Maputo Revisited: Reflections on society …

Maxwell Mutanda
While this year’s Maputo Fast Forward festival of creativity, design and innovation takes place, People’s Stories Project is reflecting on the words and work of a selection of artists who were part of the ColabNowNow phase of the Mozambique digital event last year. 

We continue with Maxwell Mutanda, a pluridisciplinary artist and co-founder of Studio [D] Tale, an agency that explores how design can resolve social and environmental problems, Maxwell’s reactions to the political, pop cultural and personal in Maputo are evident from the observationary nature of the work he produced during last year’s Mozambique residency. Photography, murals and video are the tools that illustrate the lens through which this artist observed this particular southern African city. 

Frelimo – The everyday or popular culture in Maputo, and how one reflects this, helped define this work. For example, although seemingly benign flotsam and jetsam, the tattered election campaign posters from Frelimo, the ruling political party, are evidence of the sort of latent anxiety and struggle that permeates most societies. Although in this case it is a so-called middle regime – not quite full democracy, not yet totalitarian – that dictates popular culture. Nevertheless, as Stuart Hall stated, “popular culture is one of the sites where this struggle for and against a culture of the powerful is engaged: it is also the stake to be won or lost in that struggle.”

Assimilado – This is the term Portuguese colonisers bestowed on a class of indigenous Africans who espoused Portuguese and rejected their own customs and beliefs. This small subset was usually gainfully employed and slightly better treated than most Black Africans. The artwork gets its title from this somewhat violent nomenclature. Researchers Evan S. Lieberman, MIT, and Prerna Singh, Harvard University, describe such terminology as belonging to Institutionalised Ethnicity – the pattern of using ethnic categories, particularly by national states around the world.

Hair! – The mural focuses on hair as a means to question this phenomenon. Hair is chosen as a means of linking Mozambique with the global struggle of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora. The viewer may recall Zulaikha Patel in present-day South Africa, Sandra Laing in Apartheid Suid-Afrika or the music of American artists India.Arie or Solange Knowles. By also manipulating the visual iconography that defines Mozambique’s post-independence, the work seeks to question what Samora Machel’s clarion call, “A Luta Continua!” means in the context of a continent whose proletariat and bourgeoisie are of the same race? The work was produced in collaboration with Nikiwe Dlova, whose self-expression highlights the beauty and everyday performance of being a Black Woman in Africa.

Private Lives – In my creative enterprise I believe that the role of art is to reflect and question society. However, in doing so it should seldom be didactic. This artwork is a record of history: A living history. Particularly how that which is unseen and unexamined in our private lives is explored within the artwork. Although, the context is ostensibly foreboding, this work is a celebration of identity and culture. For me, this recalls early evenings in front of the television watching, and sometimes aiding, my mother as she threaded her hair before bed in preparation for the next day.

All images and video courtesy of Maxwell Mutanda

Maputo Fast Forward takes place from 10th October – 10th November. The theme this year is Identity and Mobility in the 21st Century.

The ColabNowNow exhibition launches on 10th October with a selection of new artists and storytellers from across Africa.