Celebrating the power and beauty of African arts and culture
26 July - 18 August 2019 in São Tomé e Príncipe, West Africa
N’GOLÁ was the eighth edition of the biennial of São Tomé e Príncipe, a tiny island country in the Gulf of Guinea, with a lively local arts scene. To revive the biennial, the organization invited me as curator for the 2019 edition. Throughout my career as a curator, I have always been interested in crossing borders between disciplines and mixing different cultures, and I have always looked for ways to involve the audience and to interact with visitors.
Main goal for this 8th edition of the biennial of São Tomé e Príncipe is to strengthen the ties between the African mainland and São Tomé e Príncipe, once inhabited islands, colonized by the Portuguese from the late 15th century until 1974. In my research, I purposefully looked for works that could strengthen a narrative that is more positive and uplifting than is generally told about Africa. I was looking for a narrative that runs counter to an image of Africa as a place of sorrow and suffering: though this image may be justified by Africa’s harsh, daily realities and its problematic past, it also fixes the continent in an undeserved cliché of powerlessness and lack of agency. I noticed that a new narrative has been gaining momentum, of a dynamic, self-confident Africa, embodying strength, optimism, and hope for the future, particularly among younger generations. In the course of my search I was impressed to encounter so many African artists aiming to create a fresh take on their world through beauty, poetry, irony or a sense of humour, without ever negating its daily reality.
So for this edition of the biennial I initiated N’GOLÁ as a a multidisciplinary, festival-style event with a lot of interaction with people. I invited over 30 artists from all over the African continent, and we created a programme with exhibitions, performances, workshops, and concerts. All celebrating the power of African arts and culture. We showed the movie ‘Rafiki’ by Wanuri Kahiu, that tells the story of love and friendship between two young Kenyan girls amidst family and political pressures around the issue of LGBT rights in Kenya. Yves Sambu from DR Congo, inspired by São Tomé’s national hero Rei Amador, created a vibrant performance with Sapeurs at sunset in the city of São Tomé, where he paid tribute to Rei Amador and his fight against oppression. As soon as the Sapeurs entered the streets of São Tomé, the people went crazy, running enthusiastically after them, following the performance step by step. Sunny Dolat & The Nest Collective from Kenya created a magical fashion performance that started at dawn at the oceanside: 56 fashion designers, one from every country of the African continent and one from the diaspora, provided looks for 56 models scouted in São Tomé; aiming to set a new standard for fashion from the African continent.
Exhibition design by Edith Gruson, co-curated by Sunny Dolat & The Nest Collective, João Carlos Silva, Emeka Okereke/Invisible Borders, conference by Design Indaba, participating artists: Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou (Togo), Sammy Baloji (DR Congo), Filip de Boeck (Belgium), Kampire Bahana (Uganda), Christian Benimana & MASS Design Group (Rwanda), Blinky Bill (Kenya), Tabi Bonney (Togo), Joana Choumali (Ivory Coast), Justin Dingwall (South Africa), Omar Victor Diop (Senegal), Sunny Dolat & The Nest Collective (Kenya), Samuel Fosso (Cameroon), Jan Hoek (The Netherlands) Bobbin Case (Uganda), Jepchumba (Kenya), Wanuri Kahiu (Kenya), Mariam Kamara (Niger), Stephen Tayo (Nigeria), Lola Keyezua (Angola), Bodys Isek Kingelez (DR Congo), Osborne Macharia (Kenya), Emo de Medeiros (Benin), Sethembile Msezane (South Africa), Emeka Okereke (Nigeria), Salooni (Uganda), Yves Sambu (DR Congo), Mary Sibande (South Africa), Pascale Marthine Tayou (Cameroon), Valete (Portugal), Sarah Waiswa (Uganda), Nikkie Wester (The Netherlands)