Arts + Culture

Mozambique Photographer Mário Macilau on African Representations and 'Living Life Forward'

Mário Macilau was recently featured on Aljazeera's Artscape series on African photography and its challenges to common misconceptions of Africa

*Photo of Mário Macilau from Al Jazeera's Artscape, The New African Photography series.

The latest subject of Aljazeera's Artscape series, The New African Photography, is the young Mozambican photographer Mário Macilau. His images have been described as "alarming and provoking, arresting and engaging, public and private but, above all, utterly human."  Often portraying stunning moments that starkly reveal the social, political and economic environment of his country and beyond, he seeks both to connect with – at a seemingly divine level– as well as communicate for his often overlooked subjects. Okayafrica contributor Unathi L. Sondiyazi caught up with Mário to talk about representations of Africa and his body of work.

OKA: I understand the continent is broad and the problem of representation or misrepresentation isn't a Western invention.  Among African news networks one also finds problematic stereotypes pervading reportage, that also shape values, expectations and mindsets.  Some say we are not only victims of Western distortion but we also have been complicit in the failure to shift the center away from colonial legacies. Do you agree?

Mário Macilau: I have learned though my journey in the world of photography and the travels I've had so far, that it helped me to open my own mind and to learn about other countries and their cultures. This helped me to understand mine in particular, and Africa in general ... When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.  If Africa pretends to be a victim, then we’ll be the victims all the time. Before we point out the failures to others, let’s look to our relations, to our problems, and try to find a way to solve them. Remember that all of us in life as human beings has a choice and a way to begin something – even though I understand that the world  is full of injustice - but this is just the way it is, so should we sing the same song all the time? If so, nothing will change, because life can only be understood backwards [in retrospect] but it must be lived forwards.

* 'Maziones (White Boy)' by Mário Macilau

OKA: Your being called a 'New African photographer' suggests that there is a new guard at the helm of African photography, both in thought as well as in practice.  Do you agree that the cultural centre in photography is shifting?  If so, who in Mozambique (and elsewhere) would you say led the way for you?

MM:  I have learned almost everything in life by myself, I have tried different things, I have talked to everyone. So maybe I'm not what people say I am, but one thing for sure is that I am a photographer ... Photography is my language and a tool to bring forward the identity of some excluded people in our society, to bring their voices that have been hidden in the darkness. I use photography to change people’s minds about the world we’re living in.

OKA: Why did you choose to participate in the documentary?  What were your motivations and goals, and would you say the documentary was able to accomplish those goals?

MM:  I didn’t apply to be filmed, I didn’t even know about the project. I returned home from a trip and months later I was called by the South African company Fireworx Media to ask for my permission to be filmed for this documentary. I said yes, and why not? I accepted because I have to explore all opportunities to share my work with the world, to share the stories of the people who are my subjects [of my work], because they must be heard by others.

*'Life Goes On (Fire)' by Mário Macilau

OKA: The question of representation of Africa and its people in Western media has been a topical discussion for over 30 years now, with various thinkers contributing  tomes on the subject.  When you started out as a photographer how important was representation for you? Do you see an improvement in the way Africa and its people are portrayed in the media in general?

MM:  I work as documentary photographer on  long-term projects, and I like to show the reality.  My work is sensitive but you can also find a glamour, beauty and dignity. To answer your question directly: [my work] is not just about Africa but about the world: too much capitalism and injustice. I was also surprised after seeing the images of refugees in Mali being used for fundraising in Madrid – personally I have nothing against it if that is the reality - but we can’t be McDonalds in photography. We have to learn how to respect others, how to consider them and give them dignity as humans.

OKA: What upcoming projects do you have underway that we should look out for?

MM: I have started work on my new project based first on research about the transition of two generations in my own country, where I make works that examine personal identity and  the physical and psychological condition within a specific environment.

* From the series: "The Zionists" by Mario Macilau

Image courtesy of Lula Ali Ismaïl

'Dhalinyaro' Is the Female Coming-of-Age Story Bringing Djibouti's Film Industry to Life

The must-watch film, from Lula Ali Ismaïl, paints a novel picture of Djibouti's capital city through the story of three friends.

