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Photo courtesy of Silas Miami

Young, Black and Uber-Talented: Kenyan Filmmaker Silas Miami is Off to the Oscars

Silas Miami on Supa Modo as Kenya's submission to the 91st Academy Awards and the future of artmaking in Africa.

Kenyan-born, Cape Town-based artist, Silas Miami, is the future of African art. He is a filmmaker, musician and photographer with an eye like no other. His most recent feature film, Supa Modo, set and shot on location in Kenya, was submitted to the 91st Academy Awards (the Oscars baby!) by Kenya alongside Rafiki, a tremendous feat given his young age. Silas is also the author of an award-winning photographic monograph, Onthou Atlantis, a stunning collection of visuals with ebullient colors. He's also released an EP, Withdrawal Symptoms, written both in English and Swahili, which has had great airplay in Kenya.

We caught up with him to talk about how he's fast becoming a trailblazer in the creative industry, his hopes for future African artmaking and how he thinks the continent can grow.


We're going to start off with Supa Modo. Just briefly, tell us what the film is about and also what inspired the project itself.

The film is about a 9-year-old girl who has terminal cancer and who desperately wants to be a superhero. It follows her journey and how she brings her community together to make her dreams come true and explicates the beauty of what happens when people come together to make a little girl's dream come true.

Why was it important for you to tell that story?

My co-writers and I wanted to remind Kenyans what we were about and who you were intrinsically. We're a community that goes to the ends of the world to make sure that we're all okay. We'll always make sure that we're all valued and that we feel like we belong and those values have kind of been eroded at the moment.

Do you think that the finished product that is Supa Modo is the version that you had initially dreamed up?

The broad strokes, yes, but we made very many changes. We wanted to make it extremely sad and somber. When we realized that the hack was trying to tell this really serious story of a young girl who has a death sentence upon her, through the prism of humor, it worked out pretty well.

Supa Modo is Kenya's submission to the 91st Academy Awards in the category of Best Foreign Film. How did you feel the moment you realized that that had happened?

I dropped my phone and started weeping like a child. It felt like every ounce of energy, blood and sweat we put into the project had been validated. I know we don't seek validation when we put out the work, but it's great to know that people appreciate the effort and the story and that it means something to someone and to our country.

It's been a while since that moment. Does it still feel surreal or have you accepted that this is what happened and eased into that reality?

You know, if you've been in this industry long enough, you know that you're only as good as your last work. So I'm grateful that Supa Modo has been selected, but I very easily moved on to the next project. I also want to imbue the same heart into my next project.

There is the sentiment that Africans aren't telling their own stories and so someone else (inevitably Westerners) do. What is your take on that?

I don't think there's a simple answer to that. Making films is incredibly expensive and the people who usually come with the money are or have Western interests. Supa Modo is a German-Kenyan co-production. South Africa is particularly unique though in that there's a lot of support from government and support that is freely given which is wonderful, but, in other African spaces, it's a little more difficult to make films.

Why do you think Nigeria and its Nollywood has managed to flip the script?

The trick with Nigeria is that the people bought into their own stories. I think the challenge here is to try and get buy-in from African audiences who believe that their stories are worth watching. Africans don't believe in their stories as much as they should. But now we're telling our audiences, "Look, we're experts at this. We've developed expertise and we know how to tell these stories. Come and watch your stories. We promise to tell them well."

I'm thinking of the South African film Inxeba: The Wound. There was a huge furor around that and a desire to censor creative expression. What did you think about that?

I think that socially we have somewhere to go in shedding a lot of the harm that has been done to us pre- and post-colonially. Some of the belief systems that we have entrusted our lives in, have kind of modeled a way of life that is, however, rapidly changing. There's this rejection to the change that I'm sensing.

And the same with Rafiki as well, a Kenyan production, right?

Yes. We need to interrogate our relationship with queerness when bringing it into the frame. Rafiki, for instance, was banned in Kenya for centering a queer narrative. Stories of Our Lives was also banned in Kenya for centering a queer narrative. Queer stories barely get traction within the continent. I think there's a larger conversation that's opening up. But that's the reason we do what we do, so that we can have these uncomfortable conversations.

What kind of stories do you personally want to tell?

I think the base answer for that is I just want to tell stories that wouldn't otherwise have been told, stories of the disenfranchised people in our community. And, you know, I happen to occupy certain parts of that. I'm a Black man existing in the world, that comes with its own challenges.

Being African and Black, did you ever to have to convince your family that artmaking was something you wanted to pursue and pursue seriously, not just as an extracurricular activity?

