• ‘To Labour Together’: Working with heart and collaboration | Maputo, Mozambique

    EAS contributor Valerie Amani, from Tanzania, reflects on her experience at the ColabNowNow 2018 residency program in Maputo, where she encountered and interviewed artist Hugo Mendes.


    Andrew + Val collaborative process | Photo Credit: Maputo Fast Forward

    Why is art important? I ask this question coming from a historical cultural background where art and functionality are synonymous; a pot - however beautifully adorned and detailed - is still first and foremost just a pot; its value intrinsically tied to usefulness.

    The idea that an object with no functional use, should be placed somewhere just to be looked at and admired, is by far a new (and strange) one in most local African communities. It may be because of this history that art, as it is presented to us (via white walls, and effervescent lighting), would come across as foreign and generally misunderstood.

    Collaboration, however, can be used as a tool to merge the past and the present, as it is rooted in community and group practices of creating – be it beadwork, musical celebratory ceremonies or pottery. A labour for one becomes a labour for all. It is perhaps why young African artists, including myself, have thrived and continue to thrive off constant collaboration and group innovation.

    Workshop - ColabNowNow | Photo Credit: Maputo Fast Forward

    9 artists from 7 countries in 1 house for 10 days –the premise of the ColabNowNow residency program founded by the Southern African British Council. The 2018 program was based in Maputo, Mozambique, running in conjunction with MaputoFastForward, bringing together artists from East, West and Southern Africa as well as the U.K. All with one purpose – to exchange and collaborate. The residency ended in a group exhibition and was filled with a cultural explosion of music, food, gallery visits, talks and my favorite - interacting with the local artists.

    During one of our artists’ exchanges, we walked into an exhibition titled “Sunday Nood” by Hugo Mendes, a young digital artist known online as Psiconautah. I immediately connected to the images because of their intimate and subtle rebellion: female figures, naked and aware of their observers.

    'Sunday Nood' exhibition by Hugo Mendes | Photo Credit: Mário Cumbana

    Hugo himself has this gentle fire and as one of Mozambique’s emerging artists, I wanted to find out more about his journey in relation to the local art scene.

    Valerie: Any comments or points you would like to share before we start?

    Hugo: English is not my first language so sometimes I say stuff that are funny – but as long as the feelings are transmitted it’s ok (he laughs)

    Valerie: How did you first start creating art? Why is it important to you?

    Hugo: my older brother used to draw everywhere (and ruin books while at it). Mostly comic book characters, action heroes and yeah, I started drawing imitating him. Drawing has become important to me because it’s like a meditative state, a way to tune out the whole world and be in the moment.

    'Monica' by Hugo Mendes

    Valerie: What is your experience as a young artist in Mozambique?

    Hugo: People here don’t really believe in visual arts; music and dancing is more popular because of our cultural heritage. I guess people say it’s difficult to appreciate art when we have major societal issues. Most people believe that you will only be successful if you make foreigners your target market; foreigners have the buying power. But I see this as an opportunity for young artists - to change this and stop selling ourselves short.

    Valerie: Any trends in the art scene?

    Hugo: In art it is more about social circles; we have groups of artists collaborating together, hanging out together and supporting each other.

    Valerie: Many Mozambican artists seem to be influenced by industrialization (metal, recycling objects, abstract multimedia paintings) did this ever apply to you?

    Hugo: In a way my approach is similar. I only use two colors as a necessity. When I was starting out I didn’t have money to buy a lot of materials so it was easier to get black ink. This forced me to think outside the box as to how I could do things that are interesting and different. I believe if something looks good in black and white, it looks good in any colour.

    Valerie: What are some of your challenges as an artist in Mozambique?

    'Mother of George' by Hugo Mendes

    Hugo: Figuring out how to reach the majority. I am very active on the internet which most people don’t have access to. They might also feel intimidated to go see my shows at the gallery. They perhaps think that those kinds of places are expensive and not for them.

    Valerie: Can you tell us a little more about the content of the work you exhibit?

