WEbuilding

A thing is a thing

Beginning in the sixties but throughout the following decades several artists from Latin America have adopted performance as their art form, this would include performances, happenings, actions, photo, video, and private performances. Colombia is a country with a varied artistic repertoire, and since WEbuilding has two ongoing projects there we have been exploring performance artists from this country, and today we would like to share some with you.

It was in 1990 that a performance work first received a prize at an art event in Colombia, and the award was for María Teresa Hincapié, at the XXXIII Salón Nacional Artistas, which points to her foundational role in the development of this practice in Colombia, as Maria Iovino says in her article from the book Arte [no es] vida: actions by artists of the Americas 1960-2000.

According to Iovino, before Hincapié there where two artist who had produced performance pieces in Colombia, María Evelina Marmolejo and María Teresa Cano. Marmolejo’s actions, where influenced by the expressionist lines of Body art, and focused on the topic of the woman as a life-giving body.

Other performance artist that began their work in the late seventies and early eighties, were Sara Modiano, Rosemberg Sandoval and Delfina Bernal.  

Witnesses to the Ruins (Testigo de las ruinas) by Mapa Teatro group (created by Heidi, Elizabeth, and Rolf Abderhalden) is another of the most well-known performance works from Colombia. Their performance in a non-chronological way synthetizes the groups experience during the process of disappearance of El Cartucho neighborhood in Bogotá. They documented the disappearance of a place, and the appearance of a non-place, to make visible how the residues and traces of what has been lost remain, as well as the narrations that reconfigure the neighborhood’s memory, as stated by the Hemispheric Institute.

Finally, Nadia Granados also from Bogotá, has been working with performance since 1997. She develops a highly political art that aims to go beyond the merely aesthetic through audiovisual elements related to pornography, sexualized bodies, and eroticism as a weapon of transgression. On Granado’s website she states that her work is both performative and technological, both art and activism, and a mix of cabaret, public intervention, and video transmissions.

Some common themes addressed by all these artists are land, life, death, violence, feminism, origin, displacement, and the body. All of which are intrinsic to Colombia’s history, but also connected to the current global political economy. We hope this small collection is enriching and sparks your interest in Colombian and Latin American art.

Nadia Granados: la artista colombiana del performance postporno | Intocables Shock

African Culture Stories 2:
An encounter with Mozambican film

A poster for the Fim do Caminho festival
Source: http://festivalfimdocaminho.org/

Picking up on our last post, here is the second installment of African Culture Stories: a cinematic excursion to Mozambique!

Mozambique is home to a thriving film industry whose development closely mirrors the country’s turbulent and violent history. Mozambican cinema was born in the wake of the country’s independence in 1975, at the end of a brutal 10-year war with Portugal. The first act of the new government was to establish a National Film Institute, whose job was to produce a weekly newsreel (entitled Kuxa Kanema, meaning “the birth of cinema”) that would “capture the image of the people and deliver it back to the people,” and which was shown all over the country – even in remote rural areas, where they were projected by mobile film vans.

The determination of the government and the personal commitment of the country’s president Samora Machel led to the creation of one of the first film production facilities in Africa, which attracted directors of international renown, including French directors Jean Rouch and Jean-Luc Godard and Portuguese-Brazilian filmmaker Ruy Guerra, who in 1979 produced Mozambique’s first feature film, Mueda: memória e massacre, considered a classic of anti-colonial cinema. For a glimpse into these early years of Mozambican film-making, check out the fascinating documentary Kuxa Kanema: The Birth of Cinema by Portuguese filmmaker Margarida Cardoso.

Still from the documentary
Kuxa Kanema: The Birth of Cinema

The rise of video and television, and especially death of President Samora in 1986, ushered in a new period dominated by video as a cheap and accessible medium. A central figure of this time was the Brazilian director Licínio Azevedo, today one of Mozambique’s most prominent filmmakers known for Virgem Margarida (2013) and O Comboio de Sal e Açúcar (The Train of Salt and Sugar, 2016), both of which explore the traumas left by the country’s past.

One of the few Mozambican feature films available on YouTube with English subtitles is Terra Sonâmbula (Sleepwalking Land, 2007) by Teresa Prata. This lyrical movie tells the story of the young boy Muidinga, who is wandering the war-ravaged countryside with his guardian Tuahir. When Muidinga discoveres a set of notebooks inside a burnt-out bus, the narration begins to shift between his present reality and the story evoked by his readings of the notebooks, which offer a personal perspective on the country’s conflict-ridden history.

And what about today? Among the up-and-coming generation of Mozambican filmmakers are Mickey Fonseca and Pipas Forjaz, who founded their own production company and produced their first feature, the crime thriller Resgate (Redemption) in 2019. This hard-hitting film, which was partially financed via crowdfunding, won the 2019 Africa Movie Academy Awards for best screenplay and best production design and will become the first independent Mozambican movie to be streamed on Netflix, where it is set to premiere this month.

