Maputo revisited: Emotional colours …

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 last year’s ColabNowNow phase of this Mozambique-located digital event. 

We end with Hakeem Adam, who in an artist statement in 2018, highlighted the Islamic philosophy of Jihad, which loosely translates as ‘struggle’. Using this perspective to re-interpret the personal conflicts he sometimes faces, his use of double-exposure photography in his Mujahid Series was a specific outlet for freedom. 

Despite coming from a pseudo-religious standpoint, his work reflected the contemporary nature of mental health, by referencing pop-culture such as hip-hop, in what was a visual commentary about psychological status – particularly among artists.

Image 1

Does this image have a title? –It’s always difficult for me to title my work and generally I’m trying to associate the image with something witty or very obvious. Sometimes that makes for a great thematic lead. However, for the purposes of print sales and exhibitions, I just named each image from this series after the predominant colours, so it could have been sky blue and black, red yellow and black, black and red … I guess I want the viewer to consider the colours as an entry points in finding any form of emotional link to the images. I want you to feel whatever the colours evoke.

Where was it shot? –The background landscape was shot in Kwabenya, Accra, Ghana. It is actually a little heap of rubble with a puddle reflecting the sky. I decided to overlay it with my self-portrait because technically it worked, but it also had this very distinct separation, where the land separates the sky and its reflection in the puddle. In a way, it perfectly reflected my in-betweenness, suspended in a limbo between my reality and my skewed cognition of it.

The blue tone is beautiful. Is it chosen to give a particular mood? – This image works best when viewed as a diptych (with image 2, red, yellow and black) as they exist in a contrast of colours and emotions. This first one, in blue, signifies my surrender to anxiety, whilst the red and yellow is more about anger. The colours help reinforce the contrasting moods. 

Was this image created for or during Maputo?– The self-portrait was shot in Maputo with the assistance of Andrew Munuwa, but the final image was done in Accra a few weeks after the residency.

How does this image reflect your emotions?– It highlights vulnerability to some extent. I believe just admitting the impacts of these moods and emotions is an admittance of my vulnerability to them, but I like to think they reflect my survival more than anything. It energizes me to think that I’m brave enough to share what I’m going through as a way of helping me detach from it. 

Image 2

So, this second image is connected to anger? – Again, the red and yellow is best understood when juxtaposed with the sky blue and black in the previous image. They both have the same colour, which is some element of suspension between pools, but the colours and orientation of the portrait differentiate them.

Is there a special technique involved with these images?– The technique is quite simple actually. It just involves placing one image on top of the other and adjusting the exposure. I do all my work with my iPhone and then the app I use for the technique is Snapseed. It makes the process really simple. You do however have to be mindful of the colours, but it is very exciting to experiment with ideas using this method, as I can’t always accurately predict the outcome.

Is layering part of your visual style?– It’s a technique I first borrowed from years and years of listening to rap music. Before I developed my own style through years of studying and writing English literature. When I write or create, a lot of the time I’m stacking ideas as they come, before I sculpt what I want to say from the stack. I find that I still do this with video, sound and photography. It involves a process of making connections beyond myself. Layering allows me to play with those connections in a way. It’s quite liberating. 

Image 3

When and where was this third image taken?– The floral element of this image was shot in Accra in 2017, but the self-portrait was done in Maputo, again with the help of Andrew Munuwa.

How did these colour choices come about?– There’s a sense of alertness and urgency to black and red that I wanted to convey. With this, the black background isolates the red foreground element, compelling the viewer to focus on the face, by making it a bit immersive. This image as well is best viewed as a diptych with image 4 as the sentiments are connected. It reminds me of being frozen in a place of uncertainty; invisible and drowning…

Image 4

Can you to name some of the fragments and thoughts involved in this last image?– After Maputo, my thoughts about expressing anxiety in my work switched towards sharing my survival. So, with this image 4, I’m trying to capture the ability we all possess to survive these paralyzing emotions. I was thinking a lot about the triumph of survival and these images to me are proof of it. 

What is your body language saying here?– Double exposure gave me the chance to show the scope of my transition through depressive moment. I’m struggling to wake up and escape and leave the feelings of anxiety behind.

There’s an obvious story attached to all your colour choices… I wanted to stay consistent though the series so there’s a leitmotif with the colours. The blues and red and black throughout are my chosen vocabulary in expressing the sentiments that inform the thoughts that shape the creation of the images. The black figure, my self-portrait, is drowning in the blue. I’m just trying to get out of it. 

All images courtesy of Hakeem Adam

Maputo Fast Forward (MFF) 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.