A Breathing Space Project
In 2020 we saw many of our assumptions about society, culture and economy upturned or broken. We saw in equal measure the emergence of possibilities for rapid and transformative change, and the deepening of existing fractures and injustices. It is clear we are inside a period of disruption that neither began nor will end with the COVID-19 pandemic, and in which the larger social-economic-ecological crises of our time become vivid and present. Against this backdrop, the Breathing Space grant programme of Pro Helvetia’s Johannesburg office looked to enable modest relief, or ‘breathing space’, for arts practitioners, organisations and networks across the subcontinent to rethink ways of working, to experiment with new formats of production, exchange and collaboration and reimagine the shape and position of cultural and creative work.
For this project Afrika Diva Collective invites artists from four countries that once formed the Kongo empire: Angola (Fuckin Globo), Congo Republic (La Structure), DR Congo (Afrika Diva Collective), and Gabon (Ibogazik). They will work on the topic of “times*” referring to short and long moments that mark profound changes with global consequences, the interrelatedness of past, present and future actions as well as “viral borderlessness,” examining precolonial worldviews.
*”Tango” in Lingala. Also the etymological source for the dance “Tango,” invented by African slaves in Latin America.
PROJECT CONCEPT NOTE
Moving at high speed through the streets of Kinshasa, DRC, trying to solve one of the many urgencies in this 14-million strong megalopolis, it is the feeling and the rhythm of time that changed considerably during Covid. The “Covid times” (Tango ya Covid), as one of our current “times,” has and still is becoming a global collective memory, knowing no national borders, despite being locally specific.
These conditions have led to a few reflections within the Afrika Diva Collective in the past months. How do we relate to time? How have “times” caused disintegration and hybrid reintegration? Is there a need to rethink “times,” so we can move more positively, more healthily, ahead? Where and how to think viral borderlessness in the D.R. Congo whose borders were violently traced by colonial powers?
We therefore propose a project that acknowledges the simultaneity of the past, the present and the future, by diving into “times,” in which disintegration and integration happened.
When the Portuguese arrived in the Congo Basin in the 1480s, they encountered a populated land, held together by the Kongo empire and a shared cosmology that gathered temporal as well as environmental relationships in a complex and interrelated manner. The Kongo empire was composed of parts of today’s Angola, the D.R. Congo (“Congo-Kinshasa”), Gabon and Republic of the Congo (“Congo-Brazzaville”). This project will allow a group of artists from each country to research the traces of this past and break open today’s borders between the countries, recreating a collective memory that was disrupted through the slave trade and colonial interests.
The project kicked-off in Kinshasa in late December 2020 with a meeting of all the participating artists. An introductory symposium will take place in Kinshasa in February 2021 with four local specialists from various disciplines (history, art history, musicology, philosophy) to discuss aspects of the Kongo empire. This gathering will also include visits to the National Museum of Kinshasa and Sao, a village on the Bateke Plateau. These three components give a base for the participating artists to determine a direction for further research.
A series of online meetings will follow this with the 6 participating artists from Angola, Gabon and Congo-Brazzaville where the cluster in Kinshasa will share the knowledges they gained during the symposium. The full group will discuss larger topics that may lead to research paths (for instance: changing gender conceptions / rhythm patterns and their significance for social cohesion / the Bateke plateau as a border-crossing entity, traversing Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa and Gabon / the letters of the King of the Kongo empire to the King of Portugal (1526) / body adornments as an expression of identity…).
Each artist will then embark on their own research paths after this meeting. The artists will gather for two meetings to share the status of their research and artistic projects. They will critique each other’s proposals and discuss the final presentation. Each artist will thoroughly think about an innovative format that takes into consideration that it will appear on a common website and will not travel physically.
In March 2021 the project will go full circle and return to Kinshasa bringing together the works, questions and knowledges gained during the project. A public presentation (31.03.2021) and the launch of a website will open the project to a wider, global audience and counteract ongoing “epistemicides.”
Afrika Diva Collective, Kinshasa(created in 2014 by Orakle Ngoy) is a collective of women artists, who work towards more visibility for Congolese female talent in the D.R.Congo and abroad. The collective organises exhibitions, concerts, workshops, and discussion groups among women, to address systems of power. They participate in festivals and global networking projects. Since 2018 the collective organises the YAMBI CITY festival. In 2020 the collective curated SPAM: A Radio Programme of Desired-Undesired Messages (Berlin, Goma, Halle & Kinshasa).
Fuckin’ Globo, Luanda is a multidisciplinary artists’ collective that initiates exhibitions of the same name, taking place at the Globo Hotel in Luanda. They are known for stretching artistic boundaries and consider themselves as a “platform, which makes room for art and politically incorrect thinking.” They aim for “poetic terrorism, which frees artistic expression from the webs of self-censorship.” A main characteristic of their undertaking is that they stay fully independent from sponsors and institutions and thus nurture solidarity among them.
