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ARTS: Afrika’sidentity of pride

Matt Kayemwants Africans to flaunt global domination in art, fashion, music

Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | Ugandan multi-talented artist Matt Kayem is never shy to court controversy with his subjects, technique, and medium; be it painting, ceramics, photography, graffiti or sculpture. So his followers expected nothing less from his solo exhibit, `Cool Afrika’, showing at Design Hub Kampala.

This time he explores the hard subject of “Africa’s coolness”. He is heavily political; projecting the continent as a critical space for human civilisation and a reservoir of natural wealth. He has no place for its ironies like poverty, disease, illiteracy and self-pity. Instead he speaks of Africa’s renaissance through his Afro-centrism.He describes a pursuit of a reversed identity for Africa and positions himself in the centre of this conversation.

He places his image as a central subject in his drawings and is undaunted by subjective criticism or conclusions about his art.  He presents himself as a contemporary revolutionary for Africa, in the mold of the fighters for independence like Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba and Cheikh Anta Diop. He dresses the part, in traditional garb like barkcloth, wears an overgrown beard- perhaps, a symbol of defiance, adorns a talisman around his chest and leans over a pile of books with a candle burning to illustrate his avowed intelligence. He is a true African chief commanding respect, love, and admiration from his followers.

For him, cool in his artistic vocabulary, means an ideal and desirable place. He co-opts key figures or locales in Africa’s renaissance; like Mansa Musa- the ancient wealthy West African Emperor and the Nile River in his artistic expedition. He also idolises influential contemporary black figures (African- Americans) in his art like Kanye West, Nick Minaj and 50 Cents as a tool to connect the young people with his message.

He uses Africa’s nature through geometrical designs to conjure aspects like rhythm and culture in the way black people live, work, and mark ceremonies like death. Each is influenced by a specific tempo. So the works on show have diverse patterns that give them unique vibrancy and energy.

Kayem believes Africa is an island filled with potential and possibilities despite the occasional prejudices pegged on it by the neo-colonial-minded through Christianity and the modernisation crusade.

The political overtones in his art are bold and uncompromising.  He says his works are a “combat to the negative framed representation” and his mission “to reconnect our lost brothers to the motherland and vice-versa.”

Matt Kayem’s Cool Afrika is a rejoinder to the ongoing conversation of Africa’s might in the new era of globalisation. With an already biased identity of poverty, illiteracy and diseases, cut out for the continent by the west, it is sometimes hard for black people living on the continent to feel proud of their identity.

These paintings refute such prejudices and pronounce Africa as a desirable destination with insurmountable wealth, beautiful people, and intellectual prowess that cannot be found anywhere else. The artist invites his audience to take pride in their Africa identity that can be found at the apexof global pop culture today in fashion, music, and the Cool Afrika ideology.

Matt Kayem is a multi-media artist whose artistic practice includes Painting, illustration, Photography and Graffiti. Cool Afrika is Matt Kayem’s second Solo exhibition showing at Design Hub Kampala, 5th Street Industrial Area.


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