Maurice Mbikayi’s work deals with history, technology and ecology, the impacts of contemporary technology on humanity.
He refers to his own experiences and developments of fashion and access to information technology in his home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He collects discarded computer parts, deconstructs and recontextualizes them into mixed media collages and sculptures, combining them with other materials including fiberglass bandages and found objects. In his photographs, his body acts as a ‘prosthetic Identity’, symbolically representing his experiences and anxieties about the virtual world as well as electronic waste, and the implications for human beings and ecology involved in mining and dumping in Africa.
He graduated in Graphic Design and Visual communication from the Academies des Beaux-Arts in Kinshasa and holds an MA Fine Arts degree (with distinction) from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town. Mbikayi’s work has recently been acquired by The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, The Pérez Art Museum in Miami. His work has been exhibited in various institutions such as the Kunsthalle Tübingen Stiftung in Germany; Middelheim Museum in Belgium; the World Bank (the World Bank Art Program) in Washington DC; the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts of Michigan; Kunsthaus Graz in Austria; Iwalewahaus Bayreuth; Musée Royal de l'Afrique centrale, Tervuren in Belgium; the South Africa National Gallery; Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa and the Alliance Française of Pretoria, Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town. Mbikayi lives and works in Cape Town, SA.
Discover more about @mauricembikayi work this week!
Special thanks to Edo Ndeke from Demif Gallery to help us bridge the gap between South Africa and London
In my depiction, a "Techno Dandy" is a person who dons the outfits for a parade and then performs several characters.
On this occasion, the Techno Dandy uses a form of expression called the "Sapeur". A "Sapeur" is a devotee of La Sape which is an acronym based on the phrase Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (French; literally "Society of Ambiance-Makers and Elegant People"); hinting towards the French slang ‘sape’ which means "attire". Dandyism is a subculture centred on the cities of Kinshasa and Brazzaville in the DRC and the Republic of Congo respectively.
For me, La SAPE is another form of expression that has developed after successive dictatorial regimes from both Congo Kinshasa and Congo Brazzaville.
For those born into both Congo’s, political, cultural and economical expression is not tolerated; the amounted frustration is expressed openly through the Sapeurs who artistically transcends this monotony in the hope of a larger cultural transition; they see their transcendence as a form of agency to compensate for political and economic deprivation. In other words, Sapeurs manifest ambivalent attitudes which are both beautiful and confusing – a rather disguised weapon of expression.
In the above scene, I personify a Sapeur in an exaggerated outfit, which could also reveal the idea of reinventing a foreign culture as an autonomous form, a revolt against the established order. In Position D’attaque 2, I take a pugnacious position in an outfit made of discarded computer keyboards in the backdrop of a traditional African village with its classical hut and nature.
In this body of work I wanted to interrogate the proliferation of technological commerce in our geopolitical and social economical system. Technology’s reliance on mining for resources, for instance, has made African countries and their people underprivileged, vulnerable to resource extraction, low-wage labour abuse as well as a range of other factors beyond their control, dictated by international economic markets. I always found it striking that in these resource rich countries the socio-economic situation of the population is a dramatic contradiction to what it should be.
In this occasion, I personify a Grand Prêtre, a flattering adjective generally used to describe in the Congolese jargon: an individual who has achieved a certain level of success in one area or another and does not hesitate to show off. In this scenario I observe and have been observed, at the same time I participate and through sartorial performances, I emphasize self-determinacy. The latter comes together in Cape Town, a city that exhibits its many political, historical and socio-economical loaded spaces between the have and the have nots. This is where I choose to perform; these environments are vital to the meaning of the work. I basically portray a metaphorical vision of people of resource rich countries in the global south.
My Techno Dandy can be viewed as a warrior, inspired by nineteenth-century French and English redingotes and medieval armour. This redingote is covered with black computer keys and forms a second skin on a tailored black cloth. Its elbows have separate covers made from knee guards that I also worked on with computer keys. These allow me to bend my arms easily while moving and give the costume the impression of armour. It has an accompanying top hat that is also studded with keys, and a modified walking stick. Inside the redingote is an additional cover or ‘shirt’ made with computer cables hanging to the knees, which is inspired by medieval chainmail. The shoes are comical and worn with socks woven from coloured cables. They are also intended to complement the subversive nature of the garment, which forms an allegory of a body and nature in auto-recovery from diverse technological injuries.
The dandy represents a new attitude of resistance against the destruction of nature and livelihood of third world countries, the exploitation of natural resources and the destruction of flora and fauna. These natural resources are being used in everyday electronic devices in technologically advanced nations and after they have reached their expediency cycle, they are dumped back into the countries which these natural resources came from. The dandy, in his position of defiance, breaks the silence and takes a stand against this never-ending cycle, utilizing everything at his disposal including discarded materials from developed nations.
The Techno Dandy is a person who dons the outfit for a parade and therefore performs several characters. I embody hope for a future where access to technology is more widespread in Africa, and the Democratic Republic of Congo in particular.
In Talking to Leffie, I explore the notion of strength-fragility relationship, man vs nature dichotomy and our dependence on animals. In my analysis, our relationship with animals is one that has evolved from a natural basis of danger, hostility, domestication and companionship. In this contentious relationship, there is only one element in this equation that has changed: the attitude of humans.
Causing harm and extinction of various creatures, the presence of the animals in my work is a sort of nemesis that interrupts the overwhelming technological concern nowadays (represented by my costume). The work also investigates how technologies have brought forward the extended self-sustaining, the notion of digital subjectivities and the human-machine digital interface. ‘Talking to Leffie’ forces humans to reconsider their relationship with animals by dropping the false sense of superiority. I capture the latter with the white bandages, which signifies fragility in a world where habitats of animals are shrinking and constantly under threat. Simultaneously, there is a sense of decency in a fractured relationship that requires healing. I think curing starts by acknowledging our dependencies, vulnerabilities and ultimately showing humanity towards domesticated animals and those in the wildlife in order to restore balance in this strange dichotomy between man versus nature.
In Combatant 1 I try to urge the audience to fight and resist against the normalization or the acceptance of the destruction of nature as a by-product over technological evolution i.e. collateral damage.
In this photograph my body acts as a ‘prosthetic identity’, symbolically representing my experiences and anxieties about the state of the world as well as electronic waste, and the implications for human beings involved in the mining process and dumping in Africa. There is virtually no area of our day to day life that is not touched by the power of technology. In today’s modern society, one cannot deny how dependent the world has become to its use of technology. As promoters of technological development are arguing that it will not only improve our lives but also bring us closer together as a human race. However, in their supposition, they fail to address the human cost associated with this technological development.
The downside seems to be situated in a blind spot not only for technological propagators but also to its consumers and policymakers. The concern that arises from this initial observation is that there seems to be a schism between the ambitions in technological advancement and the ‘’collateral’’ damage that arises from this. One could argue that even though we live on the same planet, we are more connected than ever before with an abundance of information, yet we seem more apart than ever; technology has created parallel worlds in which we are forced to ignore the pain and suffering in different areas of the planet