Ibogazik, Libreville is an independent structure that promotes the music of Gabon in its many forms. From contemporary to traditional rhythms and sounds, it creates moments of renewed knowledges by working with a wide range of artists.
La Structure, Pointe-Noire was created in 2017 and is a place of encounters between artists as well as a space for the younger generation to learn from them. It focuses on urban cultures, and has participated in many international festivals, as for instance the Festival Afropolita in Nomade in Dakar.
Bernie Bobina Mpia [DR Congo] (alias BMB Voix d’Ange) was born in Germany and now lives and works in Kinshasa. She is TV and radio host at RTGA (Radio Television Groupe Avenir), as well as a border-crossing musician with a diploma from the National Institute of Arts in Kinshasa (INA). She sings in all the national languages of the D. R. Congo. Her musical genre is a mix of gospel, R’N’B and Congolese folk music, creating a singular energy with rhythms originating in her sensibility for the traditions of her country. The depth of her lyrics is rooted in Congolese daily life, the cultures and realities of her people, as well as her personal observations of the social realities surrounding her. Since 2000, she has been working alongside the rapper Orakle Ngoy and has accompanied her to several festivals and numerous projects. She is secretary of Afrika Diva Collectif, where she leads debates against the oppression of women.
Junior Mvunzi-Muteba [DR Congo] is a Congolese artist and designer. His practice is multi-faceted; moving from the sculptural all the way to performance art, he also applies his knowledge in electronics and metals to utilitarian design objects. For Junior Mvunzi, fragility is a force. His work often reflects the mutuality between strong and fragile materials, between the easily degradable and / or breakable and the durable, between stable and instable states of existence. Electricity as a powerful symbol for the flow of energies led him to reflect energy itself as immortal, despite the constant change of material compositions. Junior Mvunzi has participated in numerous exhibitions and festivals: KINACT Festival International des Performeurs (Kinshasa, 2019), Do It Yourself (Kinshasa, 2019), Histoires de Ville (2019), Yango Forever (Kinshasa, 2018), Mbote Ya Likasu / Valise Vidéo Projecteur (Kinshasa, 2017), Intercouture (Kinshasa, 2016).
Sarah Ndele [DR Congo] is a visual artist who graduated from the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Kinshasa. Her field of work is wide: she expresses herself through sculpture, painting, performances, and has recently started writing. Through the legacy of the anti-colonial revolutionary and syncretic prophetess Kimpa Vita (1684–1706), Sarah Ndele explores the idea of memory, roots and education. Thus, she engages in a rigorous research in Kongo art. Her Yombe origins led her to work on so-called traditional masks — metaphorically speaking, to “maintain the roots”. She nicknames her method “matsuela” (meaning “tears”), to express the creative duality of tears and seeing in them a possibility of the reconstruction of a new, completely independent Africa. Her art has been shown in several contexts; in the D. R. Congo and elsewhere (Centre Wallonie Bruxelles, British Embassy Kinshasa, VITO, Artkeo, Musée Bandjoun Station, Institut Français, KINACT Rencontres Internationales des Performeurs, CNPP Kinshasa, Ndaku Ya La Vie Est Belle, Yango Biennal 2). Sarah Ndele is very active in the cultural scene in Kinshasa and recently coordinated the Kasala: Dans l’Âme de la Femme festival. She is currently a resident in the artists’ cooperative Ndaku Ya La Vie Est Belle.
Orakle Ngoy [DR Congo] is a trained lawyer, rapper, musician, song writer, performer, project manager, producer, activist and mother. She has been actively speaking out against hate, sexism, inequality and violence. Her art is rap, a hardcore call to the Kinois to respect the “Mamans” (mothers), Congolese and all women. Her music is like her image, a mixture of cheerfulness, ghetto and kinois realities, mixing Congolese musical styles, folk and artistic performance. She is a member of several kinois rap groups, like Les Enfoirés and Rage Familia. Since 2018 she is vice-president of the Arterial Network Committee in Kinshasa. She has been part of numerous projects within and outside of the Congo’s borders (to mention a few: Yambi, ACUD Macht Neu, Berlin and Kinshasa, 2019; Spinning Triangles, SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin and Kinshasa, 2019; Punch Agathe, Pumpenhaus, Münster and Stuttgart, 2019; Concerts in Tunis, Journées Musicales de Carthage, 2018; Brazzaville, Mbote Hip-Hop, 2018; Dakar, Afropolitan, 2018; etcetera). Since 2018 she leads the Yambi City festival, produced with members of the Afrika Diva Collectif that she created in 2014.