    Hugo: I make things that I would like to see and also how my experience shaped me. I never planned to have a career in art. I was actually studying to be an engineer.

    I just decided to do things that I wanted to see, that I’m inspired by – I always find it’s amazing that people actually like the same stuff that I like.

    Valerie: Why is contemporary African art necessary in our societies?

    Hugo: Cultures evolve, and as young artists we have to document it and bring it to the future. We have to take charge of our own narratives and stop waiting from motivation to come from other places.

    Valerie: Lastly, what advice would you give other young aspiring artists?

    Hugo: Believe in yourself when no one else will, have patience, do it for yourself and do not compromise.

    NIkiwe Dlova - DEAL visit | Photo Credit: Maputo Fast Forward

    Hugo’s warmth and openness to share is a reflection of most of the artists that you will find in Maputo; which is what leads me to believe that it will surely become one of Africa’s leading contemporary art hubs. The unspoken confidence, the vibrancy of community and the feeling of welcome is so contagious one may not want to leave – evidence that the ColabNowNow and MaputoFastForward mission was achieved by creating an environment that can transform a different country into a home, and a house full of strangers into a community of friends.

    Art continues to unfold itself as a necessity because of its power to bring together. It peels off the boundaries that our everyday lives work so hard to construct – language barriers, gender barriers, ethnic barriers - leaving us open to understanding and ready to find an anchor through another’s vision.

    Emidio Josine house visit | Photo Credit: Maputo Fast Forward

    African art is still as practical and perhaps even more valuable than it was from its origin. Its practicality merely shifts from everyday household usage to a universal way of translating our communities’ stories, debunking stereotypes and diffusing propaganda. Art perseveres.

    As Hugo Mendes put it, “as long as the feelings are transmitted, it’s ok,” because it is with feelings, that thought is born and mindset begins to evolve.



    Valerie (right) with artist Taila Carrilho | Photo Credit: Maputo Fast Forward




    About the author: Valerie Amani is a Dar es Salaam born and based fashion designer, makeup artist and graphic designer. She is the founder and director of Kahvarah, a boutique fashion label that focuses on the African narrative; the co-founder of R.R. Creative Agency, a creative consultancy which has placed her behind the visual language of various brands in Tanzania, as well as the visual art program manager at Nafasi Art Space where she curates exhibitions and workshops. Valerie combines digital art with her love of writing to tackle issues on neo-colonialism, environmental awareness and feminism.






  • ‘Chasms in Time & Space’: a residency experience in Tehran, Iran

    EAS artist Pebofatso Mokoena, from Johannesburg, South Africa, talks about his experience at the Kooshk Residency in Tehran, Iran, in February 2018. The residency is part of a South Africa - Iran exchange program aimed at promoting international dialogue and art creation.


    Pebofatso drawing | courtesy of the artist and Pooyan Ranj, photographer for KOOSHK | 2018

    What motivated you to participate in this residency?

    Oftentimes I’ve wondered about how the world operated outside of Johannesburg and Cape Town culture-worlds; you know? the main art centres in South Africa.

    I began imagining how people lived in and out of certain contexts. How would it feel when the geographical walls from underneath and around you are moved? How large, really, are the culture chasms between spaces of myself and spaces of the Earthly domain?

    There were some answers I knew. Some, I had to retrieve outside of my immediate context. The Most High heard my calls, and so the opportunity came for me to travel to Tehran on my first international residency - and I thank the Almighty for that moment.

    The people at home were worried for me, for obvious reasons. People were telling me “Be safe. We see things on CNN, and on the internet, seems like it won't be a kind space at all." Others were shocked I was even going to Iran, others wished me an amazing adventure. I had mixed feelings when I boarded that aircraft.

    How would you describe the residency experience, your goals, what you learned and its impact on your work?

    Kooshk prioritized open-endedness, and was process driven in its outlook. Experimentation in relation to work, was primary. Discovery followed, and learning took its course.

