Most of us are addicted (even if we won’t admit it) to fashion and technology which is why Maurice Mbikaya’s art and installations resonated deeply when I saw it for the first time.
“Like many people, I am anxious not to miss out on news, updates and fashion, and so feel the need to ‘permanently ‘stay online” says Maurice. In his work he attempts to explore the aspects of the consumerist nature of IT in Africa and how this generates trends relating to FOMO. He says his primary reason for connecting African fashion with contemporary computer technology is because both concern western products being utilized in Africa in the context of self-determination. He draws an analogy between the consumption of IT and African fashion, and specifically his own country’s culture of dressing up which has developed into a kind of doctrine, the ‘cult of the cloth’ or ‘cult of elegance.’
The analogy is also linked to the desire to stay up to date with IT. He goes on to explain, “I also consider it useful to compare the symbolic and aesthetic aspects of African customs of hairdressing, the wearing of hats and jewellery, and even body modification as a social identification with today’s society, within which ‘personal media’ are additional accessories for urban status.
Contemporary technology has become an extension of our personal style, the same way fashion has. Both evoke aspects of narcissism associated with ‘fashionable addiction.’ He has used old computer parts which he has deconstructed and recontextualised to create outfits reminiscent of and making reference to sartorial fashion, i.e. the Dandy. Maurice was born in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo and today lives and works in Cape Town. He is represented by Gallery MOMO.
Why did you choose “fashion” as a basis for your art series? What was your thought process and inspiration?
I use fashion as an analogy or an imagery to resist against technological and environmental crisis in Africa, also against subjugation of the black body. I come from a country where people use fashion as a medium of defiance while entertaining. Also, because of the chaos, Kinshasa resident for example have given much more value to the “cult of the body”, transforming the body into a mobile architecture that reinvents itself everyday. It is a motive that resists against socio-political and economic crisis. I collect and design clothes, which I build on with computer parts. I draw on the 18th-century and Victorian costume, the Harlem Renaissance and the dandies from the Congo. Furthermore, it’s a portrayal of a futuristic idea of a technological Africa, which I represent as a ‘Netizen.”
Do you consider fashion and art to be intrinsically linked?
Not necessarily, but at a certain level yes, because fashion is art, and art can use fashion as one of elements of expression. In addition, the dandies from the Congo are called SAPEURS from the acronym SAPE, which means Society of Artist and Persons of Elegance that matches the French word “sape” to dress with elegance. It’s all about what brand you wear and what phone you use. In your opinion, is the general consumer “addicted to fashion?” There’s a consistent amount of the consumer that is addicted to fashion, mostly the active population and the younger generation. The same goes to technology fashions. There’s certain fashionability in the digital contemporary technology we’re using, especially personal media, which is part of our fashion apparels.