The extended cultural influence of urban space in Africa.
My childhood experience of Africa was urban. Inside photo albums wrapped in 70s textiles, I flipped through the photographs of my parent’s honeymoon in South Africa and saw images of cities and ports.
Gratefully, my adult experience of Africa wasn’t confined between a front and back cover. This time I was riding the waves of the Mediterranean towards an ancient metropolis. I arrived at the opposite end of the continent as my mother and father. From the sea the city of Tangiers stretched out before my eyes. Breathtakingly beautiful, it contained within its borders stories of commerce, trade, and cultural admixture – African, Moorish, Spanish, and French. This Moroccan city was flourishing a thousand years before the cities built by European settlers in Canada. Another trip to Africa would have me arrive by air to Nairobi with its nightclubs, bank machines and matatus. I left travelling overland by bus to the port of Mombasa, on the Swahili coast, where hundreds of years of African, Arab, Portuguese and even Chinese cultural influence made an impact on all my senses; from there I made my way to other cities – Harare, Gaborone and Johannesburg. When I recall Africa I recall urban spaces. The cities I encountered reminded me of the ones back home where people from different cultures come then go about the business of life, all the while creating new cultural expressions.
“February 1998 ceramic tile panel designed by Malian artist Abdoulaye Konaté (b. 1953) and produced by the Viúva Lamego tile factory. Trained at Bamako and Havana, Cuba, Konaté lives and works in Bamako. He was one of the 11 prominent international artists who were commissioned to produce works of art for the Oriente metro station, Lisbon, where this panel is installed.” Image by Bosc Anjou
Samito is an African born artist with the experience of living his life in port cities. From his birthplace of Maputo, Mozambique, then onto Cape Town, South Africa, he now calls the port of Montréal home. I was interested in his reflections on living in places where pluralism, within the urban setting, is the social structure and how that influences one’s artistic practice and culture production.
In our rush to celebrate diversity sometimes we discount how discombobulating the experience can be when you are the minority within the larger cultural context you inhabit. “My 11 years of living in Montreal has pushed me to think about my past identity and new identity, pushing me into a fragile place. As an immigrant you have [to face] a wall of judgement before you are accepted.” Samito goes on to express that as an artist arriving from somewhere else, people superimpose their (mis)conceptions on you as well as on your work. “Because of that I went into a profound reflection regarding who I was and who I became with immigration. I realized I was in a tangled place. Music allowed me to shape some things that reflect my present space. On one side, you want to talk about your culture and everything you have observed in life, including your past, but you still want to communicate to people in this space, now.”
For five years Samito has been working on an album that will be released Spring 2016. “When I started working on my record I went through a lot of questioning, [you realize] that when you are too ‘African’ people don’t like you. It can change you in profound ways. I started censoring myself. How do I want people to see me? This can help shape the narrative but it can make you less effective. It was a really difficult thing for me. It was part of the shaping of my own artistic persona – figuring out who I am in Canada – how I present myself as a Black man from Africa while still having an impact on how people perceive Africa.”
To negotiate, with a certain amount of grace and artistic integrity, between the roles of cultural producer versus cultural ambassador is the existential knot that newcomers have to unravel. You must keep your wits about you as your senses acutely feel the current city that surrounds you, breathing it in even if the air becomes acrid with xenophobia. If you are mindful you can apply an artist’s alchemy to the experience – producing something beautiful and solid from the confusion. With his music, Samito does just that.
During a vacation back home, Samito worked with three women from the Northern region of Mozambique whose articulate sound – Tufo, a traditional dance and music style thought to be of Arab origin – shifted aspects of his music. “It took two or three years to reflect on what I wanted.” The soundtrack of the multicultural Cape Town that he experienced while living there in his twenties is also crafted into his music. He was influenced by Shangaan electro beats. This style of music originated in the townships of South Africa and was produced by the mixing of traditional Shangaan music from Limpopo with 21st Century digital technology. The mixture, as it seems to happen with everything technology touches, stimulated the speed. Traditional Shangaan music was part of Samito’s auditory memories of childhood. The music was imported into the city of Maputo by Mozambican miners who would go to South Africa for employment. In the diversity of the city of Montréal, Samito heard new sounds that were added to his repertoire. The result is what he shares with us now, in his latest single Tiku La Hina.
