Twenty-two year-old Jonathan Mwe di Malila is a Congolese-German artist based in Cologne, Germany who embraces the use of Fauvism and Pop Art. Originally from Congo, he incorporates themes from his heritage and satire in his artwork, dubbing it “Congo Pop! the Lovechild between Pop Art and Fauvism.” He has developed a series, “The Gentlemen of Bacongo,” that depicts Les Sapeurs of Brazzaville, Congo. Ayiba’s Joy Mwaniki spoke with Jonathan via Skype to discuss his art movement and career.
Can you describe what the Congo Pop movement is?
Congo Pop is a mix between the styles Pop Art and Fauvism depicting everyday Congolese culture in a colorful and expressive tone. I am a great fan of Pop Art and Fauvism, and that is why I call my art Congo Pop. Congo Pop is a movement depicting Congolese culture from a humorous point of view. I try to uplift my heritage and bring Congolese and African culture to mainstream.
Why did you decide to become an artist?
I don’t know…. it was just an ambition. When I moved to Germany, I couldn’t speak a single German word. In kindergarten, I started drawing and painting to show people what I wanted to say or express. Even in school, art was my favorite subject, which developed into an ambition, and that is why I became an artist.
What do you dislike about the art world?
The only thing I don’t like is that African artists are underrepresented. In Europe, there is mostly European or American art. I don’t like that.
Do you remember the first piece of artwork you sold? Which was it?
Yeah! It was the Okapi. You can see it on my website or on my Facebook page, it is a colorful Okapi. That was the first piece of artwork that I sold in an exhibition.
What, so far, has been the response to your series, “The Gentlemen of Bacongo?” Also, what drew you to depict the sapeurs?
People like it, whether in Belgium or in France. But in Germany, the Germans are not familiar with African culture. Here, it is a bit different than in France or in Belgium. But in general, people like it and find it as funny as I do [laughs]. The sapeurs use their impeccable fashion sense to transform themselves into walking pieces of art. That is what impressed me most. Also, I wanted to paint something which has a strong bond to Congo.
What do you think is the role of art in modern African culture?
I think it is important; art is always important for culture. It is an expression, it doesn’t matter if it is in Africa or Europe or somewhere else. In every culture, it is very important.
What is your artistic process? Do you paint for a few hours each day, or only when inspired to do so?
I usually use oil colors on canvas, but sometimes I also paint with acrylics. It depends, sometimes I can paint for a week or for just a couple of hours a day. It just depends on what I am working on and for what aim. I am very spontaneous.
What elements do you use from Fauvism and Pop Art to craft your own unique style?
Pop Art often depicts banalities concerning mainstream or media, while Fauvism tries to counteract Impressionistic paintings by using strong and bold colors. I portray everyday culture which I accentuate by using a vibrant color palette.
Who is your favorite artist? Why?
My favorite is Henri Matisse because I like the way he draws. You can say he is a representative of Fauvism.
If you could do things all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? Why?
Of course I would! Honestly I’ve never considered anything else than being an artist. As I said, it is my ambition. I am good, I enjoy doing it, and I would never change.
What advice do you have for any budding African artists?
That they should keep on going. If you have a real passion for something, you should never stop, whether you are successful or not, you should do what you like. It is like an obligation, if you are good at something, you have to do it.
Have a look at Jonathan’s Facebook page or visit his website here.