What happens when everything falls apart? If the Internet crashes, or mobile money becomes redundant? – these are the questions Maurice Mbikayi asks with Coucou Crumble. The things of western dystopian fiction are, to Mbikayi, an African reality. Thoughts relating to the apocalypse are usually placed within a future frame; but what if we are living in the apocalypse already? World politics are dominated by superstates. Technology acts as a tool of imperialism. We collaborate in our own surveillance. Calamity becomes a part of the everyday.
The DRC (Mbikayi’s country of birth) is in a state of turbulence due to colonialism and its aftereffects leaving the country to suffer socially, economically and politically. Corruption is ideology. The resources of Africa are extracted and used for western gain. Computers and smartphones require elements such as gold and cobalt to power them making the world’s fixation with cryptocurrency mining more reliant on Africa’s mining industries.
Using rubble in his work, these fragments are implemented to create photographic works, performances and sculptures, establishing a connection between these materials and their political contexts. Coucou Crumble is Mbikayi’s second solo exhibition with Gallery MOMO. Looking at the popular signifier of time, Mbikayi calls his show Coucou Crumble which means ‘Time’s Up’. Coucou derives from the sound a cuckoo makes and is a French slang greeting.
Some sculptures cast a haunting presence in the gallery space, reflecting the enduring histories of labour exploitation. The figure of Africa as a mother is visually manifested when Mbikayi depicts pregnant women with baskets containing baby clothes. They are surrounded by violence symbolised by the inclusion of guns. This becomes an allegory for the ways in which violence perpetuated by the west stifles Africa’s efforts to give birth to its renaissance.
The presence of Mobutu and Patrice Lumumba is evoked with their likenesses captured in busts, placed standing opposite one another. Completing this piece is samples from their speeches that overlap as they struggle between varying approaches to Africanisation.
The Congolese ruling government has a history of shutting down the Internet and other networks of communication during the elections which are visually represented by suspending hundreds of computer mice from the ceiling. Photographic works contain versions of Mbikayi in a pig’s mask, wearing elite colonial clothing, referencing dictators such as Henry Morton Stanley, Otto von Bismarck and King Leopold II.
Surrounded by fake gold bars is a life-size piggy bank acting as a criticism of international aid that has resulted in ‘developing’ African countries being boxed in by debts which they cannot repay. As a means of presenting different African nationalities with economic growth that remains in the hands of western bureaucracy, Mbikayi showcases dozens of drawers – locked; flipped upside down.
When things fall apart, who will suffer? Who will be held accountable?
Coucou Crumble / Time’s Up is a criticism of the current social, political and economic outlook for African countries due to the aftermath of colonisation and the continuous pillaging of the continent’s rich resources for western gain. Mbikayi sees a dystopic reality that he expresses in sculpture, photography and performance. With Coucou Crumble, he does not only critique this western infiltration but asks for change. Unafraid to call out the powers that be, he envisions a future in which African people will reinvent themselves out of disarray.
Coucou Crumble opens on the 2 May and runs till the 6 June 2019 at Gallery MOMO in Cape Town.