AFRICA NOUVEAU; A Contemporary African Museum

Art ; a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts, expressing the author’s imaginative or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.

Pre-colonial Africans consumed and indulged in art on a daily basis. Art was their culture. Our ancestors communicated through storytelling, wore regalia that was beautifully designed with meaning and clout, consumed music that moved mountains and had their food prepared and served in gourds and bowls that were for the gods! Basically, they were the definition of art.

Over time, postcolonial Africa dissolved most of what was left as authentic African. Our folks, due to colonialism, were so involved in restructuring and understanding the western world to keep up and soon lost connection and stories from their past lives. Education, national borders and centralised government systems consumed their time, lives, bodies and wealth. Eventually, most of it was lost. By the time millennials were getting here everything was different.

So, the general view of particular ‘African art’, consumed by our generation has constantly represented a dystopia; riddled with pain, fear, corruption, despair and politics. This, however has not always been the art consumed by Africans. African art was fun art, frivolous and fierce. The Mijikenda would dance and the world sung, the luo made music for rain, the Maasai are still celebrated today.

I attended the 2018 Africa Nouveau festival. My intentions were clear; to study the work being showcased, understand the artists’ medium. And have fun while at it. I had company; Mwende, Keith, and Lena, a phenomenal lady from Kenya, Gloria Kiconco, an amazing poet and writer and Joel Jemba, master storyteller from KLA. We had different roles to play assigned by EastAfricaArts, the festival partners. In our conversations, we talked about the festival’s theme and I struggled to grasp the idea of fun, frivolous and fierce African art. Because I am interested in visual art, my idea of why a piece of art is created is related to the artist trying to pass a deeper message that would need some sort of divine intervention to comprehend.

Makadem

We interviewed various artists and vendors at the festival and we got answers, a tone of answers. Artists are different, they chose what motivates them to create, they decide what feels complete and incomplete to them and can decide to create or not to. Our interviews gave me a chance to see how they work. Understand their mediums as a scientist would in a lab. I consumed their exhibitions and expressions and this provided me with a space to look and think about their answers as you would in a museum.

From the minute I walked into the festival venue, I unconsciously started interacting with the environment, the stage was different, the installations were crazy! The air was cool. The theme behind the festival was Afrobubblegum; a creation of new narratives; one that showcase the creativity, beauty, fierceness and frivolousness of Africa and all things African. You could feel the vibe from a mile away. Curators, creators, fashion designers, graffiti artists, photographers, musicians, chefs all came together and created an amazing experience.

In an interview, Muthoni Drummer Queen, who released her SHE concept album at the festival, said she’d want to see more African inspired concepts creating disruptions. She’s also behind the festival and is distinctively working on developing different festival experiences. Creating a festival like this is fun and yet relentlessly demanding. It also needs constant creativity, loyalty and innovation and most importantly, collaborations.

Festivals like these are an amazing experience when you are talking about the portrayal of African art and culture, they also allow people to reach out and forge deep connections with individuals, and communities. Africa Nouveau is a people’s museum; when you walk through the museum, you can sense people’s feeling of ownership — of the materials on display, but also of the history.

Muthoni’s performance was the best!

Blinky, was Blinky. Always on top of his game.

Kwesta went wild!

Otim was crazy!

Makadem…

… to be continued…