Sunday, 21 June 2009

Starting with Africa in Oslo in Feb 2009, It has been a hectic 6mths

The past six months has been hectic, in fact almost blinding full of insightful experiences. There has been no time to update the blog until now that finally respite has come my way. Over the next week or so let me see if I can catch up by giving a run down.

Activities began in February with the opening of the Africa in Oslo project. The project was one of those ‘Africa’ projects – regardless of any effort to frame it otherwise - that I am usually not too fond of however the possibility of working in Lusophone Africa proved too tempting to resist. 5 major Norwegian art institutions were involved. It was initiated by the National Museum of Art, Design and Architecture, project led by Marith Hope with Gavin Jantges as artistic director. The norwegian curators were paired with a curator on the continent and focused on a specific region or country. Instead of the usual sprawling exhibition, each partnership determined their own curatorial premise. I worked with Daniella Wennberg and Marianne Hultman and after the initial research visit by Wennberg to Angola, Mozambique and Zambia we decided to focus on one country Mozambique and even more specifically on one city Maputo. We found that there was a common thread running through almost all the artists we met irrespective of the media of which there is a healthy diversity of varying quality and depth. The exhibition Maputo; A Tale of One City presented the works of seven artists born in Maputo such as Angela Ferreria, living in Maputo such as Pompilo Hilario (Gemuce), also living in Maputo but from elsewhere like longtime resident Zimbabwean artist Berry Bickle and artists carrying out a project or body of work in Maputo like Nigerian artist Emeka Okereke. A younger generation of Mozambican artists included Mauro Pinto, Rahael Mouzinho and Lourenco de Pino. Their different experiences and perspective wove into a coherent (that is according to me) interweaving narrative taking the city as the starting point through video, photography, installation and painting.

Installation view at Oslo Fine Art Gallery. On wall
work by Lourenco de Pino, installation by Raphael Mouhzino

Installation view Oslo Fine Arts Society, Works by Emeka Okereke
(More pictures to come which are stuck on my crashed other computer.)

The opening was very well attended with the Mozambican ambassador to Norway presenting a well articulated speech in impeccable English and with the Norwegian ambassador to Mozambique who came from Maputo for the opening. A true cultural partnership indeed. In addition, out of the five main exhibitions that consitutue AiO, the Maputo exhibition has been chosen to tour to several venues in Norway over the next 18months giving wider visibility to the artists’ work.

As i had imagine before visiting Maputo, I felt I would be drawn to this city and its people and I was. It has now become my favourite city in Africa out of the 15odd countries I have visited. The Portuguese left a little jewel which is in need of restoration after years of independence struggle and civil war. The city is well planned (that is the central city) and even some of the townships (not sure what they call them in Mozambique but where the majority African population lives) are more planned than many areas in Lagos. They have delicious food, nice music, beautiful and very warm people and the longest and most magnificent coast line in Africa. The art scene is small but growing considerably and some strong artists especially in photography for which they have a long and vibrant tradition. They have some good infrastructures and cultural centres which provide substantial opportunities for the artists. In fact Maputo would be a fantastic place for a bi/triennal to take place to give Dak’Art a run for its money not to mention providing the much needed interaction and exchange on a global level locally. Food for thought!!

The exhibition is only a beginning of our interest in interacting with Mozambique. On my 3-4 visits in the past 15months I am always fascinated by the huge villas apparently abandoned by the fleeing Portuguese. Many are derelict and I have been trying to find out who owns them now and if they have been reappropriated by the state. It seems not totally and some owners are coming back. Funnily I was just reading in a new Gulbenkian foundation newsletter Future Now – that there are more Portuguese migrating to Mozambique now than there are Mozambicans to Portugal. Interesting but not surprising as we all know despite the constant negative report from the western media, Africa remains a goldmine essential to their survival. It always has been and always will be. But not enough Africans seem to realise that enough to put themselves in the driving seat. Okay I digress. As I look at the villas I think they would make a wonderful art or/and curatorial residence space and already one of my co-curators is looking into the possibility. I also welcome more possibilities to continue my dialogue with artists and cultural workers in Maputo. I encourage more people to put it on their map. Could Maputo be the Berlin of Africa?

I need to keep my updates short - if possible otherwise i will never catch up. Next up Jo’burg Art Fair.


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