Nada Tshibwabwa [DR Congo] is an artist and musician. A large part of his practice involves working with found materials from the streets of Kinshasa. In long and continuous walks, he gathers objects to make masks, robots, or costumes for performances. He has recently started transferring his talents to drawings and paintings. His work implicitly demonstrates and transfers the violence inherent in contemporary power relations, entangled with his own biography. After leaving Lubumbashi at a young age, he found a new home with the Timbela Batimbela Yo collective in Kinshasa, that amplified his voice in the urban music scene. As a self-taught artist, his practice gained attention from Kinshasa’s art scene, despite the circumstances of his life. After working with the performance festival KINACT, he became artist in residence at the Ndaku Ya La Vie Est Belle (2018 – ongoing). Nada Tshibwabwa has initiated a wide array of community projects, transferring his knowledges to the younger generation. In 2020, Nada Tshibwabwa partly moved to Sao, a village on the Bateke Plateau, outside of Kinshasa, where he creates a meeting point for people, agriculture, the arts and a platform for education. Nada Tshibwabwa has participated in numerous festivals in Kinshasa and has performed in several cultural centres (Institut Français among others). He was part of the long-term project Spinning Triangles at S A V V Y Contemporary (2019, Berlin). His work was recently shown in Megalopolis: Voices from Kinshasa at GRASSI Museum (2018 – 19, Leipzig) and The Long Term you Cannot Afford. On the Distribution of the Toxic (2019, S A V V Y Contemporary, Berlin), New Views on Same-Olds (2020, Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Wien).
Maria-Gracia Latedjou [Angola] is an independent musician and visual artist from Benin and Angola, currently working and living in Luanda. In music, Latedjou is an instrumentalist and vocalist who transits between improvisation and experimental Soul music. Her video work consists mostly of short fiction films. She released her first EP O Baile dos Sentidos in 2017. Língua Livre, released in 2019, is her latest EP. The album reflects on the complexity of language in a formerly colonised space.
Mwana Pwo [Angola] is an Angolan photographer from Benguela, living and working in Luanda. As a self-taught artist, her love for photography soon made it into her preferred medium. In 2013 she won her first prize and became second for the Concurso de Fotografia de Ralia. Further prizes followed, encouraging Mwana Pwo to pursue her interest and perspective. Since then, she has moved smoothly between photo journalism, portrait photography, and the fine arts. Mwana Pwo is currently experimenting with mixed media — thus expanding her practice further.
Jean Pierre Moudjalou [Gabon] is a cultural consultant and cultural entrepreneur from Gabon. After learning his trade at the Senghor University of Alexandria, he established himself as a stage manager as well as agent for several artists and contributed with writings to the website lbvgroove.com. He has been chair of the national office of Arterial Network in Gabon and is a member of several cultural organisations (including IBOGAZIK as president and coordinator). Jean Pierre Moudjalou is also programme director at Génération Nouvelle, a media company in Libreville.
Michel Ignanga Ignanga [Gabon] is a musician, storyteller, actor, director and trainer in the art of storytelling. Influenced by his late father Ignang’ yi Kombiljob, a storyteller and repository of ancestral knowledge and wisdom, he follows a similar path, reviving traditional tales from his land and various continents, accompanied by the Kul, a one-stringed harp of his ancestors that he has brought into the contemporary. Since 2004, he has been present on radio, television and numerous stages. Michel Ignanga Ignanga is currently President of the Federation of Storytellers of Gabon and a teacher at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Libreville. He is the first storyteller to have adapted the traditional Mubwuang epic of the peoples of southern Gabon for the stage.
Hendry Massamba [Republic of Congo] is a Congolese drummer, living and working in Pointe-Noire. His beginnings as a percussionist date back to his childhood, since then he has been active in various musical circles. In 2013 he was spotted by Wilfrid Massamba, organisator of the Basango Jazz Festival and thereafter accompanied the Brazilian singer Verônica Bonfim. In 2016, he participates at Masa in Abidjan (Ivory Coast) as part of Gaël Manangou’s band Gaël & les Caïmans. Shortly after, Hendry Massamba and his friends Beaurel, Mohamed and Bédé create Doudoumba, their own group of percussionists. In 2018 Hendry Massamba make an important encounter: During the festival Les Tambours de Pointe-Noire, he met the famous percussionist Freddy Massamba (Les Tambours de Brazza), leading to several collaborations. Hendry Massamba has recently started a solo career, exploring the concept “wa” — mixing Afro, Jazz, Pop and Soul as well as modern-traditional styles — leading to an album, currently in the making.
Massen Mbongolo [Republic of Congo] (alias Masse Bongos) is an illustrator, painter and author of graphic novels. Having pursued his studies in the field of economics, but never having let go of his creative talents, Massen Mbongolo became an autodidact, convincing his environment bit by bit through his work. In 2014 he fully turned towards the arts, participating in various exhibitions and festivals as well as being active in several collectives (among them La Structure). He co-founded Kukia, a collective operating in various fields in the cultural scene in Pointe-Noire.