The TRUE Africa 100 is our list of innovators, opinion-formers, game-changers, pioneers, dreamers and mavericks who we feel are shaping the Africa of today and tomorrow. We’re featuring them over 100 days and we’ve asked each of them three questions.
Pascale Obolo is a filmmaker and artist who is also part of the team behind the Afro design and contemporary art magazine Afrikadaa. Her film Calypso at Dirty Jim’s was selected for and awarded prizes at festivals including the Fespaco Ouagadougou, the Vues d’Afrique in Montreal and the Prix Dikalo d’Or at the Panafrican Festival of Cannes. She talks about the complacency of the elite but also of a new African arrogance where ‘everything and anything is possible’.
What artistic developments in Cameroon are exciting you right now?
Young artists coming out now are questioning everything about Cameroonian society. They refuse the usual type of Cameroonian politics.
One of my favourite artists on the scene now is Justine Ngaga. She is self taught; was mentored by the late Goddy Leye; and even managed to win a big prize at the latest Dakar Biennale. I have a lot of respect for her. She fights for the role of the female artist in Cameroon but she is also defending gays. And of course Barthelemy Toguo, who created in 2007 his Bandjoun Station art centre, as a way to offer space and creative solutions to local artists.
It’s very difficult to cut through the red tape and find financing to create works of art. But we don’t and we won’t give up.
The Cameroonian state does not support artists. I would even say that our minister of arts and culture, Ama Tutu Muna, who has been in office since 2007, does not love artists, even though we are the face of the country. She doesn’t give us any time; she doesn’t support us. Don’t you find it crazy that Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s film Lettre A Monsieur le Président was effectively censored in Cameroon? I think Jean-Pierre was wondering how a single film could cause so much political upheaval.
The bureaucracy is such that it’s very, very difficult to cut through the red tape and find subsidies and financing and even the most basic infrastructure to create works of art. But we don’t and we won’t give up. In Cameroon, we are lucky to have a productive creative class, where young people are finding new ways to produce work that is also really interesting.
For the past two years, I have been working on a architecture-driven film-meets-print project with the Goethe Institute in Cameroon. It all started with a castle that was built during the German Colonial period. That castle is where the German governors used to live and it is now the secondary residence of the head of state. So that project is an opportunity to question the role of those colonial buildings in contemporary African societies. You just have to look at the street names, that are mostly figures from colonial times; French heroes like the General Leclerc have no connection whatsoever to the history of Cameroon. Cameroon’s own heroes, on the other hand, are invisible. So I am looking at the power dynamics, and how colonialism never really went away.
Why are magazines like Afrikadaa important for artists on the continent?
We are not interested in following the Western news and debates that everyone is talking about. We are looking at what is going on in Africa. What are the needs? More and more people are interested in Africa for economic reasons. They see an emerging market, and because the market is controlled and dominated by Western economic interests. We need to find a new lens that will allow us to identify and promote those African artists who we feel are creating real value, not just economic value.
A lot of young Africans in the elite are not thinking about new ways to reinvent the African political model or how to adapt it to new African realities.
We would like to make our own political statements. It needs to happen on our own terms, not in the way that Europeans want us to get involved with politics. Because those kind of politics have failed in Europe as well. Just look at the way some European countries are re-establishing borders and questioning the Schengen agreements in order to prevent migrants from coming to their countries.
We are aware that the 21st century belongs to the African continent, but the main problem is at the level of the political discourse. We have to define a new African model that will work for the future of Africa. A lot of young Africans in the elite are not thinking about new ways to reinvent the African political model or how to adapt it to new African realities. We may have to look back and study the pre-colonial governance models in African nations and communities.
At Afrikadaa, we spend a lot of time studying the art fairs and auctions because it is important to know who is selling and who is not. But then we rely on our own writers who question some those rising stars that the West wants to promote. That is why at Afrikadaa we focus mostly on emerging artists. After ‘Politics of Sound’, our next issue is on collectors. We are looking at European and non-European collectors, at museums, and the people who are now investing in contemporary African art.
For the longest time, African critics and intellectuals like us, we didn’t really question the future. We didn’t look at science fiction and how it could truly shape our future.
When you look more closely at the choices collectors make, you realise that European collectors are buying art that is completely different. Most of the European collectors we have been studying are into aesthetics, while many of the African collectors who are now able to afford contemporary art are looking at artists who are making a statement, political or otherwise. That is why we cannot wait for the confrontation that will come, in the future, with the birth of African auction houses.
Afrikadaa wants to set the tone on ideas. After we published the issue on ‘Afro-futurism,’ we noticed that large institutions like the Centre Pompidou started commenting and showing work that they deemed Afro-futuristic. But the difference is: we are journalists and artists; we are free to speak our mind, in the way that we question the future and the many possibilities around the future. For the longest time, African critics and intellectuals like us, we didn’t really question the future, and what Africa could be in the future. We didn’t look at science fiction and how it could truly shape our future.
Who is your African of the year?
Okwui Enwezor is my African of the year. The Venice Biennale 2015 edition that he art directed made a really big impact, not just on me, but on a lot of people, because he showcased a lot of African artists. This was the first time something like that happened in Venice. The symbolism is huge. It is important and it is real. Even though I feel he included too many big name African artists living in the diaspora, I love the fact that an African curator who is deep in the establishment was able to work with African artists.
I am a huge fan of Sindika Dokolo as a collector because he symbolises hope and the new African arrogance where everything and anything is possible.
Personally, I am more in tune with the curatorial choices made by Simon Njami, perhaps because I am a child of his seminal magazine Revue Noire, but I am also a huge fan of Sindika Dokolo as a collector because he symbolises hope, and the new African arrogance where everything and anything is possible. People like Okwui and Simon and Sindika are showing that no one can tell us what to do, or how to think.
Find out more about Afrikadaa
Follow them on Twitter @AFRIKADAA
Come back tomorrow for the next TRUE Africa 100 and keep up to date using the hashtag #TRUEAfrica