N’GOLÁ: VIII Biennial of Arts and Culture

São Tomé and Príncipe, Africa
10 / 08 / 2019
For more information, visit N'GOLÁ Festival website.
Words: Joana Jervell
Images: Courtesy of N'GOLÁ Festival
Celebrating the power of African contemporary arts and culture, N’GOLÁ VIII Biennial of Arts and Culture, in São Tomé and Príncipe, is a mandatory event to attend until the 18th of August. Willing to expand the multitude of perceptions surrounding the African continent, the event presents a new generation of African artists and designers who are rapidly reshaping their culture and identity. We talked to the curator of the event, Renny Ramakers – the co-founder and director of Droog design collective – to find more about her perspective and connection to this surprising initiative.

As the curator of N’GOLÁ Festival, could you explain us the inspiration behind this festival and its main goals?
Throughout my career as a curator, I have always been interested in crossing borders between disciplines and mixing different cultures, and I have always looked for ways to involve the audience and to interact with visitors. So N’GOLA is a multidisciplinary event with a lot of interaction with people. Main goal for this 8th edition of the biennial of São Tomé e Príncipe is to strengthen the ties between the African mainland and São Tomé e Príncipe, once inhabited islands, colonized by the Portuguese from the late 15th Century until 1974. It is a former slave trading post and colonial plantation, shaped by the Portuguese and the men and women abducted from the African continent and to put to work there and whose future will be determined by the descendants of enslaved Africans. In making these connections, I purposefully looked for works that could strengthen a narrative that is more positive and uplifting than is generally told about Africa. I was looking for a narrative that runs counter to an image of Africa as a place of sorrow and suffering: though this image may be justified by Africa’s harsh, daily realities and its problematic past, it also fixes the continent in an undeserved cliché of powerlessness and lack of agency. I noticed that a new narrative has been gaining momentum, of a dynamic, self-confident Africa, embodying strength, optimism, and hope for the future, particularly among younger generations. In the course of my search I was impressed to encounter so many African artists aiming to create a fresh take on their world through beauty, poetry, irony or a sense of humour, without ever negating its daily reality. So the biennial and the festival opening weekend are celebrating the power and beauty of African arts.
 
 
What can you tell us about the artists that we will see here? Have you worked before with some of them?
I have never worked with any of these artists. Their work is fierce, stylish, beautiful, imaginative, poetic, sometimes even funny and entertaining, and at the same time strongly connected to their everyday reality with all its ups and downs, to their past and to their envisioned future.’

In your opinion, what are their main strengths and also their challenges nowadays?
I think the work of these artists signifies pride, hope and beauty. And that’s what the world needs nowadays.

What can people expect from the artworks and different activities taking place in the festival?
People are invited to reflect and to enjoy themselves. They will encounter extremely beautiful work with deep meaning. There will be art performances in which they can participate. They can enjoy a gastronomic experience by João Carlos Silva, or join an excursion to the rainforest, dance and listen to music. They can attend a conference by Design Indaba on the future of African art and if they have African hair Salooni can have their hair done in a special way.
 
 
Is there anything in particular you look for when curating?
For me, independent of subject matter or discipline, curating an event is primarily a quest for inspiration, driven by a dissatisfaction with existing rules, norms, values and assumptions. My curative process is an intuitive one: while I start out with a clear initial question, I do not look for work to fit and illustrate a predefined concept. Each work that inspires me adds something to the narrative. This interaction with the work and vision of artists is essential: they bring me further along the path and bend it where necessary.

What is your philosophy on design and life?
Life is full of opportunities. Grab them!