificent landscape for me in a few seconds. I saw trees, a palm tree, it was a place I didn’t know, he made me travel. I took this sheet and I put it in a binder”.

This work of art caused a first click in the little girl who, from that day on, regularly made drawings and stored them like treasures in this famous binder until she was 11 years old. But these three years of work disappeared in the flood of the family apartment because of a tap left open by a neighbor. “The folder died”, she says, “but it was a mourning for my drawings but not for the person I was because I continued in the making, the creation, unlike my brother who was in studies and my sister who was still little. My parents bought us books in the 1970s and, at that time, a child knew how to play, create, take a ball of wool (…)”.

Marylène Agat 3

Modeling as a dream

The years pass but the teenager did not manage to reconcile with school, she was bored in class. “Failure is total”, she says. She was directed towards a BEP in secretarial work and then, at the age of 18, she decided to get in working life because her father died suddenly from a heart attack. The young girl did odd jobs in the restaurant industry but she was very attracted to fashion and modeling. It must be said that she did not go unnoticed with her 1.87m and she was a very pretty girl thanks to the outfits she made. “I liked to dress well and I made all my clothes. Loose clothes that are fashionable today, I was an avant-gardist. I used African fabrics, very fluid fabrics and I was very proud of it”, she recalls.

During that period, she met the father of her first daughter who was Guadeloupean, she became pregnant and married. After the birth of her baby in France, she followed this man for love to Guadeloupe and discovered the Caribbean for the first time. “I had never been to the West Indies, paying for a plane ticket at that time was very expensive. We had never known the Martinican family, even though some uncles visited us in France. When I grew up, I started to know my family. I knew that on my mother’s side – the Degras – there were writers, musicians”, she says.

But she went through a great emotional disappointment and decided to return to the Paris region, four years later. “At 19, I became a mother but my child didn’t stop me, I travel with her without any problem (…) My dreams were there”, Marylène says. The young woman took part in several fashion shows in the West Indian community and continued to work in the restaurant industry.

Marylène Agat 4

Family atmosphere in Martinique

In 1985, the 23-year-old woman returned to the Caribbean. She landed in Martinique where she knew no one except her mother who went back to her native island after her husband’s death: “I discovered this island with great pleasure. I then decided to pursue my dream of being a model. I was introduced to a photographer and I told him that I would like a book to introduce myself in Paris, he made me beautiful photos, I made a fashion show. For 3 years, I stayed with my mother and the family in this family atmosphere that I didn’t know at all, then I went back to France”.

A second time, the dream of becoming a professional model faded away little by little because when presenting her book to agencies, Marylène was told that it was too “fanciful”, “not conforming” etc. Not having the sum of 5 000 F minimum to make a new book, the young woman redid fashion shows in the West Indian community.

“I have also paraded for 3 minutes in a TV program called “Aujourd’hui Madame”. We were 3 or 4 models and we had been recruited for a famous model from Martinique who participated in this program through another person. I met personalities, like the journalist Alain Hannibal who was going to discreetly check for me if it was a good idea to parade in such and such a place”, she says. However, Marylène will realize that the modeling world is very “closed” and it was rather reserved for young Caucasian women: “In the 1980s, black women were not accepted like white women. It occured to me to enter a room for a fashion show and after an hour’s wait I was told : “we don’t take black women, sorry” (…) It was a difficulty and I gave up but I kept this artistic fiber so I dressed, I went out, I met beautiful people”, she says.

Marylène Agat 5

Visiting the regions of France

Then one day, the 26-year-old woman met at a party the man who will become her current partner and the father of her second daughter. He was a house painter, she found him positive with qualities to build a home for her first daughter, both had affinities and they stayed in touch. “We waited until the relationship was zen before moving in together. My partner worked and I was still in my fashion shows and restaurant industry where I managed to find more stable contracts and my modeling dreams went away a little bit. In 1988, I became pregnant with my second daughter, we were not married and I have not yet entered the world of artists”, she says.

The couple had a very good life in a housing estate in Orly in the Parisian suburbs. Marylène Agat remembered having painted a tree on the door of her kitchen, because she was inspired : “my partner looked at me and said: “sa bèl!” (it’s beautiful). We were amazed”.

One of their passions was the journey through France. So, every Saturday, from 4:00 am, the sandwiches were already ready and everyone was very happy to leave by car to visit the Mont Saint-Michel, Lourdes etc. In the evening, the four “tourists” slept on a beach or in small hotels to appreciate the charm of the beautiful houses as in Brittany. Unfortunately, the journeys stopped when Marylène’s partner learned that his boss, with whom he had been working for more than 15 years, was dying, he had only six months to live. At the same time, Marylène learned that her mother was also dying. “I went first to Martinique to accompany my mother, then I returned to France and my partner left alone to prepare our arrival in Guadeloupe. He had always told me that if he lost his job, he would return to Guadeloupe”, she recalls.

Marylène Agat 6

“Homme de Lumière”, angel and pseudonym

It was during this year 2000 – a year that saw the birth of the wildest predictions and fabulations – that was born in the imagination of Marylène Agat, who had not yet begun her career as a painter, this little “Homme de Lumière” (Man of Light) who will become her artist’s name five years later and who is on her artistic creations like a guardian angel watching over her…

“I was very sad because of the death of my mother, my partner was in Guadeloupe. My second daughter told me to draw her a little man. I was sitting with my two daughters, I took a sheet of paper and I drew this little man. I also drew a house and everything else I wanted to have. The “click” happened at that moment because the next day I went to get a book on drawing. Every Monday I would go buy a book on drawing and drew as if something was leading me to take flight”, she says. The aspiring artist even sold her little “works” to those around her, for 2F, 5F or 10F. “There are still friends who tell me today : “Marylène, I still have your work here!”, she says laughing.

A few years later, the generous Marylène will exhibit in La Désirade island and she will offer to a young underprivileged boy all her books as well as all her drawings and paintings made when she was younger. “He loved drawing but he was very unhappy because he couldn’t buy books. I don’t know what happened to him,” she says.

Marylène Agat 7c

Morne-à-L’Eau, land of welcome

In 2000, six months after the departure of her partner for the Guadeloupean archipelago, Marylène and her two daughters landed in Guadeloupe and began a new life in the town of Morne-à-l’eau. The change of scenery was absolute, it was the countryside, the housing estate became a distant memory.

“I was born and raised in a housing estate, my children were born and raised in a housing estate, they both cried when we left because they didn’t want to leave their friends. For me, it was a relief because I said to myself : “we are finally going to separate from this story of housing estate”. The housing estate is something very special: you have children in the housing estate, you make friends with people from the housing estate, you get married with friends from the housing estate and, in fact, you don’t move, it’s a lockdown”, explains Marylène Agat.

When they arrived in Grande-Terre, the family stayed with their partner’s mother. Very quickly, the latter, who owned a piece of land, started to build their house. A year later, they moved in even if some tiles or windows were missing, but “we had our independence”, says Marylène. “The children were happy here, the atmosphere was good, but that didn’t stop them from leaving a few years later. Both of them went back to France when they were 26 years old, while they were working, they had their car, their autonomy, their apartment here in Guadeloupe. They are very demanding and they wanted to evolve professionally”, she adds.