Mupia Mupia, 2016

Mupia-Mupia is a Luba term that translates to “new and shiny”. The artist draws on this term as a concept to think through the metamorphosis of ages; shape, form, power, style, human and racial subjectivity through time. Monica Miller in her book Slaves to Fashion (2009:147) explains that “the aesthetic matters to black folk not as an escapist dream, but as a weapon”. The body of work that will be on exhibition at Gallery MOMO Johannesburg represents futuristic ideas and concepts of the body in relation to physical and/or virtual space. The artist used obsolete technological parts, specifically computer pieces as a source material, transforming and reshaping these computer parts into fashionable items reminiscent of a ‘cyber-citizen’.

Mbikayi focuses on the aesthetic values and meanings of digital identity in relation to fashion as an analogy and the impact it has on urban African, and more specifically, Congolese society. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) despite the chaos is seen as a location where people use fashion as a form of acceptance as well as a medium of defiance. This manifests itself most prominently in movements like Society of Artists and Persons of Elegance (SAPE) with its faithful adepts known as SAPEURS.

The photographs in the exhibition are linked to the series Techno Dandy 2015 (from Mbikayi’s Master’s Degree Exhibition). The Techno Dandy represents a warrior, inspired by Nineteenth-Century French and English suits (called redingotes) as well as medieval armour. Mbikayi aligns himself with the strutting SAPEURS (The Dandies) of the DRC, through which he observes and is observed. “I participate and, through sartorial performances and poses, emphasize my own self-determinacy”.

Individual photographs such as Looking through a veil and Bilele evoke the culture of the Skhothane (South African dandies of the townships) and the SAPEURS, whose garments contrast with the immediate environment within which they live; resonating with the works Suffering and Smiling 2 (2004) by Nigerian photographer Emeka Okereke, and the movie Pumzi (2009) by Wanuri Kahiu.

The work exhibited provides an understanding of the black African body as dignified and defiant, in relation to the politics of waste, suffering and rebirth; the use of bones, bandages and animals signifies mortality and fragility as well as the possibility of rebirth.