Maurice Mbikayi at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair | London

Maurice Mbikayi is a cross-disciplinary artist who believes that as we all have the Internet in our pockets these days, tech and fashion have become one. We spoke to the artist about this connection as a form of resistance.  

Your work uses fashion as a form of resistance. Tell us about the link between Harlem Black Resistance, Sapeurs in the Congo and the fashion you make from digital waste…

Fashion has been used as a way of resistance in my country, the Congo, in much the same way that Harlem Black Resistance used fashion as activism in the 80 and 90s.  Deny people their voices and they’ll express themselves through art, music and fashion.

My work wordlessly expresses many thoughts, including how the developed world is dumping digital waste on developing countries. In the DRC, where I come from, ‘Sapeurs’ use fashion as a form of resistance, or Black Mobility, by dressing up in stylish clothing as a statement of taking control of one’s destiny. I’ve extended this resistance movement to tech as fashion.

In the guise of donations, the developed world dumps outdated technology, much of it unusable, in Africa. I felt the best way to express my resistance to this technological waste born from rampant capitalism was to wear costumes made from tech parts. We all have the Internet in our pocket’s these days so tech and fashion have become one.

You wear and perform in the outfits that you make. How does that feel?

When I wear my costumes, I see myself as someone who has been born again, making beauty from the tech trash and going into the city to express resistance through beauty. Once there I also step into photography, which I really like. Photography for me is like a prosthetic for my identity. My own body becomes an expressive extension of something. It enables a position in society.

How did this journey of expressing resistance through fashion begin?

In 2009 I had this second hand laptop that I’d have to often take to the technician to fix. There was always a pile of technological junk in the corner and I’d see sculptural installations in them. I started to source waste tech from that guy to make my work. As the journey continued I started questioning the waste material – even the speed of technology generates waste. Creatively it’s been a very interesting journey.

You have two artworks featured at 1:54…

Yes. The first photographic work is about a dignified and defiant, resistance against economic crisis through fashion. 

 Maurice Mbikayi. The Political Aesthete, 2016.  Colour Print.  113,5 x 77 cm. At 1:54 London courtesy of Nando’s UK Collection.
Maurice Mbikayi. The Political Aesthete, 2016.

The second one, set in a township, is about self-determinacy in urban society. It’s about how a citizen can reimagine himself in a technological society, both in the physical and virtual world. It also conveys the concept of ‘black mobility’ in a context of race inequalities.

Maurice Mbikayi. Bilele (Dressing up for an occasion), 2016.  Colour Print.  168,2 x 114 cm.  At 1:54 London courtesy of Nando’s UK Collection. 
Maurice Mbikayi. Bilele (Dressing up for an occasion), 2016.

What does exhibiting your work at 1:54 mean to you?

It means a lot in terms of international exposure, including connecting with curators, collectors and gallery owners, which is all very positive.

What does it mean to you to be given this opportunity, by Nando’s and 1:54, to be present at 1:54 London?

Nando’s has made a huge contribution to my career as an artist, helping me at a time when it was very difficult for me to get a platform. The Creative Block programme gave me technical advice, curatorship, and income that helped to make ends meet. After Creative Block, the Nando’s Chicken Run, enabled regular submission of larger works and regular payment. I was initially trained as a painter, so I started with painting for these submissions, but when I started using computer parts I started to leave painting step by step. I started integrating technology into the canvas. I wanted to use technology in many ways. I never want to be fixed on one thing because if I don’t have one material then I need to use something else.

Maurice Mbikayi recently exhibited at 1:54 | London.

In September he was a finalist for the prestigious Luxembourg Art Prize.

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