If you're having a tough time recalling the last movie you watched from Djibouti, it's likely because you have never watched one before. With an almost non-existent film industry in the country, Lula Ali Ismaïl, tells a beautiful coming of age story of three young female Djiboutian teenagers at the cusp of womanhood. Dhalinyaro offers a never-before-seen view of Djibouti City as a stunning, dynamic city that blends modernity and tradition—a city in which the youth, like all youth everywhere, struggle to decide what their futures will look like. It's a beautiful story of friendship, family, dreams and love from a female filmmaker who wants to tell a "universal story of youth," but set in the country she loves—Djibouti.

The story revolves around the lives of three young friends from different socio-economic backgrounds, with completely varied attitudes towards life, but bound by a deep friendship. There is Asma, the conservative academic genius who dreams of going to medical school and hails from a modest family. Hibo, a rebellious, liberal, spoiled girl from a very wealthy family who learns to be a better friend as the film evolves and finally Deka. Deka is the binding force in the friendship, a brilliant though sometimes naïve teen who finds herself torn between her divorced mother's ambitions to give her a better life having saved up all her life for her to go to university abroad, and her own conviction that she wants to study and succeed in her own country.

Okayafrica contributor, Ciku Kimeria speaks to Ismaïl on her groundbreaking film, her hopes for the filmmaking industry and the universality of stories.

Keep reading... Show less
Image courtesy of Adekunle Adeleke

Spotlight: Adekunle Adeleke Creates Digital Surrealist Paintings That Celebrate African Beauty

Get familiar with the work of Nigerian visual artist Adekunle Adeleke.

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists and more who are producing vibrant, original work. In our latest piece, we spotlight Adekunle Adeleke, a Nigerian visual artist, using digital mediums to paint dream-like portraits of Africans. Read more about the inspirations behind his work below, and check out some of his stunning paintings underneath. Be sure to keep up with the artist on Instagram and Facebook.

Can you tell us more about your background and when you first started painting?

I am a self taught artist. I started drawing from when I was really young. I mostly used graphite pencils and paper. But about six years ago, I think it was 2014, I wanted to start getting into color. I was a university student at the time and I lived in a hostel with three other people, so I couldn't go traditional so [instead], I started making paintings digitally, first on my iPad and then on my laptop with a Wacom. I have been painting ever since.

What would you say are the central themes in your work?

I personally think my work celebrates beauty (African beauty to be precise) and occasionally absurd things. I really just want to make paintings that are beautiful.

How do you decide who or what you're going to paint?
I do not have an exact process. I do use a lot of references though. Sometimes, I had an idea of how exactly the painting would look, others I just make it up as i go along.

Can you talk about a particular moment or turning point in your life that made you want to pursue art or a creative path?

I am not sure–I did not actively pursue art in a sense. I was just doing it because it was fun and I wanted to. Then people all of a sudden wanted to put me on projects and offer to pay for my hobby. I have thankfully been able to make art and also work in a separate field—which I also enjoy–by day.

Keep reading... Show less

Stogie T Enlists Nasty C, Boity, Nadia Nakai and More, for ‘The Empire of Sheep’ Deluxe Edition

Stream the deluxe version of Stogie T's EP 'The Empire of Sheep' featuring Nasty C, Boity, Nadia Nakai and more.

Stogie T just shared a deluxe version of his 2019 EP The Empire of Sheep titled EP The Empire of Sheep (Deluxe Unmasked). The project comes with three new songs. "All You Do Is Talk" features fellow South African rappers Nasty C, Boity and Nadia Nakai. New York lyricist appears on "Bad Luck" while one of Stogie T's favorite collaborators Ziyon appears on "The Making."

Keep reading... Show less
"Kata" single cover.

Listen to Tekno's New Single 'Kata'

The Nigerian artist and producer returns with a melodic banger just in time for the weekend.

Nigerian artist Tekno is back with his second single of the year, "Kata."

The heavyweight artist and producer delivers a melodic track that sees him singing about his devotion to his lover over drum-filled production from Phantom. The track features subdued vocals from. the artist, and a beat that's easy to move along to. The song follows the track 'Beh Beh' which he released earlier this year.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox