In October 2018, I was privileged to be one of nine creatives from East, West, Southern Africa and the UK to participate in a unique artist residency in Maputo, Mozambique, aptly named ColabNowNow. It was created by the British Council and hosted by Maputo Fast Forward, a digital festival in the city; the aim is for artists and storytellers using different mediums to collaborate and exhibit their art with a digital focus.
After over 24 hours of travel across three continents, we finally arrived, tired but excited. The city greeted us with warm rays of African sun and the slight chaos of getting visas for our stay. After a little while, we were able to drink in the beauty of Maputo, as we were driven to our base for the week.
The hospitality was absolutely phenomenal! We stayed in a beautiful guesthouse in the plush suburbs of Maputo. The entire house was masterfully decorated with photographs, paintings, lampshades and artwork from Mozambican artists, a muse for our creativity. The evening wound down with some beautiful food (a constant during our stay!), time to get to know each other and rest.
In the first few days, we were given a tour of Maputo including its iconic buildings. The highlight was Maputo railway station, a building set in the city’s bustling centre. The design is in the Neoclassical Beaux-Arts style and has been described as ‘probably the most beautiful terminus in Africa’ in a 2009 Newsweek article. An interesting fact is that a scene from the movie Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was filmed there.
Another highlight was a dinner with Mozambican artists, hosted by Maputo Fast Forward at a creative hub named D.E.A.L (Design, Entertainment, Art and Literature). The space is uniquely set up for artists to display and sell their art. It is also used for performances and is a vibrant meeting place. It was wonderful to learn more about the community of artists which is close-knit yet growing in strength and creative output.
On another day we visited Catembe, a town across the sea, on the southern bay of Maputo. For our transport, we boarded the ferry. This was an incredible experience not least for the sunset view of the newest and largest suspension bridge in Africa. Upon arrival, we met a talented photographer, Emidio Josine, who created a beautiful exhibit of his photography in his backyard and house. These were personal portraits, the most striking of children in Mozambique. We also visited Butcheca, a talented painter who has turned his entire house into an artists’ muse where every detail is a work of art. It was a sight to behold and inspirational.
After seeing all the sights, we started our projects. To support the work, we had two talented facilitators, Helio Januario and Eliana Nzuao who are Mozambican artists. It was very helpful in challenging and sharpening our creative ideas. We also had the expertise of Dr Tegan Bristow, the director of South African digital festival, Fak’ugezi.
My project was to create an African time capsule in digital and poetic form exploring Africa and the diaspora through the eyes of African millennials. Specifically, I delved into the topics of African identity, social media and political activism, African innovation and migration. My poems were enhanced by the skills of fellow participants Andrew Munuwa, a Tanzanian photographer, and Hakeem Adam, a Ghanaian videographer, poet and artist.
To present the time capsule digitally, I was supported by Nemesto, a Mozambican creative and architect who gave practical support in creating a hologram of the poems. As a writer, collaboration with digital artists was both fascinating and challenging. The experience allowed me to stretch my poetic skills beyond the page and stage, into the digital space.
At the end of the week, we exhibited our work in a local restaurant space. It was particularly satisfying to watch local artists and residents of Maputo as they experienced the work. Our finished exhibits included photographs and poetry taken of our stay in Maputo, a video exploration on anxiety and depression and a Hairt, hair art made from handwoven braids.
Other exhibits included an exploration on death and African rituals, digital expressions of female reproduction, visual art of political iconography of Mozambique; lastly, two digital and interactive art pieces inspired by iconic buildings of Maputo and Mozambique’s unique foliage.
The exhibition was a resounding success and it underlined what artists can do with both resources and a creative community. Personally, it was an unforgettable and inspiring experience in pushing the boundaries of my artform whilst making meaningful connections across the globe.