Reunion Island is basically one big outdoor gallery for street art and graffiti fans. My first introduction to the island’s street art culture was at OR Tambo airport in Joburg, where I was fortunate to meet Reunionaise street artist Jace just before boarding my flight to Reunion. I had no idea that I’d just met Reunion’s most famous street artist.
Jace even rescued me from the not-so-friendly Reunion immigration officials who weren’t so keen to stamp my passport on arrival as I didn’t have a copy of my return ticket or hotel booking!! Luckily he was there to explain to the immigration police in French that I was being hosted by Reunion Tourism as part of a media trip to island.
Little did I realise that Jace’s street art character Gouzou (pronounced ‘goo-zoo’) would become the unofficial mascot of my Reunion trip and the subject of our very own Gouzou spotting game!
The first Gouzou I spotted was fresh off the plane – a litle sticker of the litte Gouzou going around the luggage conveyor belt in circles. I was in love… well as in love with a street art character than you can get. How could I not love a little guy with a big heart?
Conveyor belt Gouzou (he looks like he jumps like me!) – apologies for the dodgy pic
You may have realised by now that I’m a huge fan of graffiti and street art (see my posts on Joburg and Cape Town street art). Our guide, Nico informed me that Jace was a local street art and graffitti legend and that murals of Gouzou were to be found all over the island. Nico was very passionate about Gouzou and the element of fun and colour her brought to Reunion.
Spot the Gouzou
And so our ‘Spot the Gouzou’ game was born. During our tours around the island, the first person to spot a Gouzou would get a point. Easy peasy. It provided us with many hours of entertainment while we were driving between places.
Gouzou spotted from the side of the highway, Reunion Island – Pic by @LaurentDeNazareth
Gouzou spotting is the perfect Reunion road trip game. He appears in various forms everywhere on the island – from little stickers hidden on street signs and electrity boxes, to massive roadside murals and bridges. You just have to keep your eyes open, and before you know it … GOUZOU!!
What Reunion lacks in local fauna, it makes up in Gouzous.
After a few days in Reunion, our group started to get quite competitive about Gouzou spotting. Until I spotted a series of Gouzou’s on a wall and shouted ‘GOUZOU!’ around ten times. It was clear that I’d won the game. After that no-one wanted to play anymore 🙁
Gouzou suddenly seemed very familiar. I then recalled that I’d spotted Gouzou in Cape Town earlier this year, when I’d done a street art walk in Woodstock. I just didn’t realise who he was. Gouzou was famous in South Africa too! I was soon to learn that Gouzou was famous around the world. Wherever Jace travels, so Gouzous can be found.
Gouzou sticker on an electricity box – St Gilles, Reunion
Gouzou sticker at the studio of Kid Kreol and Boogie, St Denis, Reunion
An interview with Jace – father of Gouzou
Lucky for me I had met Jace on my flight to Reunion. I sent him a message on his Facebook page to ask if he’d mind doing an interview with me, and he kindly obliged.
JACE: Since 1989, but back it was more about graffiti than street art ;-)) ! I created Gouzou in 1992. I also paint some other stuff but people are more reactive to Gouzous…
Jace and an army of Gouzous – pic by Yann Macherez
MG: In my observation, Gouzou is a fun little character – with no particular gender or race who finds himself in funny and absurd situations. What does Gouzou represent to you? What was your inspiration?
JACE: Humanity, he is YOU, he is ME. He is a part of all of us. Gouzou is like my (big) baby, he is always on his way. I admit I was inspired by the late 70’s and early 80’s New-York graffiti artists – Keith Haring among others.
MG: Any idea how many Gouzous you’ve painted on Reunion Island? Or Paris? Or in total?
JACE: Well, let’s say hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands and thousands ;-)) !!!
Jace & Gouzou mural in Cape Town – pic by Yann Macherez
MG: I’ve seen Gouzou in Reunion and Cape Town. Which other cities can a street art fan go Gouzou hunting?
JACE: I traveled into more than 25 countries, some of them are so old that I’m afraid that they all disappeared, but to name afew around here – Mauritius, Mayotte, Madagsacar, Botswana. I think you could find the others on my French wikipedia page. (MG: I checked – there are Gouzous all over the world from France to Bali!)
JACE: Those two guys rock, and there are many others – Pandakrew, Gorgone, Omouk, Meo, PTM, MOB, DKPEZ, PRC… I’m afraid I couldn’t name all the rockers out there.
Gouzou mural in Cape Town – pic by Yann Macherez
MG: How long have you been living in Reunion? Do you have any local tips for a tourist visiting the island?
JACE: I arrived with my parents in 1982. Some places I love: Riviere Langevin (crazy waterfalls and many place to swim in the river with a crazy green nature all around) and the volcano of course! I also love L’etang-sale beach with its black sand. People are really nice here – don’t hesitate to talk with them. They are sometimes shy, especially if they don’t speak English but most of the time they are very kind. The food in Reunion is amazing – a real mix of Chinese, Indian, European.
Massive Gouzou mural in St Denis, Reunion. Wish I’d taken a better pic of this – it’s was epic
Have you spotted Gouzou on your travels?
Maybe you did but didn’t even realise it! If you’re in Reunion, Paris, Mauritius or Cape Town you should definitely look out for him!
Happy Gouzou spotting!