With a vanguard style combining rap and political activism, is Nástio Mosquito the hottest thing in contemporary art?
What kind of art do you make when your influences range from 90s hip-hop to broadcast radio? For Nástio Mosquito it was a no-brainer. His lucid hybrid of music video, 80s pulp fiction, politics and protest combine a lifetime of artistic passions and have made him the breakout name of 2015. In May, just months after opening his first ever UK show, Daily Lovemaking, at Birmingham’s IKON Gallery, Mosquito cemented his status with a powerful show at the 56th Venice Biennale.
Combining a range of disparate tropes, such as post-internet, performance, protest and masquerade, Mosquito questions identity, political power and the concept of home. In both his UK show and the Venice Biennale, the artist points towards a new way of seeing in art and culture and suggests that the raw creative voice is our sharpest weapon.
Although vague when dictating meaning to his performance pieces – ‘it’s not for me to decide,’ he says – his themes are inescapably political. In videos such as Fuck Africa (2015) and Demo de Cracia (2013), he questions the strain on identity in countries like Angola via a performance of a man having a mental breakdown at having to prove himself ‘authentic’ in a music video.
Mosquito takes centre stage in all his work, assuming a variety of identities that are so well executed it’s hard to know to whom you’re talking in person: artist, performer or both. Despite his success, the artist shrugs off expectations. ‘I can’t create work for people, or try to make people feel a certain way,’ he says. ‘I have to be independent of my audience.’ We spoke to Mosquito about dreams, managing a world of expectations and music.
You’ve described Daily Lovemaking at IKON Birmingham and your work at this year’s Venice Biennale as the first of five chapters. What do you have in store for the others?
It’s a five-part series, which, for lack of expression, I have called ‘activation of a generation’. In the future I am looking forward to exploring what I call ‘empowerment of a generation’. I have a narrative at play. I have an intention to put work out there. It’s a very dramatic thing to put perspectives out there, whether it’s outlooks or culture points. The relationship you have with your own perception is indeed what can empower what you get. I want people to have a healthy relationship with their dreams and establish a clarity between a dream and illusion, that is important for me.
Why is it important for people to have a relationship with dreams and illusion?
I don’t think I’m unique in wanting that. As a human being living in society, it’s important to connect with these things.
Do you see dreams as a reality or fiction?
I see dreams as dreams. We all want to achieve things. We want the capacity to materialise our ideas. Everything materialised, coffee or tea for example, can be an idea. We are driven by the desire to materialise things. I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to make some aspect of dreams a reality. Sometimes functionality is detached from spirituality and dreams, and I don’t think this disconnection is a healthy thing.
You’re well known for your performance work. How do you prepare for an immersive piece such as Fuck Africa (2015) on show at the Venice Biennale?
My process and how people experience it is my art. Alongside Jonathan Watkins, director of IKON Gallery, we are trying to create a narrative and are aiming for a 3D experience.
You’re aware of your audience then?
My work is not therapy. I am producing work with the absolute objective that there is some work for people to view. It’s like speaking. I’m speaking to you now, and you are my audience and maybe when I speak to my mother I speak differently. I do produce work to make sure that it reaches people in a particular way, I do care about that. I work for the audience but the audience is not my boss.
In Fuck Africa you use the word ‘audacious’ to make a link between Nelson Mandela and Hitler. How does that word link the two?
That’s a nasty vicious piece. Vic Pereiró and I are talking about perspective, about how we look at things. My work is all about viewpoint and experience; I’m talking about the various perspectives of being African. I do use anger as an emotion but I don’t use it more than humour or colour; I don’t think there’s that level to anger that is as powerful as humour and colour.
In looking at these two disparate figures, are you making a political critique?
Both Hitler and Mandela audaciously pursued what they believed; they are daring enough to do that. At the core, what separates them is a small but very big thing. You can say their morality and their respect of other humans. How much you have the capacity to engage and activate people. They were both very daring people. And we are in a world built by those people.
That kind of political physical performance must be draining. Is it hard to find a sense of satisfaction in those pieces?
Yeah. I have a lot of fun. It’s one of the things I like doing the most. It’s something that gives me pleasure, I enjoy the work I’ve done. Even though it’s hard there is always an element of fun, I’m always enjoying myself.
How does it feel when people respond well to a performance?
Well, my ego loves it. I suppose there is an expectation. Like I have to talk about things I have no interest in sometimes, and there’s this expectation to see whether I’m full of shit or not.
Does that bother you?
Not really, it’s just the trajectory of being an artist now. And I want people to experience art in an immersive way.
Why has music been such a big influence on your work?
Music is a very important part of what I do. It’s a tool to convey ideas and I like the format of songs. I have the opportunity to interact with musicians which is useful. What kind of music do you like? Dead Can Dance, David Bowie and I like Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar.
The last year has seen you go from YouTube videos to breakthrough solo show. How did this all begin?
I had some photographs shown near my hometown in Angola. Someone said that they liked them and wanted to buy them and that’s how it began. Then Jonathan Watkins found some videos of me in Korea and he got in touch. But really, I don’t have a constructive perspective of my past. I find it difficult to look back.
Performance art is becoming very popular in contemporary art. How does it feel to be categorised in such a trendy trope?
I’m someone’s son. I’m a boyfriend, I’m a stepfather. I’m a lover of rice. I don’t mind performing many roles, but I’m not really inspired by performance artists. Art is not my main source of inspiration. I don’t know what is true and what is not, I’m very ignorant of the art world. Whenever people get excited about something it makes me excited. And it makes me excited to think of these experiences. It’s a good thing.
You’re based in Ghent. Is your current location inspiring any new work? My family is here but I am not permanently going to be in Ghent, I move around. I’m not here for artistic purposes.
People are lauding you as one of the most exciting artists of the moment. What can they expect in the future?
My best. People can expect my best, that’s as much as people can expect from me. I do hope that they help me continue to do what I do and let shit happen. There are many phases. Performances in places and of course, there’s the show in Venice.