Samito bestows upon his adopted city his own brand of Afro aesthetics – guiding principles that recognize the continent of Africa and the African Diaspora’s influence on the culture of cities, both historically and in the contemporary context. Samito’s cultural production is his contribution to the urban. This contribution, in it’s own way, will go on to change the rhythm of the city – not just in Montréal, but in all the cities Samito has called home in the past and the ones he will arrive at in the future.
Samito will play this coming Thursday, February 25 at the National Arts Centre on the 4th Stage, part of Black History Month.
Tickets can be purchased here & Trinity Life Rush Student Tickets here.
Mixed Bag Mag joins Artists & Curators from Canada at the Venice Biennale.
Mixed Bag Mag has been invited by The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto to participate in the Creative Time Summit 2015 at the Venice Biennale. The Creative Time Summit’s theme this year is “Curriculum” and “throughout the Summit, conversations on curriculum will examine the social, infrastructural, administrative, and private conditions under which knowledge is produced and intertwined with social contracts.”
Mixed Bag Mag’s coverage will focus on how art has the potential to change the way we engage with social and political issues. With the appointment of Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor as the head curator, this year’s Biennale has taken on a more political tone. He is the first African to be in this position. He has pushed the discussion around immigration and economy using the vehicle of art. I will be exploring his curatorial approach to engaging with the intersections of art, politics and commerce.
10 Artists from Canada will also be attending along with The Power Plant Delegation.
• Adrian Blackwell (Ontario)
• Deana Bowen (Ontario)
• Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge (Ontario)
• Jen Delos Reyes (Manitoba)
• Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatzky, of Public Studio (Ontario)
• Justin Langlois (British Colombia)
• Duane Linklater (Ontario)
• Nadia Myre (Quebec)
Thank you to The Power Plant for this opportunity. Also thank you to each of organizations that made it possible for this trip to happen! Thanks to Galerie SAW Gallery in Ottawa for their support.
Oh my! Where does one start?! First let me say this. There is nothing boring about Ottawa. So let’s just put that “it’s the city that rolls up the sidewalks at night” myth to rest. Just when I think I might get a breather from events the Writers Festival ends by seguing this city into another festival celebrating the arts – The National Arts Centre’s Ontario Scene. “Imagine 600 Ontario artists, from all disciplines, performing in the national spotlight on the stages of Ottawa/Gatineau: that’s Ontario Scene.”
The biggest limiting factor to Ontario Scene is that my body only allows for me to be in one place at one time. I may have to settle for 300 Artists, 30-ish events and maybe 1 less day.
I have already clocked two events with back to back nights at Carleton University Art Gallery for the Opening and Artist Walk Thru of the current exhibit “Human Nature.” This show “presents fourteen contemporary Ontario artists whose works look at the state of the natural world and our impact on it.”
Images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.
Graffiti Boxman Project. Photo Flips BSC. Kwende Kefentse.Credit James Park Photography.
“Century Song is a live performance hybrid showcasing the extraordinary Canadian soprano NEEMA BICKERSTETH. A radical revisioning of the recital form from one of Canada’s most exciting theatre companies, it is part classical song, part dance, part projection, and entirely theatrical.” Find outmore…
Digging Roots. Raven Kanatakta and Shoshona Kish. Photo Ratul Debnath.
DECLARATION is a great Ontario Scene initiative that will be running from April 29 to May 3.