Yeah. I certainly tried to convince my mother but she swiftly kicked me out of her house. I mean, we're on wonderful terms now and she's one of my best friends. But at the time, it didn't make sense to her. To the previous generation, art was completely de-centered and eventually led to you either getting a drug addiction or pregnancy and so you ended up being a cautionary tale.

What are some of the things that excite you about the art that is being produced on this continent at the moment?

I think some of the most exciting stuff that I'm seeing is contemporary African content that has no link to trauma whatsoever which is just so glorious because for a long time our narrative has always been trauma. And don't get me wrong, the trauma is very visceral. It's here. It's present. We deal with it every day. Some of us stop dealing with it and that's also a valid response to it. But we are more than our trauma.

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Artwork: Barthélémy Toguo Lockdown Selfportrait 10, 2020. Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair Goes to Paris in 2021

The longstanding celebration of African art will be hosted by Parisian hot spot Christie's for the first time ever.

In admittedly unideal circumstances, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair will be touching French soil in 2021. The internationally celebrated art fair devoted to contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora will be hosted in Paris, France from January 20 - 23. With COVID-19 still having its way around the globe, finding new ways to connect is what it's all about and 1-54 is certainly taking the innovative steps to keep African art alive and well.
In partnership with Christie's, the in-person exhibits will take place at the auction house's city HQ at Avenue Matignon, while 20 international exhibitors will be featured online at Christies.com. And the fun doesn't stop there as the collaboration has brought in new ways to admire the talent from participating galleries from across Africa and Europe. The fair's multi-disciplinary program of talks, screenings, performances, workshops, and readings are set to excite and entice revelers.

Artwork: Delphine Desane Deep Sorrow, 2020. Courtesy Luce Gallery


The tech dependant program, curated by Le 18, a multi-disciplinary art space in Marrakech medina, will see events take place during the Parisian run fair, followed by more throughout February.
This year's 1-54 online will be accessible to global visitors virtually, following the success of the 2019's fair in New York City and London in 2020. In the wake of COVID-19 related regulations and public guidelines, 1-54 in collaboration with Christie's Paris is in compliance with all national regulations, strict sanitary measures, and security.

Artwork: Cristiano Mongovo Murmurantes Acrilico Sobre Tela 190x200cm 2019


1-54 founding director Touria El Glaoui commented, "Whilst we're sad not to be able to go ahead with the fourth edition of 1-54 Marrakech in February as hoped, we are incredibly excited to have the opportunity to be in Paris this January with our first-ever fair on French soil thanks to our dedicated partners Christie's. 1-54's vision has always been to promote vibrant and dynamic contemporary art from a diverse set of African perspectives and bring it to new audiences, and what better way of doing so than to launch an edition somewhere completely new. Thanks to the special Season of African Culture in France, 2021 is already set to be a great year for African art in the country so we are excited to be playing our part and look forward, all being well, to welcoming our French friends to Christie's and many more from around the world to our online fair in January."

Julien Pradels, General Director of Christie's France, said, "Christie's is delighted to announce our second collaboration with 1-54, the Contemporary African Art Fair, following a successful edition in London this October. Paris, with its strong links to the continent, is a perfect place for such a project and the additional context of the delayed Saison Africa 2020 makes this partnership all the more special. We hope this collaboration will prove a meaningful platform for the vibrant African art scene and we are confident that collectors will be as enthusiastic to see the works presented, as we are."


Artwork: Kwesi Botchway Metamorphose in July, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957


Here's a list of participating galleries to be on the lookout for:

Galleries

31 PROJECT (Paris, France)
50 Golborne (London, United Kingdom)
Dominique Fiat (Paris, France)
Galerie 127 (Marrakech, Morocco)
Galerie Anne de Villepoix (Paris, France)
Galerie Cécile Fakhoury (Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire/ Dakar, Senegal)
Galerie Eric Dupont (Paris, France)
Galerie Lelong & Co. (Paris, France / New York, USA)
Galerie Nathalie Obadia (Paris, France / Brussels, Belgium)
Galleria Continua (Beijing, China / Havana, Cuba / Les Moulins, France / San Gimignano, Italy / Rome, Italy)
Gallery 1957 (Accra, Ghana / London, United Kingdom)
Loft Art Gallery (Casablanca, Morocco)

Luce Gallery (Turin, Italy)
MAGNIN-A (Paris, France)
Nil Gallery (Paris, France)
POLARTICS (Lagos, Nigeria)
SEPTIEME Gallery (Paris, France)
This is Not a White Cube (Luanda, Angola) THK Gallery (Cape Town, South Africa) Wilde (Geneva, Switzerland)

For more info visit 1-54

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