Conditions for film-making remain difficult in a country where – according to the website of the Fim do Caminho festival, the first regularly recurring film festival outside of the capital Maputo, which was active from 2014 to 2017 – the number of functioning cinemas can be counted on two hands.

Abandoned newsreels
(Still from the documentary Kuxa Kanema)

Putumayo (not the record label)

At WEbuilding one of our goals is to contribute in the development of rural population through education and essential infrastructure that creates opportunities for young people. We are pairing with Catalina Muñoz Foundation to build two new school buildings needed at the public school “Centro Educativo Madre Laura“, located in the Santiago municipality of the Putumayo department in southern Colombia.

This is a vast and multi-faceted region and its name derives from the Putumayo River, which is born east of the city of Pasto; and as it pours into Brazil it is called Içá. The Putumayo is a tributary of the Amazon River, and it has been written about in fiction and non-fiction accounts for at least a couple of centuries. The area called Putumayo in these writings does not obey however to strict departmental boundaries, but to looser and expansive limits regarding the Amazon region of Colombia, and even beyond political frontiers.

Perhaps the most well-known narrative about this region in Colombia is The Vortex, a novel published in 1924 by José Eustasio Rivera, a frontier fiction which has also been classified as Latin American Regionalism or “earth novel”. In it, the Putumayo River and the jungle become a set in which the author represents many subjects, like the fluidity of borders, the diversity of identities, culture, and people in Colombia and South America, the importance of local and ancestral knowledge, and the internalized colonization which governments and companies kept imposing on indigenous groups after political independence from European countries.

In one of W.G. Sebald’s most popular novels, The Rings of Saturn, he talks about Roger Casement, a British Foreign Office diplomat who in the early twentieth century set out to the Putumayo River to investigate allegations against the Peruvian Amazon Company (PAC)—of British-Peruvian ownership. All these allegations included but where not limited to enslaving, torture, starvation, murder, and other atrocities towards Putumayo’s indigenous communities and foreign workers, as retold in Casement’s private journal and testimonies he compiled. Both “The Vortex” and Casement’s accounts are unbelievable, the first fiction inspired by truth, and the second truth suitable for fiction.

A bit to the southeast, yet still in the realm of these natural borderlands, is the series Green Frontier. A thriller about a detective investigating a strange murder in a port town between Colombia and Brazil. With a nonlinear narrative the story unfolds a wealth of imagery and conflict regarding the region. It is centered on a secret that preserves the jungle, hence the world. This series set in current times takes us back to older representations of the Amazon written by foreign and national “explorers” as either an Eden or a Green Hell; researched in Lesley Wylie´s Colombia’s Forgotten Frontier: a literary geography of the Putumayo.

Although this river and region are far away from Bogota, the capital city of Colombia, and even further from the social imagery linked to this country, they have played an influential role in its history and culture and produced powerful texts.  

African Culture Stories 1: A quick look at Ghanaian cinema

Welcome to our African culture thread!  In these posts, we will be taking a closer look at some aspects of the cultural life of the countries where WEbuilding’s projects are happening. We hope they pique your curiosity!

“Ghanaian cinema.” What comes to mind? I wasn’t sure either, but as it turns out, the seventh art in Ghana has a turbulent and fascinating history. From its beginnings – in the 1940’s, when it first became widely accessible – cinema in Ghana was linked to politics: the big screen was an important propaganda tool of the British colonial government (to rally support for the war effort, among other things).

This cinema-politics connection continued well after the country’s independence in 1957. In 1964, President Kwame Nkrumah established the Ghana Film Industry Corporation, to restore cinema to the people and foster national pride and self-determination. In the two years until Nkrumah’s overthrow in 1966, the GFIC produced over 150 films that served (as filmmaker Kofi Bucknor explains in this informative video about the early history of cinema in Ghana) as a “tool for having Ghanaians understand what governance was about.”

In the subsequent political turmoil, the Ghanaian film industry entered a period of decline, until the country’s first independent film hit theatres in 1981. This was Kwaw Ansah’s Love Brewed in the African Pot, a love story set in the colonial period that quickly became a classic, winning the UNESCO award for best cultural film. On the difficulty of financing his production in the face of a government-dominated film industry, Ansah recalls: “It took me about eight years. Finally, the bank gave me an audience. But then they wanted a fixed asset. I was working, I didn’t even have a car.” Luckily for Ansah (and for the history of African cinema) his father-in-law saved the situation by offering his house as collateral.

Ghana’s European cinematic breakthrough came two years later with Kukurantumi, the Road to Accra, by award-winning actor-director King Ampaw. Incidentally, this film – one of the first Ghanaian movies to be aired on European television – is set in the same region of Ghana as Koforidua, the site of WEbuilding’s River of Blessing Academy school project.

