A Breathing Space Project
In 2020 we saw many of our assumptions about society, culture and economy upturned or broken. We saw in equal measure the emergence of possibilities for rapid and transformative change, and the deepening of existing fractures and injustices. It is clear we are inside a period of disruption that neither began nor will end with the COVID-19 pandemic, and in which the larger social-economic-ecological crises of our time become vivid and present. Against this backdrop, the Breathing Space grant programme of Pro Helvetia’s Johannesburg office looked to enable modest relief, or ‘breathing space’, for arts practitioners, organisations and networks across the subcontinent to rethink ways of working, to experiment with new formats of production, exchange and collaboration and reimagine the shape and position of cultural and creative work.
Ozhopé Collective (founded in 2017) is a group of young Malawian collaborators comprising artists Ella Banda and Massa Lemu, photo/videographers Tavwana Chirwa and Augustine Magolowondo, and a writer Emmanuel Ngwira. The group’s main aim is to collaboratively produce art that inspires conversations and invites people to think critically around issues affecting quotidian aspects of existence.
In response to the spread of misinformation around the Covid-19 virus in Malawi, especially amongst young people, the group conceptualised a project that remixes popular vernacular street proverbs to produce satirical videos, banners and memes that are circulated on social media and Whatsapp.
The memes are primarily in Chichewa, one of Malawi’s widely spoken local languages, and tackle a number of topical issues related to the Coronavirus in Malawi such as corporate social irresponsibility and the reluctance of corporations to contribute to the fight against the virus, the misappropriation and abuse of Covid-19 relief funds by government officials, politicians’ (non)usage of vernacular language in official communication about Covid-19, and other general misconceptions regarding the pandemic.
The group is also in the process of building an archive of Chichewa translated Chinese (Chewanese) and Bollywood films sourced from various townships in the cities of Lilongwe and Blantyre. They plan to appropriate and adapt these for memes and GIFs that reflect on the pandemic and the social and economic impact of Malawi-China/Africa-China relations. The archive will include films, printed posters, and other accessories for the advertisement and screening of the films in the township cinemas.
Amabel Lisa Banda is a 25 year old visual artist who lives and works in Lilongwe, Malawi. She draws inspiration from the beauty of Africa and African bodies. She especially loves to show the beauty of the black female form and the power that it holds. Amabel holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Malawi, Chancellor College as a Fine Arts major and a Philosophy and Classics minor. She works mostly on canvas and paper, using acrylic paint, oil paint and pencils. Lately, she has been painting murals for private and commercial clients. Amabel’s work has been shown numerous at exhibitions such as Melanonia, a movement coined by Creative Menace to celebrate black skin, Feminart by Story Club Art Café, as well as exhibitions by Afrochoc, ArtGlo and Zaluso Arts.
Massa Lemu is a Malawian visual artist and writer whose multi-disciplinary artistic practice takes the form of text, performance, and multimedia installations that are concerned with the contradictions of migration, and the psychological effects of an immaterial, flexible and mobile capitalism on the post-colonial subject. Massa makes interventions into objects and spaces, using aesthetics of politics to comment on the politics of aesthetics. As a writer, Massa’s scholarly interests lie in what he calls a biopolitical collectivism in contemporary African art which he defines as an immaterial, subject-centered and collectivist art practice situated in everyday life. Massa has exhibited at 1708 Gallery, Oakwood Arts, Lawndale Arts Center, and Rice University. His writing has been published by The Burlington Contemporary, Wits University Press, Third Text, Stedelijk Studies Journal, and Contemporary&. MAssa is an assistant professor in the Department of Sculpture + Extended Media at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Tavwana Chirwa is a 26 year old photographer and videographer based in Blantyre, Malawi. Tavwana has a passion for art and natureand has shot shot mini video documentaries for international organisations including UNICEF, MSF, WORLD VISION and OXFAM. Tavwana is currently studying for an advance diploma in Computing.
Emmanuel Ngwira is a literary and cultural scholar based in the English Department at the University of Malawi where he teaches African literature and popular arts. His current research area of interest is African popular arts in the digital age with special focus on internet based visual rhetoric such as memes. Emmanuel holds a PhD (English Studies) from Stellenbosch University, South Africa. In 2018, he was Fulbright Scholar in the Comparative Literature Department at New York University, New York, USA. Some of his articles have appeared in internationally refereed journals such as Nordic Geographical Publications, Journal of Humanities, English Studies in Africa, Social Dynamics, Muziki, Current Writing and Journal of the African Literature Association.