Art
'Tension' by Evans Mbugua

This Kenyan Artist Creates Stirring "Cosmic Pop Art" Inspired By Contemporary Dance

We speak to Evans Mbugua's about the inspiration behind his striking collections "Identities," and 'Dialogue."

For his first solo show in the UK, Evans Mbugua has created what he's described as “the first visual contemporary dance exhibition," as he carefully puts it.

To achieve the high ambition, the Kenyan-born artist closely observed a pair of male and female dancers for 18 months, in different studios and venues around Paris, France, where he's based.


Mbugua, 38, currently has two exhibitions—“Dialogue" at Gallery of African Art in London and “Identities" at Out of Africa Gallery in the Spanish Pyrenees—both of which opened in December 2017.

'Rise' by Evans Mbugua

2018 is proving to be an equally busy year for the graduate of print design, with a show planned for February at Cape Town Art Fair in South Africa and another in April at Art Paris Fair, where he will be represented by ArtCo Gallery from Germany.

The focus of “Identities" is on individuality while “Dialogue" is the singular story of a pair of dancers in commune. Both set of works are rendered in the most striking fashion using print, photo paper and acrylic glass, commonly used as a durable alternative to glass.

Glass does not typically inspire warmth or the fluidity of dance, even the most stodgy type. Did he not worry that the perceived lack would be an obstacle? “I'm painting humanity. I want to show the beautiful side of humanity," he says. “That's what my art is about. At the same time I agree with you to that glass normally should be cold."

He explains further: “I'm coming from the perspective of stained glass. The transparency and light you'll find on old buildings and churches creates a very interesting atmosphere in architecture. So glass for me is not cold, it's actually colour, it's actually atmosphere."

'Legato' by Evans Mbugua

Mbugua has given to glass the big image overhaul that it would need in my case to inspire warmth, but will not share the finer details of how he has achieved this, being trade secrets.

The works in “Dialogue" take up both floors at GAFRA where 12 life size paintings occupy the ground floor. Downstairs, an entire wall is covered with paper print before which visitors were encouraged to take photos while wearing sunglasses specially designed by the artist. On another wall is a screen showing a short video of one of the dancers, Wanjiru Kamuyu, doing elegant hand and feet work, as though warming up at practice but if over interrupted, would seem like poetic inspirations for the works on display.

On the wall opposite this screen are two sets of 10, small size works (15.5 by 15.5cm) which he's titled “Mouthpieces," and are just that—images of the mouth with the lips highlighted—and are made from, or perhaps cut from, other works combining perspex and photo paper, and imbued with new meaning. “In essence, it is a dialogue between my work and between my subjects," he tells me via Whatsapp messages after his return to Paris.

From the 'Dialogue' series by Evans Mbugua.

The most imposing work on the ground floor is a two-suite piece made from a single image of the male dancer, Smaïl Kanouté, in elegant poise. Both halves—“Beat" and “Rhythm"—could be sold separately are meant to be inspired by the fracture nature of his origins and life today because “part of me is still in Kenya, part of me is still in Paris, part of me today is in London, part of me was New York when I was there the other day, and I love Spain. I think it's a metaphor for just how we are. We could be everywhere."

This one is a hard sell considering the multiplicity he has described outnumbers the simple binary of “Beat" and “Rhythm." But this could be excused as it was well into the evening and after being barraged by questions from visitors about himself and his technique.

'Flow' by Evans Mbugua

Visitors perceptions of Mbugua's distinct works in past exhibitions continue to amuse the artist. It has been described as “Cosmic Pop Art," a coinage which pleases the artist while other assume they are the works of an American pop artist which doesn't bother him. But “when they see me they say you're making African prints but I'm not making African prints. In France it's 'you're doing the wax.' I am not doing the wax," he tells me, laughing at the lazy interpretations and perhaps his own frustration with them, before adding, “I'm sorry I'm creating a universal language using pictograms. It's a sign that everyone uses, just look a bit more."

'The Tempo' by Evans Mbugua

popular
From Chale Wote Street Art Festival 2016. Photo by Ofoe Amegavie.

5 Ghanaian Creative Spaces Doing Afrofuturist Work You Need To Know

These Pan-African outfits are actively visualizing and creating realities for black people that are better than the ones we inhabit now—get to know them.

