"Art helps me with my faith, but also to be patient, to persevere, and to be brave. It gives me strength and teaches me that any situation has a beginning and an end."
The Sybarite interviewed Cristiano Mangovo on his first solo show in France, Humano e a Natureza at AFIKARIS Gallery. Cristiano shares his experience as an artist, how art has helped him throughout his life and his long term goals.
Tell our readers a bit about yourself.
I see myself as a carrier pigeon. I aim to embody the voice of the people. Wherever I go, I don’t really chat, but I listen to what people have to say. I feed my inspiration from the small talks I can hear. Everything that exists, everything I see or live through — are as many sources of inspiration. Where humans live: their natural surroundings including animals, flowers, or trees also inspire me. Thus, I am a contemporary artist not only from the African continent, but from the world. I question the viewers and raise awareness through my art.
How did you start making art?
I started making art when I was a child. As far as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a renowned artist. That’s why, to fulfill my dream, I studied in the School of Fine Arts in Kinshasa.
When I was still a student, I was playing with lots of different art techniques to finally find my personal pictorial language and style. I quickly understood that repeating what already existed in the art world won’t help me to be recognised as an artist, but only position me as a follower. I wanted to create my own path. I started by deconstructing the elementary rules of figurative art, starting with anatomy. I was only doing this for me, in private, to not upset my art teachers.
I also thought that if I was reproducing reality, I would be a copycat of God. Thus, I’m inspired by what exists while merging the real to the imaginary. In that way, I create a surrealistic world imbued with my very own aesthetic. Hence, I become myself a creator.
What inspires you? What inspired you to create Humano e a Natureza?
Daily life, history, how the viewers react to my work, movement, information, social networks, are as many sources of inspiration for me. I try in a way to immortalise through my work everything I see in order to create the artistic archives of my time.
The Humano e a Natureza series is, first of all, the result of my questions about human behaviors in society. I have worked around the topic of environmental and human protection for a long time. The series is also the result of the confinement due to the spread of Covid-19 pandemic. When I saw nature enjoying the absence of humans – animals walking freely in the streets, reptiles resting on the beaches – I told myself that nature only started to breathe when humans were locked up inside. Then, I looked more closely at how humans used to lock up animals in zoos, cages, or aquariums. It made me realize that humans dominate nature rather than consider it as their equal. However, this hierarchy could reach a balance if humanity wanted to achieve this better, fairer equilibrium.
Sometimes, I feel that if you want more birds, you don’t have to build a cage, but rather plant a tree. Thus, Humano e a Natureza questions this confrontation between Man and nature. This is a topic that includes climate and political stakes.
Is there an artwork in this exhibition you are most proud of? Why?
I am proud of every artwork I produced for the exhibition. As I am proud of all the pieces I have made throughout my career.
How do you know when a work is finished?
A work is finished when I decide to not touch or retouch it anymore. It is when I think there is nothing I could add. In that case, the work is ready to be exhibited and this is the moment when I say, “I like this work in that way.”
Does art help you in other areas of your life?
Art helps me with my faith, but also to be patient, to persevere, and to be brave. It gives me strength and teaches me that any situation has a beginning and an end.
How has your style changed over time?
My style changes depending on what I want to bring to society and the world. For example, when I was still in Congo in 2005, I developed a project around the sunshade, which is a protection object. It was a reminder for governments to protect people from wars and acts of violence against women and children.
My art arises through painting, sculpture, installation, and performance. The series Guiador: the motorbikes men was aiming to free Angola from its fall. I wanted to question the real values of evolution.
For a festival in Cape Town, my performance entitled Infecting the City was a call to stop fighting and be united in peace and trust.
I’m currently working between surrealism and expressionism to question the conditions of freedom of expression in my country and within the human community in general.
Hence, whatever the form my work takes, it always carries a speech in favor of protection.
What are your long-term goals?
I want to build an art school for deaf and silent people in my country. Lots of them are gifted but they need help to find their artistic way.
Who do you admire? Michel Basquiat, Françis Bacon, Antonio Ana Etona.
What's your favourite hobby? Watch fish in the water.
Describe yourself in three words. Shy, sweet and observant.
What did you read most recently? The Bible.
Best advice you've ever received I don’t know what to answer.
If you prefer your festivals more highbrow than hardcore, and you enjoy your conversation to be as sparkling as your champagne, then this year’s spring/summer season of literary festivals should have you champing at the bit.
The V&A is currently paying homage to the significant space Africa holds in the fashion industry. Running until April 2023, Africa fashion is a landmark exhibition celebrating the pure craftsmanship, innovative and undeniable global impact of African fashion.