Kubatana, fresh air in Oslo

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A year ago we attended the opening of Kubatana, near Oslo in Norway. This exhibition gathered productions of various talented artists from Africa. After seeing How it has impacted people from the beginning, we wanted to perceive its long term effect.
The following article is a contribution from and by Victor Mutelekesha, an Artist of Zambian origin living and working in Oslo Norway for 18 years.

Victor shares his impressions about Kubatana, the evolution he has been observing in Norway towards art made by artists with an African background.
He ends with a very relevant question:

How do political situations, especially populism in Occidental countries will affect foreign artists, in particular artists with African origins?

See the visuals of the exhibition on our Instagram account and youtube channel.

Publics yarning for something new and different.

On September 22nd, 2019 “Kubatana, an exhibition with contemporary African Artists curated by Kristin Hjellegjerde” came to a final close at the Kunstlaboratorium in Vestfossen near Oslo. 

It is said to have been “one of the most visited exhibitions” at the Kunstlaboratorium since it’s opening to the public in 2010. I still don’t know where it ranks nationally in terms of numbers of visitors and influencing perception but will leave that work to statisticians to ponder. My interests lie in other nitty-gritty. For Norway, like in most countries, very few Art institutions later on exhibition projects have a national gravitas. Most people will visit an exhibition not because of the institution but because of who is exhibiting. 

So, if Kubatana is said to have been the most visited at Kunstlaboratorium then it signifies the publics yarning for something new and different. Something that the mainstream institutions have either failed to provide or just provided lip service to. 

The last time a significant group exhibition of this kind took place in Norway was in 2009 by the National Museum and it was called Africa in Oslo”. I felt the title itself was patronizing, it showered lack of seriousness and respect I thought, for how could a continent so big, so diverse, so multi-faceted be squeezed up and simplified to appear in the same sentence as a city of about 600, 000 citizens? There isn’t just enough room for that unless  “Africa” to you still fits within the prescribed/predetermined generalizing colonial narratives/prejudices that still persist.

Kubatana, on the other hand, was some kind of a positive step of growth. Though it too couldn’t resist prejudicial traps that run so deep in the western perception psyche. The Mozambique civil war ended more than 27 years ago and yet Gonçalo Mabunda’s works still captivate Western Audiences. In the times we are living right now it is possible to see his projects to have environmental cause at the very core; of recycling or upcycling the remnants of the country’s materials of war but the few people who spoke to me about his work on an opening day seemed to consider the projects war references as its only strength. It made me wonder how much of Spain’s contemporary art still evolves around the Franco era. I don’t think it is because Gonçalo Mabunda’s work is creative but because it appeals to certain perceptions of the continent, the perceived collective tragedy that it continues to make international rounds.

Africa, African art, African artists… Terminology matters a lot to me.

The Internet which I consider the second mass knowledge revolution after the printing press has liberalized information and information consumption in Norway for the last 18 years I have lived and worked here, just like anywhere else in the world.

Subjects I prefer to discuss on social media some of which influence my art projects are no longer preview to a small group of people or intellectuals who can find a book in some physical library. Information is almost at everyone’s fingertips…

My first professional Art exhibition in Norway was in 2006 at the then very young Gallery Fimbul. I remember the article written about my work by Mona Larsen, it was not patronizing in any way. It was concise and to the point and even when I reread it today I still sense genuine respect for the work and Ideas I espoused but I still do recall several unpleasant encounters with some people in the industry, some who where professors at the Art academy.
My work has always been responsive to my immediate and wider social and physical environment, the human condition that it births. So even though that was so obvious reading, some of my projects were almost always in reference to the “prescribed back story” to a person and in my case the prejudices about the “other“.

Terminology matters a lot to me.
Though I do not mind to be referred to as an “African artist” (because it is true that I am from the mother continent). I consider it as a handicap when my work is restricted to the prescribed back story. Neither am I a big fan of exhibitions or art literature whose titles references nationalism or national identity in whichever form e.g “Norwegian Art of the 21st Century”. There is no art in the 21st century that can be restricted to a particular geographical space because of influences in any artistic practices even the so-called traditional crafts and practices are multiple and from multiple sources. That said, I would prefer to be referred to as an artist of African origin because though we can all have a common denominator the paths we take and what influences our creative lives differs.

Very few artists of African origins have made that very slow and painful rise in Norway. Almost all have been through international avenues like biennales and major gallery shows abroad whom then the “Norwegian art” scene takes notice. And maybe, just maybe, one gets collected by the “only canonizing institution in the country the National Museum”, like we recently noticed the crumbling of the national museum to collect the Nigerian/Norwegian Artist Frida Orupabo.
If I am included in an exhibition because of “diversity policy” then I have a big problem with that because to me that is unsustainable. It is like trying to associate oneself with what is trending and when time passes all love gets lost.

What will happen when Trumpism overflows into the culture industry?

So the position occupied by most artists of African origin is still precarious, it is not guaranteed in the long term because it might just be that “a trend”. Cultural political correctness entails inclusions and singing kumbaya into the future but what will happen when Trumpism overflows into the culture industry?
Though, the culture industry in Norway is run by some qualified and dedicated people wanting to see a well-balanced reflection of what our society has become there is still a clique of individuals always ready to push back the wheals of genuine change.  

I hate trends; I prefer consistency and remaining true to certain artistic principles when it comes to creating work and where change is inevitable it should be one that stands the test of time and drives society in general to a better collective place.  

Comparatively speaking Norway is a very free society and the population is generally well-informed/read and curious and that in itself allows a platform for diverse artistic practices, so it is almost always open for business.

About Victor Mutelekesha

Victor Mutelekesha (1976) is an Artist of Zambian origin living and working in Oslo Norway. 
Educated at the National Arts Academy, Oslo, Norway, The Evelyn Hone College of Applied Arts and Commerce, Lusaka, Zambia.
He is a 2016-2017 Smithsonian Artists research fellow and a 2004 Ford Fellow.
He has been a subject of several local and international group and solo exhibitions since 2004 that include the 2012 Dakar Biennale, Havana Biennial, OpenART international ART symposium in Sweden, NSK State Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, Kunstnerforbundet gallery for contemporary Art, Oslo, Gallery Palazio Tito, Venice, Italy and the Akershus kunstsenter in lillestrøm Norway.
Victor works with recurrent issues that influence the state of the human condition at any given time such as conflict arising from our own created divisive mechanism of identity and the unsubstantiated, unscientific prejudice towards any of those identities.
His focus is also oriented towards expanding the confines of what diaspora, hybridity, and identity itself would mean in order to dissipate the conflict.

Amanie Magazine thanks Victor Mutelekesha for his support.