In her praise for Octavia's Brood (an anthology of science fiction stories from social justice movements), filmmaker dream hampton quotes these words of adrienne maree brown, a co-editor of the anthology: "All social justice work is science fiction. We are imagining a world free of injustice, a world that doesn't yet exist." A respectable appropriation of brown's statement would be: all pro-Black/African activism is afrofuturism in praxis.

In that frame of social justice activism being twined with the useful framework that afrofuturism is—envisioning and exploring viable realities for black people all over the world—here are five Pan-African outfits out of Ghana who're doing advocacy work, and variously tasking our imaginations to visualize an existence for black people other—and better—than the one we inhabit presently.

Accra [Dot] Alt

Photo courtesy of Accra [Dot] Alt.

The "Alt" in Accra [Dot] Alt stands for alternative, which should say much about this organization's orientation: an invested interest in facilitating the alternative. To that end, A[D]A creates programs which provide spacial and other forms of support for the expression of alternative thought, and also for spawning boundary-breaking art. A[D]A's most popular initiative, the annual Chale Wote Street Art Festival, since its inception in 2011, has been thematically preoccupied with imagining and creating existences that are more humane and fulfilling—particularly for black people.

The African Electronics Trilogy exemplifies this. Between 2015 and 2017, the Chale Wote Festival's themes, African Electronics, Spirit Robot and Wata Mata—have altogether exhorted festival participants to "tap into a super power grid [and] create a new encounter with reality that is entirely of our choosing and construction." The theme for this year's festival, Para-Other, does not stray from this visionary mission. A[D]A partly describes Para-Other as an order "embracing of a black labyrinth and establishment of an aesthetic that captures our cessation of flight and transit into a non-contested existence."

Last time the statistics were checked, in 2016, over 30,000 people were at Chale Wote; which is a more than 6,000 percent increase from the number that attended the first edition of the festival. Talk about possibilities.

African Women's Development Fund (AWDF)

Photo courtesy of the AWDF.

This grant-making foundation, Africa's first pan-African women's fund, was co-founded in 2000 by three African women: Hilda Tadria, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi and Joana Foster, who passed in 2016.

Since setting up, the African Women's Development Fund has funded and supported close to 1,500 women's rights organizations and women-led initiatives in countries all over the continent.

In April 2017, the institution launched their ground-breaking AWDF Futures Project. The initiative is basically composed of projections on the future of the continent as seen through an African feminist lens. These projections are based on a mix of data/trends analysis and sheer imagination.

The AWDF Scenario Stories is one aspect of the project. It comprises of four short stories imagining four different kinds of futures—desirable, undesirable, wild card, transitional—for African women, in Africa. The protagonist in each of these scenarios (set in August 2030) is Mariam; a queer, intelligent and free-spirited young woman in a wheelchair.

The full narratives of Mariam navigating each of these four futures can be accessed, in both text and animated audio-visual formats, on AWDF's website, together with the Futures Africa: Trends for Women by 2030 report.

What will Africa be like in 2030? What would we see if we looked through the eyes of a woman? The AWDF Futures page holds a number of possible answers to these questions.

AfroCyberPunk Interactive

Photo courtesy of AfroCyberPunk Interactive.

Sci-fi writer and self-proclaimed afrofuturist, Jonathan Dotse, created AfroCyberPunk in 2010. Then, it was a blog whose focus was on "exploring the creative potential of African science fiction and speculative narratives."

Almost a decade after running as a blog, AfroCyberPunk morphed into AfroCyberPunk Interactive—a digital hypermedia content developer and publishing house—in 2017. Still, the preoccupation with "exploring the future of Africa" (as went the blog's tagline) remains prime. A part of what could be referred to as their mission statement reads thus: "Our roots in afrofuturism continue to inspire the recurrent themes, motifs and aesthetics of our publications. We aspire to [...] address the global imbalance in the representation of marginalised peoples and perspectives."

Founder Jonathan Dotse is himself at work on his debut novel, a cyberpunk mystery/ psychological thriller set in Accra, Ghana circa 2060 AD.

All of the above certainly do echo these words offered by Jonathan in a blog post titled Why Africa Needs Science Fiction: "As Africa marches onward into the future it is important that we as Africans begin to critically visualize the development that will take place on our own soil, and our vision must be based on our own unique reality, cut from the cloth of our own societies and tailored to our specific needs."

Drama Queens

Photo courtesy of Drama Queens.