At the same time, with the advent of video in the 1980s, an independent amateur VHS film scene began to develop. Self-proclaimed directors would create their own scripts and film them with amateur actors. “It fell to people who had money to buy a video camera and shoot, it wasn’t about the quality of acting, it was just to put something on camera,” actress Anima Misa Amoah recalls. “So, in that period a lot of people got involved who had no idea of how to direct a movie.” But those were the times, and there was a cultural vacuum to fill.

Thirty-five years on, this grassroots approach continues to inform Ghanaian films, which are becoming increasingly present on the international scene. In 2019, The Burial of Kojo, a micro-budget local production by the 38 year-old hip-hop and visual artist Blitz Bazawule, became the first Ghanaian film to be released on Netflix, after winning numerous nominations and awards at the 15th Africa Movie Academy Awards. Since 2017, Accra also hosts the Ndiva Women’s Film Festival.

The Rex Cinema in Accra
(source: cinematreasures.org/)

Our First Shamba

Mozambique is a multilingual country. Numerous Bantu languages are spoken along with Portuguese. Many words and expressions are borrowed between languages, we like one very much: Machamba, from the Swahili term Shamba, which means cultivated land or plot.

At WEbuiliding we have an ongoing project that involves a Machamba, it’s an ecological farm that will supply the Munti Centre of Khanimambo Foundation. They have been working there for ten years, at Xai-Xai in the province of Gaza, south of Mozambique. They focus on children and families from close-by communities, in education, health, and nutrition support. Everyday four-hundred kids eat at Munti Centre, where they already have a small Machamba, managed by a group of mothers whose children attend the centre. The mothers sell them part of the vegetables they harvest, and thus the program has fresh and healthy supplies!

In this project, together with Khanimambo Foundation we’re building a larger Machamba of 15 hectares, that’ll generate new training opportunities, employment, and social growth. We’ll oversee the architectural design and construction and will be implementing sustainable techniques and bioconstruction with materials from the region. On October 2019 we had our site visit to Mozambique and we ate loads of delicious plates, one that we enjoyed a lot was Xima, a type of porridge made with water and corn flour. Xima is eaten as a staple carb in most meals, and usually comes with a vegetable or meat stew. Other vegetables that are widely grown in Mozambique, and at Munti Centre’s Machamba, are potatoes, cassava, carrots, squash, chards, spinach, aubergines, and legumes like nhemba beans.

Even with its high agricultural potential the rate of chronic malnutrition affects 43% of children under five years of age, according to the country’s most recent Demographic Health Survey. So, to ensure a healthy diet, at Munti Centre they have weekly menus based on specific child nutritional needs. In the video below you can meet Guida, the centre’s nutrition specialist who shares their strategy to tackle chronic malnutrition with knowledge and a bit of magic soup😉.

River of Blessing Part 1: Between Koforidua and Berlin

This March, WEbuilding began building a school in the city of Koforidua, Ghana, in cooperation with the River of Blessing Academy, a local educational institution dedicated to fostering innovation and creative learning (check out our project description here). In this thread, we will be sharing experiences and impressions from our team members, colleagues and friends on the ground in Ghana, accompanying the new school as it takes shape and taking some time to zoom in on the faces behind this unique and inspiring project. So here goes!

Where did it all begin?

Koforidua is a commercial and educational hub about sixty km. north of Accra. Since 2013, the River of Blessing Academy (ROBA), has been working here to educate local children using activity-based, creative learning approaches that are in high demand in Ghana. “We believe in the potential of every learner and seek to identify our pupils’ strengths and weaknesses in order to approach their education in a holistic manner,” ROBA founder and director Abba Hughes told us in an email yesterday.

Abba, 32, grew up in Zambia and Ghana and studied business administration in Koforidua, where she is about to complete her PhD. After several years of experience in marketing and with a series of successful projects to her name, she decided to start her own school: “I realized I was not content just working for money. I wanted to pursue something that had ‘eternal value’. Something I’d created from scratch.”

That “something” was ROBA. Over the past seven years, the Academy, which consists of a nursery, kindergarten and primary school, has evolved into a unique learning location where local children can receive a low cost, quality education inspired by the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) model, which emphasizes creative innovation and critical thinking.

A voice from the field….

In 2018, ROBA contacted us with a request to help expand their school with a new building complex. After a year and a half of intense fundraising, construction finally began this March.

WEbuilding architect Florian Schlummer oversaw the first phase of the project, before he was forced to return to Berlin due to the pandemic. I asked him how things are going and how the situation is affecting the project. “The work with the contractor is surprisingly smooth, and so far, we couldn’t have hoped for more,” he said. ROBA also gets good marks. “The room where I stayed was right next to the school. The team is driven by a high motivation to make a difference for the kids, despite all the financial struggles.”

Since Florian got back from Ghana, Abba has been supervising the construction site with close support from WEbuilding via WhatsApp, email and Zoom. Despite the technical setbacks, spirits are high on all sides. “The motivation and dedication of the ROBA staff, especially Abba, is a huge inspiration,” he said.