“DECLARATION is a celebration of Indigenous peoples’ right to engage in the creation and evolution of arts and culture, as asserted in Article 11 of the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Created by Toronto-based ARTICLE 11, DECLARATION is an immersive, live, sound and image installation and performance-creation lab. It offers the rare opportunity to witness established Indigenous artists mid-process as they take risks and explore new approaches and collaborations in a responsive, interdisciplinary environment.”
Read more about the full DECLARATION programming here.
Santee Smith. Image by Red Works.
John Morris, NAC Executive Chef
Also, on the menu, literally, is food – the best of what Ontario has to offer in the culinary arts.
On Monday night:
“le café presents a WINEMAKER’S DINNER that showcases and complements the delightful wines of Pelee Island, Canada’s oldest and most southerly wine region. For this special occasion, National Arts Centre Executive Chef JOHN MORRIS will prepare a sumptuous five-course menu with all-Ontario ingredients, and every course will be paired with the finest varietals that Pelee Island has to offer. Winemaster MARTIN JANZ, of Pelee Island Winery, will be in attendance.”
On Tuesday night:
“Experience the innovative and mouth-watering creations of more than a dozen top chefs from across the province as they vie for the $10,000 top prize in the ONTARIO CULINARY CHALLENGE. Each chef will prepare uniquely Ontario small plates, using a selection of 100% local and regional meats, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables. With the support of Wine Country Ontario, chefs will be partnered with Ontario wineries to produce the perfect food-wine pairings, which attendees can sample throughout the night. Rub elbows with chefs, sommeliers, and media, sample some of the province’s finest wines, and cast your vote to award the first-place prize for the very best of the best in Ontario’s culinary arts.”
Alright, time for a 2nd shot of espresso and I will be ready to go.
While in Ottawa this summer to cover Sakahàn at the National Gallery I discovered a lot about this city that I love so I decided I needed to spend more than a weekend and more than a week – why not an entire month?!
Turns out I came at a great time! Despite the dull November sky there are some vibrant events happening this week.
“Bounty is a solo exhibition of recent work by artist Chikonzero (Chiko) Chazunguza exploring his subversive take on the ongoing inequalities of exchange between contemporary Africa and the Western world. This installation brings together a series of paintings, photographic images as well as a performative work that reflects on the artist’s experiences living and working across three continents (Africa, Europe and Canada).”
THURS @ OTTAWA ART GALLERY
“Aboriginal scholar, poet and writer, Armand Garnet Ruffo previews his forthcoming book based on the life and art of Norval Morrisseau! The book combines the mythic world of Ojibway storytelling with evocative realism to tell the amazing story of the artist’s life. The reading will be accompanied by a visual presentation of the artist’s paintings.”
Single screenings: $5 / Biennial all-access pass: $15
“Now in its fifth edition, the Art Star Video Art Biennial is a unique platform for artists and curators working with moving images to connect and exchange in the national capital. Under the theme of Witness and Testify, Art Star highlights practices rooted in place, intimacy, and broader questions of social movements and collective histories. Over four days, SAW hosts screenings, social events, and masterclasses with video artists from around the planet, and curators culled from our vibrant local milieu. We’re thrilled to be partnering this year with the Media Arts Network of Ontario for their national conference, Evolve or Perish, which will add a special contingent of media artists, programmers, and theorists to the mix. Join us as we celebrate art’s potential to effect social change and challenge our assumptions of the world around us.”
“World-class, award-winning, and Oscar-submitted films from 27 countries across the European Union!
Special guests welcomed this year include Tahar Rahim, lead actor from the Cannes-selected Grand Central (France), as well as Matthias Drescher, producer of the acclaimed drama Shifting the Blame (Germany).
Perhaps the most obvious comparison one might make upon seeing Chiko Chazunguza’s paintings would be to the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat. But to stop there would be like experiencing a Wifredo Lam painting in the Cubist style and expecting that its inspiration followed the same trajectory to creation as a painting by Picasso. Like these masters of Cubism, Chiko and Jean-Michel punctuate the compositional conversation with some shared visual shorthand and technique but the point from which they leap off of is, like Lam and Picasso, individually unique and located within their own cultural specificity.
