Article by Ogova Ondego
Published December 24, 2007
Contemporary African dancer and choreographer Faustin Linyekula of Congo-Kinshasa and cartoonist Godfrey Mwampembwa (GADO) of Tanzania have been awarded hefty cash prizes by the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development of The Netherlands. OGOVA ONDEGO writes.
Linyekula, who started his journey in contemporary dance in Nairobi in 1993, was on December 12, 2007 presented with the 2007 Principal Prince Claus Award of €100,000 by His Royal Highness Prince Constantijn in the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ in Amsterdam, for what is described as “his outstanding choreography, for his bold return to the turbulent context of the Congo, for his innovative activation of culture in the face of conflict, and for his energetic commitment to the development of his community.”
On his part, Nairobi-based GADO was one of 10 other winners who each received 25000 Euros. He was singled out for “his courageous cartooning, for using humour to expose aspects of social and political conflicts, and for his inspirational role in the struggle for free expression.”
Having studied literature and theatre in Kisangani, eastern Congo-Kinshasa, the 1974-born Linyakula moved to Nairobi in 1993 where he joined a theatre and dance workshop, teamed up with mime artist Opiyo Okach and dancer Afrah Tenambergen in 1996 to found Kenya’s first frican contemporary dance group, Company Gaara.
The first choreographic piece the trio created and performed on the images of cleaning, Cleansing, received an award at the Recontres Choregraphiques Africaines de Luanda in 1998 and was subsequently invited to perform internationally in highly regarded festivals like France’s Montpellier Dance Festival and at Filature in Mulhouse.
Linyekula, who describes his work as ‘aesthetics of survival’ and who is averse to being referred to as an ‘African’ artist, founded his Studios Kabako in Kinshasa in 2001 to specialise in dance and visual theatre.
Upon his return home, Linyekula created a ‘homecoming’ work entitled Spectacularly Empty (2001), Triptyque sans tire (2002), and Spectacularly Empty II and Le Festival des Mensonges (2005-06). While Triptyque sans Titre (turbulent fragments of a society in conflict) looks at contemporary Congo, Spectacularly Empty II is a sarcastic look at materialism in Kinshasa where, Linyekula told a contemporary dance festival in South Africa in 2005, President
Joseph Kabila can still afford a US$300000 watch in a country that cannot afford to pay teachers.
Le Festival des Mensonges, on the other hand, is an exploration of Congo’s evolution. Spectacularly Empty deals with the chaos in Congo-Kinshasa.
Drawing on his experience and engagement with the lives of people in the Congo context, Prince Claus Awards Committee notes, “Linyekula’s works are deeply humanistic and paradoxical narratives. Spare yet rich, simple yet complex, physical yet philosophical, they mix global influences and ironic local detail. There is no retreat into facile aesthetics. It is visual theatre of the highest calibre.”
According to the Prince Claus Fund website, Linyekula’s Studios Kabako “provides a multi-disciplinary environment for experiment, attracting musicians, poets, designers and artists as well as dancers and actors. Linyekula performs, tours, participates in workshops across Africa and internationally, and is involved in long-term collaborations with groups in Ethiopia and South Africa. He directed a three-day event featuring African choreographers in Paris in 2005, and in 2006 created a work for the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna.”
|Prince Constantijn of Holland presents the Principal Prince Claus Award to Faustin Linyekula. A Capital Photos pic|
Prince Claus Awards committee praises Linyekula for “Addressing the complexities of history, identity and conflict with courage, introspection, sensitivity and humour, Linyekula raises questions about the post-colonial condition and the violence done to ethics. In his hands, dance is a tool for bearing witness and for engaging with the outcomes of that witnessing.”
Tanzanian GADO, born in Dar es Salaam in 1969 and who works for Nation Media Group in Nairobi, is praised for providing “unique insights into local and international issues. With brilliant simplicity, his pen unerringly targets underlying social, political and cultural conflicts, revealing their impact on individuals, highlighting weaknesses and frailties yet never ignoring the essential humanity of his subjects.”
GADO’s crisp analysis and revelations, Prince Claus Awards say, prod the powerful.
“His resistance to political interference and boldness in tackling hot issues head on are important contributions to democratisation and freedom of expression in East Africa, inspiring many who are threatened by censorship.”
This Kenya’s Cartoonist of the Year in 1999 “is the most internationally syndicated editorial cartoonist in East and Central Africa. One of 12 participants in the UN’s exhibition “Cartooning for Peace”, Gado’s work is collected in two books, Democrazy! and The End of an Error and the Beginning of a New One. He has also produced a comic book and a video on racism, and in 2001 graduated in classical animation and filmmaking.”
In 2003 Gado directed a video of Unbwogable, a song by urbanative Kenyan group, Gidi Gidi-Maji Maji. The video, as we reported then in ArtMatters.Info, is full of visual and graphical elements, and is as attention-grabbing as it is pleasing to the eye and ear. Just what a young music lover would enjoy. It matters not that it is not sub-titled. The action of invincibility and indefatigability communicated in the song comes out strongly. The song is as unbwogable (indefatigable and invincible) in delivery as it is in theme. The video came out of a workshop conducted by Alliance Française and the audio-visual department of the French Embassy in Kenya.
Later, in 2004 cartoonist and animator Gado was involved with Africa Animated, a project of UNESCO that sought to train Africans in the making of animated cartoons for children to be aired on African television.
Another winner from Africa “honoured for its combination of intellectualism and activism, for providing a platform for freedom of expression, cultural diversity and social justice, and for its courageous use of the word in its struggle against tyranny” was Sudanese Writers Union.
Radio Isanganiro of Burundi was also honoured for striving for balance and avoiding sensationalism in the war-torn Great Lakes nation.
Others honoured were thespian Patricia Ariza (Colombia),Brazilian theatre-maker Augusto Boal, Palestinian visual artist Emily Jacir, Armenian filmmaker Harutyun Khachatryan, museum of contemporary art founder Ars Aevi (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Mexican architect and designer Oscar Hagerman, and calypso musician, composer and performer, Hollis Liverpool (alias Chalkdust) of Trinidad and Tobago.
Chalkdust was praised for having “developed music as a voice for the disadvantaged, a playful and effective way to criticise power and comment on controversial issues. As a teacher, historian and writer, he has explored the roots of calypso and contributed significantly to cultural research in Trinidad.”
Winners of the €25,000 prizes will receive them from the embassies of The Netherlands in their respective countries.