LIBERATION OF THE MIND I wrote a column in Tableau Fine Art Magazine, in Dutch… Read PDF of the article ‘Liberation of the Mind’ here.
Based on 2019, 2020 promises to be a fascinating year for contemporary African art. Moreover, it is the year of the Dakar and Kampala art biennials with the theme ‘I’Ndaffa’, which means creative fire and “Get Up Stand Up!”, to Bob Marley’s call for action to free our bodies and souls. Both themes are striking for what is currently taking place on the African continent and in the diaspora.
Two of my favorite artists have been selected to show their work in Dakar. Both translate their own environment and experiences into universal themes that sometimes come uncomfortably close to the experience of the viewer.
Strength and vulnerability
Ugandan Immy Mali has just finished two years as an artist in residence at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. To explore Ugandan society, she explores her own history and creates an archive of herself. Themes that she addresses are identity, vulnerability and human resilience.
In 2017 Immy started writing letters to her younger self to investigate why her artworks are always about strength and vulnerability. She writes about memories of her childhood, such as the songs she sang at school and the games that were played on the schoolyard. She unconsciously sketches a picture of the times. “Why did we sing songs about slavery and “the black sheep song”? Why were we beaten if we didn’t speak English but one of the Ugandan native languages?” The letters deal with these personal topics that together form the collective history of post-colonial Uganda.
Immy Mali also makes large interactive installations as part of the Letters to my childhood project (2017- until now); such as the spider-shaped dressing table that was on display at the Rijksakademie. A place where everyone has a moment with themselves in the mirror and at the same time gets a glimpse into the thoughts and memories of young Immy Mali. “They are sometimes confrontational stories about my childhood in Uganda, family dramas, racism and my experiences as an artist.”
The work of the Kenyan Syowia Kyambi can also be seen at the Dak’Art 2020 biennial. As a multimedia and performance artist, she investigates concepts such as displacement, memories, vulnerability and confusion. Themes that are recognizable in the rapidly changing African societies. With her work, Kyambi raises questions such as: what is identity in relation to place, history and self-acceptance?
The history and its effects on the present also play a very important role in one of the works of Syowia Kyambi. In the installation and physical performance entitled Fracture (I) (2015), she uses Rose as the main character, a woman who is tormented by doubt. She no longer knows where she belongs and is unable to relate to herself, neither in the context of the rural Kenyan tradition nor in urban modernity.
Effects of the past on the present
During the performance, Rose tries to lead the perfect modern life. She is getting ready for her workday, but is literally collapsing. Rose mourns the past and tries to reassemble broken pots and vases that represent lost culture, practice and people. She stumbles over the remains of her former self and her dilemma is only resolved when she faces her loss and gives up the role she has created for herself. Kyambi: “Part of the work has to do with colonial history and recognizing the violence and part of it with self-destruction and accepting the situation as it is. Recognizing destruction is a very important step in the healing process. If you understand your history, you better understand current relationships and circumstances“.
Call to action
The themes that Immy Mali and Syowia Kyambi are researching are deeply rooted in today’s African context. From personal creative fire they focus on confrontation and confusion, with which they create dialogue and awareness. I am curious to see what they and other artists are showing at the Dak’Art 2020 biennial. This West African biennial is a great prelude to the Kampala Biennial in Uganda where people are challenged to see how visual art is needed to change their mind, to take action!
Do you want to see the art works with your own eyes? Travel with me to Dakar and Kampala! Read more about these art tours here.