THANKS TO O’PLEROU GREBET, AFRICAN EMOJIS ARE HERE TO STAY ON WHATSAPP

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The first time I met O’Plerou was at an audience with the then Ivorian Minister for the Digital Economy. We had been invited because O’Plerou, some other people and I were winners of the 2018 Adicom Awards, a ceremony rewarding the creative and influential web and digital industry in Africa. He had just won the Young Talent award for his Zouzoukwa project regarding Ivorian emoticons.
I hadn’t been expecting to meet a young man who is so shy and reserved, but quick-thinking… 

Yes, I’m an introvert but not shy: I’m not ashamed to talk to strangers (it’s just that generally I don’t really know what to say). What I sometimes find funny is that certain people don’t understand that I am happy to be on my own. Those who exhaust me are people who want to force me to speak, or to be ‘noisier’ like them

On 1 January, 2018, O’Plerou set himself a challenge: to create a new emoticon each day that reflects ‘Ivorian reality’. He calls them ‘Zouzoukwa’.
His motivation was to find a way to share African culture in a modern way, but at first he didn’t know exactly how to go about this. And then one day, when he was talking with a friend on WhatsApp, he started to take notice of the emojis. “I thought to myself that I could create some. As I know I tend to launch lots of projects at the same time and never complete them, I decided to transform the idea into a challenge in order to stay motivated”.
He got off to a flying start! O’Plerou had to cope with a media frenzy, especially online and on social media.
“I was particularly surprised that it went so far! I thought it would appeal to my friends and people who like this graphic style, but I didn’t expect the media to be interested too. I was very pleased, and it made me understand that what I was doing was important, and that was part of what motivated me to keep going and complete my project”.  During this frenzy, his family and friends – on whose support he can always rely – would regularly tease him. “They called me ‘the influencer’, making fun of the contrast between my online ‘fame’ and my self-effacing nature”.

This 21 year old freelance illustrator’s full name is O’Plérou Luc Denis Grebet, and he’s a third-year student doing a vocational degree in Digital Arts and Images at the ISTC (Institute of Sciences and Communication Techniques) in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. His artistic DNA is based on two styles of drawing:  that of his emojis, generally pop and colourful, which he only uses for his project, and his usual style, which is semi-figurative and somewhat experimental.
He defines himself as being inquisitive and calm. Greatly inspired by artistic figures such as Loza Maléombho, Leonardo da Vinci, Salvador Dali and Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, he appears to want to maintain an element of mystery across his array of boundless creativity… “A saying I like is: Still waters run deep”, he adds. Already a fan of Scrooge McDuck and cartoons when he was a little boy, he loved inventing stories, creating universes. “My childhood was a fairly good one, and I don’t remember getting up to any serious mischief”.

 

On 31 December, 2018, O’Plerou revealed his final emoji and announced the launch of the “Zouzoukwa” mobile app and its integration within WhatsApp. Indeed this integration is now effective, as I regularly use it when messaging and love it.
O’Plerou admits that when he started out on this adventure he didn’t really have any business objective: he just wanted to make his work accessible and usable. But given the growing number of users, he realised that he could make sponsored stickers that brands and companies would pay for through non-obtrusive advertising during conversations.
And he has already collaborated with brands. “Yes, I’ve mainly collaborated with ELLE Côte d’Ivoire, Imalk Concept and CANAL+. The collaboration with ELLE CI and Imalk consisted in creating limited edition tote bags with 3 Zouzoukwa for ELLE’s anniversary, and for CANAL+ I drew emojis to be used on their social networks during the Word Cup”.