    Valiasr Street, Tehran | courtesy of Pebofatso Mokoena | 2018

    The duration of the residency was a month, and it offered me the chance to explore fundamental enquiries about my artistic practice and myself as a human being (enquiries which had been bugging me for the longest time), enquiries in relation to spacial dynamics in between places, time zones and ecological phases.

    My plan for the residency was to paint, but in conversations with Keiman, former program coordinator, we worked through content and concerns, and how that would form the basis of the physical work. Unexpectedly, charcoal became the medium best-suited to engage my concerns, relative to the experiences of where I was at the time - I could draw as quickly as I was thinking. As for painting, I will do so during my stay in Zimbabwe.

    Working in a collaborative environment with mavericks like Danger Gevaar Ingozi print studio in Jo'burg, the studio in Tehran became an important axis of learning for me. My work traversed many planes - my history with depression as a young'n, breaking through those obstacles with support from family and friends, understanding rest and activity, and living as a revelation.

    In the same breath, I was extremely fortunate to share a 4th floor studio (in the center of the city) with Asanda Kupa, from eMolteno, listening to Johnny Dyani, Mick Jenkins, Simphiwe Dana, Erykah Badu, Bonobo, Taiwa Molelekwa and the like, with some city traffic for good measure. We were able to sustain healthy conversations and helped each other grow. I am thankful.

    Pebo and Asanda, Tehran, | courtesy of the artist and Pooyan Ranj, photographer for KOOSHK | 2018

    There were a multitude of artist platforms and spaces, which lent themselves to a variety of exhibitions. From the orthodox, to the not-so-orthodox, to the digital and everything in between - noting that everything is almost always curated somehow (smiles). The highlight was witnessing the retrospective of Ali-Akbar Sadeghi at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. My painting gears eternally shifted. I was blown to shreds.

    Back at the studio, I began engaging in the fundamentals of drawing - space and time. The global environment became an entire situational play which played out on multiple platforms geographically, technologically, socially and physically - and, of course, Iran was part of the play. I began engaging in the meditative practices of image-making. I concentrated on space (in this case, canvas) as a “real” drawing surface, on drawing as a conceptual model of understanding geography, and on geography as a space of understanding movement - I was searching for new "cosmologies", if you will - I haven't finished looking for them though.

    These experiences became a foundation of understanding eventually - what it means for me to be human, particularly in a world where we all see the distractions, impulses and magic. In relation to working practices, impulses such as Sir David Adjaye’s architectural engagements, forces of nature, geographical access and Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, somehow began finding pathways into my work on canvas - even though their structural geographies are far apart. Temperature Rising, in particular became an elegant piece of work, but still violent in its poetry - a personal anecdote in between life and rest.

    Pebo's work 'Temperature Rising', Tehran | courtesy of the artist and Pooyan Ranj, photographer for KOOSHK | 2018

    There was a point in time of the residency where colonial baggage became too heavy for me to bear, in the studio. I de-focused off of it for that moment, allowing me to engage in new quantum, in new lights. The results were a deep engagement with the self in relation to the growth of myself - a total treasure.

    Do you have any advice for EAS artists in pursuing residencies?

    I’m nowhere near that level where I can say “okay, kids, lesson number one is this!” (laughs). I’m still uncovering my lessons. I realize that artists’ careers, in sustaining their family and lives, are crucial, and should not just be taken lightly; artists should not be taken as "face value matrix tokens". True support goes beyond the locale of the financial, particularly for previously disadvantaged people in general. I can’t speak on behalf of anybody else, but for me - winning is not a competition. Winning is succeeding through obstacles which prevent you from being the best possible version of yourself. I know this is cliché, but I got to meet amazing people and the city was remarkable in and of itself.

    Spoiler alert! I won’t spoil all the surprises - let the geographical walls from underneath and around you fall to the wayside.


    Pebofatso Mokoena is an artist living and working in Johannesburg, South Africa. He completed his tertiary education in Visual Art from the University of Johannesburg in 2014, specialising in drawing and printmaking, and he is now working in a number of different media, including painting, charcoal and sculpture. Born in the time of South Africa’s transition to a democratic state, Pebo’s work is a re-imagining of complex contemporary social questions.