Originally from just outside Harare, Zimbabwe, Chiko spent seven years in Sofia, Bulgaria on an art scholarship. While in Sofia he “was trained in the classical modes of printmaking, drawing and painting”. Upon arriving home though Chiko realized that in order to expand as an artist he would have to enter back into the culture of his youth so he could find a visual language that would be his true to his way of scripting a story.
“I wanted to pick a language I could use that was compatible to my history, my tradition.”
Human walls by Chiko Chazunguza.
Finding a New Visual Language
The inspiration of mis-registration, the effect given by the areas that overlap and bleed out in screen-printing, seemed appropriate for this cultural provocateur. It was Chiko’s experience as a printmaker that made him “approach painting with an attitude of non-conformity”, to shift the paint just outside the lines. This overlapping and layering, inherent in the process of screen printing, spoke to the layers of culture – traditional tribal, leftover colonial, urban contemporary – that blanketed Zimbabwe in repression upon Chiko’s return.
“It was like being in Sofia during the breakdown of the old regime. Communism was kicking its last kicks was a dying horse and the political condition that I arrived home to was much the same.”
But it was not until another move, another cultural relocation, that Chiko began the collection and style of paintings showcased at the B.A.N.D Gallery for his show SHIFT.
Upon moving to Canada this artist, who is known back home for his installations that poke and prod at the socio-political contentions of a country in flux, picked up a pop can then oddly enough was inspired to paint.
Nursery 2 (detail) by Chiko Chazunguza.
It was the omnipresence of aluminum soda cans in Canada and their ease of acquisition that made them fitting as a symbol for consumer culture. Along with being ubiquitous they were durable – omni-persistent!
Nursery 2 by Chiko Chazunguza.
It was the “generousity of Canadians” who upon hearing he was an artist stocked him up with paint that got him started in combining the two materials to continue his theme of “reflecting on the traditional in transition.”
“Here food is always being advertised. It is at your doorstep, in your mailbox. Pop is a drink that is not necessary but it is always in front of you.”
Juxtaposed with hard memories of scarcity back in Zimbabwe, where people had to line-up single file into endless rows for basic staples, a vision was realized for a new body of work.
“Line-ups and people waiting in suspense for something to come, that was my inspiration…these line-ups look beautiful in their own way and you can almost forget the struggle…When there is a crisis, a shortage of basic commodities people behave differently and visually this informs.”
Passage by Chiko Chazunguza.
Shifting our Ideas of Who We Are
Many of the paintings in the SHIFT show come with pop cans, liquor labels and food advertisements cutting through the canvas like interruptions. They are then woven over, around and through deconstructed figures, busy heading nowhere in never-ending cues for food, for water, for life. Urbanization in Zimbabwe led to the inability for one to produce his or her own food which had been the previous traditional practice. A population of producers turned into a population of dependent consumers enmeshed (like the cans in Chiko’s work) in the ebb and flow of changing regimes.
“The figures are multi-faced; the disfiguration is because one’s face may change into all sorts of faces in that queue.”
While waiting in line with a stranger one can “start chatting, become friends, fall in love.” But by the end of the line the friend becomes the enemy and the lover a foe if one gets the last ration with nothing left for the one behind.
Nursery 1 by Chiko Chazunguza
Although the painted experience in Chiko’s work is intimately personal the anonymous quality of the figures in his paintings let them become the every(wo)man, no longer a “them” but an “us” as together, in this contemporary context, we face a future of scarcity on a global scale.
Following in the tradition of artists like the aforementioned Wifredo Lam we can see that Chiko, for his inspiration and call to action as an artist, draws from the common experiences of humanity in transition.
“Through art, I reflect upon how issues such as spirituality, disposition, denied access and interference with basic commodities, and the painful evolution of ancient cultural traditions into contemporary yet uncertain urbanized communities, all shape and shift our constructed notions of identity.”