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Yonamine - solo exhibition
Yonamine - solo exhibition
Yonamine - solo exhibition
Yonamine - solo exhibition
Yonamine - solo exhibition

From Kapelismo to Yona-mining, reborn mummies of solidarity

In the realm of ruminating minds, we go back centuries to the era of the griot, the messenger among messengers, to a circuit where people and friendships are not discarded but recycled, where solidarity becomes the cornerstone of existence. There emerges the corpus of the late Congo-born and Angola-based Paulo Kapela (1940-2020) - a wanderer and gatherer, a prophet of sorts, weaving messages about collective survival from the fabric of everyday life. Trained in the style of the Poto-Poto school, founded in the 1950s in Brazzaville by the French painter Pierre Lods, characterized by vibrant colors, hypnotic graphic patterns, and themes drawn from Congolese daily life, Kapela moved to Luanda in the 1990s, amidst the backdrop of Angola’s tumultuous political and social landscape. There, he turned the Poto-Poto school, claiming “authenticity” as a better practice of freedom, into a radical form of life, a collective sanctuary of resistance. In Luanda’s city center, his studio looked like a refugee camp, a political party, a church gathering, a flea market of sidelined histories. He appropriated and remixed them daily for his people: a community of artists, people from the streets, friends, poets, and neighbors he would ongoingly host and feed and, primarily, teach how to survive.

Despite his reserved nature, Kapela, a French-speaking Angolan Congolese, served as a guardian of daily life, traversing the streets of Luanda to disseminate news turned into spiritual messages of survival. He meticulously collected newspapers, extracting keywords he re-modelled with visual and sonic symbols, or codes sometimes referring to a Congolese Black church, meeting various long-forgotten technologies, global and local pop & sub-cultures. Just like Valentin Mudimbe, in his Invention of Africa, critically examines how Western and colonial epistemologies have shaped understandings of the continent and excluded indigenous perspectives, Kapela’s artistic practice challenges dominant narratives, offering alternative ways of understanding and representing localized experiences: where residues of the Cold War, ongoing corruption, or ashes of communism can still light candles for community, where street people and politicians co-exist; half-blind cats can teach us to see better with one eye only. Where weapons, when carefully mummified with rubber, can become a quiet fireplace, before they turn into the ashes that will fuel the following deaths and lives of marginalized objects, of the people and histories he never stopped channeling. He believed in the transformative power of art to reshape perceptions, challenge societal norms, and cultivate a sense of belonging within peripheral communities.

Central to Kapela’s life practice is the idea of recycling—not only materials but also people and words. A boxer sometimes dressed in the flag of Angola, a warrior for community life, guerrilla in his approach yet tender in his teachings, he aimed at producing new forms of cultural resistance: a collective with no name and no roof, a live shrine, where food, music and founds objects could be collaged. For decades, in his UNAP (National Union of Visual Artists) headquarters, Kapela was a keeper of doors to realms unknown, where a form of freedom school was performed, and Yonamine (born in 1975), one of his younger disciples and brothers, stands today as one of its guardians. In the last months, Yonamine became the bearer of the twelve stations of Kapela, producing, in the summer of 2023, posters and scores on the occasion of the Kaunas biennial and the Riga Survival Kit Festival. In both events, he prolonged the history of a transnational form of communism that circulated from Africa to Eastern Europe, remembering Angola’s internationalist spirit in the 1980s, bringing together ex-USSR, Yugoslav and Cuban soldiers, refugees and dissidents, the pirated whisky very common during the Angolan Civil war titled THE BEST, and art & freedom fighters like Kapela.

Yonamine’s shrine to Kapela in the former gunpowder factory of the Kaunas fortress, was a performative tomb, mixing the white noise of old TVs, Poto-Poto silhouettes in arms, a flag of Angola made out of lace, fake flowers covered in coal, the sounds of pagan Baltic songs and broken Congolese music. In this transcultural sanctuary, raštas (“bible” in Lithuanian) lied under the Lithuanian flag, which shares its color scheme with Jamaica. Nothing is static in the installation; rather, archives of Kapela’s past and present are perpetually disseminated, translated, and enacted - everything is in flux. Found technological devices are consistently repurposed into tools of perception and experience. Blurred television screens, projected shadows, and xeroxed media messages morph into songs or prayers.

Propaganda once used to promote corruption and war is transformed into a catalyst for peace and solidarity, epitomized by reggae - a nourishment for both body and soul.

In March 2024, Yonamine’s shrine to Kapela, though destroyed during the shipping between Lithuania and Portugal, finds a new life in Cristina Guerra’s gallery, perpetuating Kapela’s teachings on rebirth. There, a new Kapelismo - “a fusion of ideas, trends, and temporalities” as Yonamine puts it - endures through a performative and shared reconstruction process, around a central altar and eight new Kapela “stations”. At its core lies the portrait of the master himself, hopeful political figures, as well as open-ended gifts from artists and friends passing by. Collected materials form the foundation for a contextualized constellation of histories, juxtaposing past artifacts with ongoing news and urgent matters requiring our attention and care: wars in Ukraine and Palestine, bread for all, empowering the women and men who inspire our presents and futures - Lee Scratch Perry, Sindika Dokolo, as well as the daily heroes and heroines that surround us - Manuel Manuel, the gardener; Paul, the driver; Germaine, the living centurion.

Striving for equilibrium, Yonamine blends materials and ideas, drawing from past and present, inherited and local recipes, intertwining music and political allusions. As the keeper of Kapela’s doors, Yonamine implores us to view the world from a variety of perspectives: through multiple eyes, or a singular eye - closed, looking inward, towards the soul - a metaphorical lens for deeper perception, however accessible to all.

Through shared rituals extending the physical installation, blurring the boundary between the mundane and the sacred, the living and the dead, Yonamine invites us to embrace solidarity, partake in a communion of spirits, and reimagine the essence of commonality in the memory of Kapela. Such as in the body of the Chibuku disco(1), a form of entropic 5 year unit - kingdom termite - Yonamine has been mounting/dismounting in the various countries he has recently lived in. A nomadic and ever-evolving creation, it is composed by handwritten job offer panels hammered on trees he collected back in Zimbabwe. When rearranged, these ephemeral fragments weave into a poem of solidarity, each telephone number akin to a protective code. Originally crafted for intimate gatherings, the current Chibuku disco manifests as panels on the gallery walls, accompanied by repurposed speakers and wheels turned into conduits of social connection for the ever-newly skilled ones who are however “useless” and powerless in society. While angry metal masks are hoovering the floor of the gallery offering a type of proto-technological cleansing, such energized and transformative art devices empower those sidelined by society, turning the energetic chaos of existence into a sanctuary for collective expression.

To be complete, the wandering spirit of Kapela extends far beyond exhibition galleries; it resides in the streets, among the people. Yonamine always spreads Kapela-inspired messages in public spaces, sticking hundreds of posters in English, Greek, or Albanian, bridging Congo, Angola, Lithuania, and Zimbabwe, united in singing the same song: It’s expensive to be poor.

Alicia Knock

Paris, March 2024

1 Chibuku founders: Chipo Mudhivari and Rebecca, with the support of Njelele art station and Dana Whabira

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