Featured: Maurice Mbikayi Creates Thoughtful Beauty from Junk Tech

Maurice Mbikayi

Girl in African fabric, 2014, 100 x 140cm. The artwork is exhibited at a Nando’s in the UK.

 

Maurice Mbikayi is a DRC migrant who has lived in Cape Town since 2004. His artworks are striking at first glance, but on closer inspection they become even more intriguing as you discover they’re made from fragments of thrown-away technology. Maurice talks to us about the impact of technology in society from an African perspective, introduces us to Sapeurs – the dapper-dressing dandies of the Congo – and gets us thinking a little more deeply about the perils of digital slavery.

 

Tell us about the overlap between the obsolete technology hardware you use in you work, your self-expression and the message you’re conveying?

 

The overlap resides in that I’m a migrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) living in a far more digitalized South Africa. The DRC, though technologically lagging, is rich in minerals, including coltan, which is used in almost all digital devices worldwide. The plundering of coltan and the DRC’s mineral wealth creates further conflict. By using technology that’s been disposed of, I’m referencing that exploitation as well as making a statement of resistance against the uncomfortable reality of obsolete junk technology dumped in Africa in the guise of a “donation”.

 

In this context I’ve used obsolete technology to create beauty. Through the creation of sculptural yet wearable clothing I’m conveying the message of “black mobility” in the guise of dandies or Sapeurs, a term that is used to describe dapper-dressing Congolese men who take pride in dressing up in stylish, elegant and colourful clothing as a statement of taking control of one’s own destiny.

 

Techno dandies and fractals 2015 Maurice Mbikayi
Techno Dandy and Fractals, 2015 

 

You express yourself through many art forms: sculpture, drawings, photography, mixed-media installations and performance art. Tell us about your most recent performance piece and how it included artworks you’d made?

 

My most recent performance piece is Web Jacket (2015) and Techno Dandy, a suit of disagreement (2015). They are my works from my recently completed MFA at Michaelis School of Fine Art during which I researched the impact of technology in society from an African perspective. The work combines more than one expression. The artworks are wearable sculptures for performance, I made photographic prints of them and they have been displayed as sculptural installations.

 

Your video Web Jacket is beautiful, melodic and…unsettling. You dance in a straight jacket made from keyboard parts, with a fringe of telephone cables on the hem of your keyboard trousers. Let us into some of the thought processes behind this, particularly in relation to your perspective on the impact of technology on Africa.

 

Web Jacket primarily expresses my own experience as an enslaved body locked up in my own digital world. It was inspired by a straight jacket – typically used to restrain a person who may otherwise cause harm to himself or others. The idea is also to portray schizophrenic mental-ritual practices that render us into digital slaves. The performance piece is also an expression of resistance against capitalism, consumerism and the technological existential crisis in Africa.

 

Maurice Mbikayi

Crowd, 2014, 150 x 300cm. The artwork is exhibited at Nando’s Browns Plains in Australia.

Maurice Mbikayi

Thinking People, 2014, 40 x 80cm. The artwork is exhibited at a Nando’s in Malaysia.

 

You facilitate art therapy workshops in underprivileged communities, as a way of healing “not only individuals, but also more importantly, whole communities”. How do you do so?

 

Through information, education and cultural exchange, which are powerful tools to help us learn about life in society in a more playful or artful way.

 

After relocating to Cape Town in 2004 you first got involved in the Nando’s Art Initiative through the Creative Block project run by Yellowwoods Arts, and were subsequently nominated for the Creative Exchange in 2011 – a programme that recognises emerging artists who demonstrate exceptional ability. Did this make a significant contribution to your artistic career?

 

It was indeed a pivotal aspect of my artistic career. I had wonderful experiences. I was given a platform by the project to express myself and took the opportunity with both hands, and, from that, national and international Institutions and galleries recognized me. It marked the beginning of international residencies and exhibitions in New York, Switzerland, Ethiopia etc. I must say that the Creative Exchange is one of the few privileges I’ve experienced as a migrant artist in South Africa. Thank you to Nando’s Art Initiative and to Jeanetta Blignaut of Yellowwoods Art.

 

Maurice Mbikayi

In the Queue, 2014, 125 x 180cm. The artwork is exhibited at a Nando’s in the UK.

 

Which artists in Africa inspire you?

 

There are many artists whose work I admire – El Anatsui, Meschac Gaba and Jane Alexander to name a few – because their works relate in different ways to that which has informed my own. Malik Sidibe and Jean Depara are my best, with their commentary on colonial and postcolonial popular culture in Bamako in Mali and Kinshasa in the DRC. Also, J. D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere’s fashionable sculptural hairdressing in Nigeria. And I’m fascinated by Bodys Isek Kingelez’s ‘heterotopic’ cities and the sense of detail in his minimalistic creations.

 

…and outside of Africa?

 

Yinka Shonibare, Nick Cave and D. Denenge Akpem because they manage to combine diverse art disciplines into one relational aesthetic. Additionally, their costumes or materials are reminiscent of African culture, and their ambiguity motivates me.

 

What’s next?

 

I’m currently working on a project called Scars and Stitches, a solo exhibition. It’s still a work-in-progress and I don’t know when I’ll complete it or where I’ll show it. I’m also working on a curated group show called What I am now with Suzanne Duncan, Alice Toich and Dale Washkansky. It’s an exploration into contemporary representations of the impermanence and fragility of the mortal body, its memorialisation and reflections on death.

 

www.mauricembikayi.com

 

Maurice Mbikayi

Untitled, 2014, 90 x 160cm. The artwork is exhibited at Nando’s Elizabeth in Australia.

 

Maurice Mbikayi

Untitled, 2014, 130 x 150cm. The artwork is exhibited at a Nando’s in the USA.

 

Maurice Mbikayi

Untitled, 2014, 95 x 83cm. The artwork is exhibited at a Nando’s in the UK.

 

Maurice Mbikayi

Untitled, 2014, 130 x 100cm. The artwork is exhibited at Nando’s Central Kitchen, Johannesburg.

 

Maurice Mbikayi

Untitled, 2014,130 x 130cm. The artwork is exhibited at a Nando’s in the USA.

 

Maurice Mbikayi

Skateboard, 2014, 50 x 70cm. The artwork is exhibited at Nando’s Elizabeth in Australia.

 

Maurice Mbikayi

Waiting Outside, 2014, 130 x 150cm. The artwork is exhibited at a Nando’s in the UK.

 

Maurice Mbikayi

Young Boy with Flower, 2014, 80 x 60cm. The artwork is exhibited at Nando’s Willetton in Australia.

 

Maurice Mbikayi

From the Nando’s Rites and Duties exhibition at Constitution Hill in April.

 

Maurice Mbikayi

From the Nando’s Rites and Duties exhibition at Constitution Hill in April.

 

Comments are closed.