Maputo Revisited: The dance of death …

The Magic Portrait

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

A total of nine creatives from Africa and the UK were selected last year. Through art and storytelling, they collaborated to produce innovative pieces that culminated in a. group exhibition in the heart of Maputo.

This time we’re focusing on award-winning Tanzanian fashion and graphic designer Valerie Amani who co-facilitated at Fak’ugesi – Johannesburg’s African Digital Innovation Festival – along with Will Hurt from the UK. Both are facilitating at ColabNowNow 2019. In the following text, Valerie muses on culture and tradition in her personal reflection of what is essentially the last goodbye.


The first time I understood death, was when I was 8 years old, taking a bath and thinking about my great grandmother’s passing. I remember my mum explaining it to me the day before, but something about being in that bathtub made it real. One day I wouldn’t be taking baths, I wouldn’t be going to school, I wouldn’t be talking to my friends… I would just be gone.

I remember getting dizzy just from trying to wrap my head around that; sometimes I still get dizzy trying to understand our inevitable mortality.

Many years down the line I found myself in Lagos, Nigeria, attending my second funeral. My godmother’s. She was (and is) Tanzanian, and my uncle is Nigerian; the crossing of cultures seemingly romantic until it came to death. 

Traditions change a great deal when you cross a whole continent and I had never considered that a funeral procession could be so very foreign from what I know and what makes me comfortable.

The dancing, the singing, the wailing; it was a lot of newness I had not expected, all made very real by my own need to mourn in the way I knew how. But again, what is the right way to mourn? What is the right way to say goodbye to someone who is already gone?


Death isn’t the type of conversation anyone wants to bring up, but maybe it should be. Maybe by bringing it closer to us, making it less of an unknown we will begin to understand ourselves a little more. 

This is possibly why I chose to create these pieces, to explore what death means to others in an attempt to find out where I too stand within these processes. 

It is hard to know what you think about something you actually don’t think about. I wanted to challenge myself and others to think about the uncomfortable thing that is experiencing loss; take apart the African and universal symbols, sounds and practices saved for funerals and bring them face to face with an audience. Face to face with myself. Through the creation of the artwork, I was able to unearth my own fear of dying along with how I have neglected what this means from my own traditional and cultural perspective…

Images courtesy of Valerie Amani and modelled by Nigerian poet and artists Afopefolowa Ojo. Original photos taken in collaboration with Tanzanian photographer Andrew Munuwa.

Maputo Fast Forward takes place from 10th October – 10th November 2019. 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.