This feminist and Pan-Africanist theatre organisation optimally embodies the idea of Sankofa: an examination of heritage to select and use, presently, the positive and helpful values, in the ultimate service of creating the future.

Drama Queens is founded on the ancient Egyptian philosophy of Ma'at—which adjures for justice, balance and harmony as ways of being. The world being as it is now—generally unjust, imbalanced and disharmonious, against black people specifically, and more specifically against marginalized black communities—renders Drama Queens' work futuristic.

To ground this, they are avowedly working towards "a just, balanced and harmonious world where highest respect is given to nature and all nature creates."

This year, for instance, is Drama Queens' year of "contributing to an end to homophobia towards the African LGBTQ+ community" through various activities such as theatre productions, facilitating queer film production workshops, social media discussions and talk events.

Nana Akosua Hanson, founder and director of Drama Queens has said in an interview that her organization aims, ultimately, "to end oppression by changing mindsets through the use of cultural tools, to revolutionalize thinking and bring forth the existence of an Africa without heteropatriarchy, and a continent free from the exploitation and destruction of racist nations." Sounds about Afrofuturist.

Squid Magazine

Photo courtesy of Squid Magazine.

Comics, games and animation are probably the most popular media through which creators indulge in futuristic thinking. Add to this the truism that critical, intellectual engagement and documentation are of lifeblood importance to the efflorescence of a culture. Put together, it adds up to the fact that Squid Magazine (simply, Squid Mag) is doing essential afrofuturist work.

Started in 2015 by Kadi Yao Tay and Kofi Asare, Squid Mag is dedicated to the "exploration, critique, promotion and archiving of African creativity manifested within comics, games, animation..." As it happens, Squid Mag is one of the very few, if not only, platforms on the continent that wholesomely covers African output in the above mentioned media.

There's a rather poetic resonance as to why this outfit is named 'Squid.' Here's the import of the name, as explained on their website:

The name is inspired by squids, sea invertebrates that release ink as a defense mechanism. We find it poetic how such a mechanism can be a metaphor for painting a people's realities and dreams fluidly in an ocean of canvases. An ocean that is threatened to be overrun with narratives that exclude us.

So now you know, if you didn't know before, where to go in search of a sea of narratives—of realities and dreams—that include us.

*

There is a great deal more than can be said for the imagination—and exercising it. It begets creation, after all. Thus, what these and other entities are doing—engendering alternative socio-political imaginaries for all peoples of African descent—is such a needful venture. But after all is said and visualized, the ultimate challenge, most probably, is to act, to create. Blitz the Ambassador puts it succinctly on his afrofuturist song, "Africa Is The Future" (long since renamed "Africa Is Now"): There ain't no future unless we build it now.

moshood lives in Accra, from where he writes across genres. He has recently taken on painting. He tweets here: @thehamzay

popular
Still from Emmeron's "Good Do"

Following Government Suppression, Sierra Leone's 'People's Popstar' Is Finally Allowed to Perform

Emmerson's music has influenced past elections in Sierra Leone. Here's why his performance at the National Stadium is a win for artistic freedom.

Early December 2017, a flyer was circulating on Whatsapp in Freetown announcing one of the most exciting concerts of the year. Sierra Leonean superstar Emmerson Bockarie, stage name Emmerson, was going to perform live alongside two other popular artists. The concert was to be held at the National Stadium, Freetown's foremost and largest concert venue where the likes of Timaya and Wizkid have performed in the past.

One week later, with no further explanation, the concert was cancelled.

Rumours went wild. The then ruling party, All People's Congress (APC), was seen by many as the culprit. Elections were just around the corner and Emmerson, with government-critiquing lyrics, was not to perform to an audience that could reach 36,000 people. It was a recurring story; Emmerson has not been able to perform at the National Stadium since 2012, all during the APC reign.

Now, a month after the change of government, Emmerson held his concert, called Finally, on the April 28.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

The Prince and Princess of Lesotho Were the Only Foreign Royals At Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's Wedding

The Basotho and British royals have a long-standing bond.

While Prince Harry and Meghan Markle avoided inviting politicians and foreign royals to their wedding on SaturdayBarack and Michelle Obama were noticeably absent—the couple made an exception for one pair of royals: Prince Seeiso of Lesotho and his wife Princess Mabereng.

The two were amongst the 600 guests present for Saturday's festivities at Windsor Castle. Princess Mabereng donned colorful traditional attire for the ceremony, and stood out in the best way possible.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.