The Technicolor Congo Pop Art Of Jonathan Mwe di Malila

Kinshasa-born artist Jonathan Mwe di Malila's CONGO POP is a technicolor mixed-media style that takes elements of Pop Art and Fauvism.

All images courtesy of Jonathan Mwe di Malila

Jonathan Mwe di Malila is a twenty-one-year-old oil and acrylic painter who says his latest work serves to uplift his heritage and bring Congolese culture to the mainstream. The Kinshasa-born artist moved to Cologne, Germany, at a young age. Faced with the unfamiliarity of his new surroundings, he turned to art as a means of connecting with those around him. "I remembered very well that communication was really difficult to me because I couldn't speak a single word in German," he told us over e-mail. "So to let people know what I wanted to communicate I started drawing little pictures and paintings. By the time I learned German, my passion for art hadn't slackened for a single moment."

Malila's vibrant paintings take elements of Pop Art's vivid collaging and Fauvism's bold brushstrokes and color palettes to create a technicolor mixed-media style he's dubbed CONGO POP. "Congo Pop is the lovechild between Pop-Art and Fauvism," he explained. "In my paintings I depict everyday Congolese culture in a colorful and expressive tone and I use my African background, combined with everyday objects, subjects and situations to bring funny content and culture to people. Sometimes, some of my work appears to be naive. These works partially depict childish and elementary visions and act as spontaneous expressions of myself."

It is this uninhibited freedom of expression that inspired Malila to focus his recent series Les Gens de coleur de Kinsasha on the dapper Gentlemen of Bacongo, a fraternity of well-dressed men whose self-determining ideology manifests itself through their expertly tailored outfits and air of genteel individuality. Les Sapeurs, as they are called in Congo, use their impeccable fashion sense and elegant affectations to transform themselves into walking works of art. Despite their often humble beginnings, Sapeurs adopt lavish personas in order to resist being confined to their socioeconomic standing, and their outward appearance tells the world that they too can possess the swagger and status of well-heeled members of the upper class. "The urge for freedom and the desire for individuality are the subjects of these paintings," he told us of the series. "In particular, the self-presentation [of Sapeurs] considering the external circumstances impressed me."

Another new series focuses solely on female figures, and features oil portraits of four different women. Malila shared that he started working on this collection, titled Black Beauty, to show the beauty of the African woman. In both Black Beauty and Les Gens de coleur de Kinshasa, Malila uses a solid color palette made up of bright and flashy hues, with simplified forms that integrate patterned African fabrics.

Click through the gallery above for more of Jonathan Mwe di Malila's CONGO POP, and keep up with him on Facebook and Tumblr.

Photo: Courtesy of Radswan

Freddie Harrel Is Building Conscious Beauty For and With the African Diaspora

Formerly known as "Big Hair Don't Care", creator Freddie Harrel and her team have released 3 new wig shapes called the "RadShapes" available now.

Photo: Courtesy of Radswan

The normalising of Black and brown women in wigs of various styles has certainly been welcomed by the community, as it has opened up so many creative avenues for Black women to take on leadership roles and make room for themselves in the industry.

Radswan (formerly known as Big Hair Don't Care), is a lifestyle brand "bringing a new perspective on Blackness through hair, by disrupting the synthetic market with innovative and sustainable products." Through their rebrand, Radswan aims to, "upscale the direct-to-consumer experience holistically, by having connected conversations around culture and identity, in order to remove the roots of stigma."

The latest from French-Cameroonian founder and creator Freddie Harrel - who was featured on our list of 100 women of 2020 - has built her career in digital marketing and reputation as an outspoken advocate for women's empowerment. On top of her business ventures, the 2018 'Cosmopolitan Influencer of the Year' uses her platform to advocate for women's empowerment with 'SHE Unleashed,' a workshop series where women of all ages come together to discuss the issues that impact the female experience, including the feeling of otherness, identity politics, unconscious bias, racism and sexism.

And hair is clearly one of her many passions, as Freddie says, "Hair embodies my freest and earliest form of self expression, and as a shapeshifter, I'm never done. I get to forever reintroduce my various angles, tell all my stories to this world that often feels constrained and biased."

Armed with a committee of Black women, Freddie has cultivated Radswan and the aesthetic that comes with the synthetic but luxurious wigs. The wigs are designed to look like as though the hair is growing out of her own head, with matching lace that compliments your own skin colour.

By being the first brand to use recycled fibres, Radswan is truly here to change the game. The team has somehow figured out how to make their products look and feel like the real thing, while using 0% human hair and not negotiating on the price, quality or persona.

In 2019, the company secured £1.5m of investment led by BBG Ventures with Female Founders Fund and Pritzker Private Capital participating, along with angelic contributions from Hannah Bronfman, Nashilu Mouen Makoua, and Sonja Perkins.

On the importance of representation and telling Black stories through the products we create, Freddie says, "Hair to me is Sundays kneeling between your mothers or aunties legs, it's your cousin or newly made friend combing lovingly through your hair, whilst you detangle your life out loud. Our constant shapeshifting teaches us to see ourselves in each other, the hands braiding always intimately touching our head more often than not laying someone's lap."

"Big Hair No Care took off in ways we couldn't keep up with," she continues, "RadSwan is our comeback.It's a lifestyle brand, it's the hair game getting an upgrade, becoming fairer and cleaner. It's the platform that recognises and celebrates your identity as a shapeshifter, your individuality and your right to be black like you."

Check out your next hairstyle from Radswan here.

Radswan's RadShape 01Photo: Courtesy of Radswan

Radswan's RadShape 02Photo: Courtesy of Radswan

Radswan's RadShape 03Photo: Courtesy of Radswan

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