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This time last year, the traveling “Prête-moi ton rêve” exhibition was inaugurated in Casablanca by The Fondation pour le Développement de la Culture Contemporaine Africaine (FDCCA). Set to travel to six African countries and show the work of 30 African artists, the contemporary show is showing exemplary African art in Africa to Africans—something rarely done in the continent. Since its debut, it has moved to Dakar, and is currently on view Musée des Cultures Contemporaines d’Abobo in Abidjan.
One of the participating artists, Freddy Tsimba, was born, raised, and is still based in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He’s included in another group exhibition entitled “Lumières d’Afrique (Lights of Africa)” at the Standard Bank in Johannesburg and gearing up for another show—a solo exhibition in December at the Tervuren Museum in Belgium.
Regardless of location, Tsimba—a graduate of the prestigious Beaux-Arts de Kinshasa—is known for his work that features silhouettes in bronze, copper, and iron. Depicted in endless exile, his figures are typically made of scrap metal from the cartridges and casings from his country’s battlefields. Aimed to give body to the anonymous victims of humanitarian disasters in his country, the silhouettes stand in solidarity with suffering humanity.
Whitewall spoke with Tsimba to hear how he’s doing amid isolation during COVID-19—from experimenting with rare vegetables in the kitchen to finding hope in the eyes of people.
WHITEWALL: How are you doing?
FREDDY TSIMBA: I am doing ok, I am in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am trying to remain positive despite the current situation.
WW: What are you listening to, reading, watching?
FT: I listen to Congolese Rumba from the 50s, and I like to go back to the years before the independence of many African countries: Tino Barroza, Wendo Kolosoy, Eyenga Moseka la pionnière des musiciennes, Paul Kamba, D’Oliveira, Bukasa, Antoine Mundanda, Paul Muanga… This is a period of innocence and a time of hoping for a better world in the future!
During the quieter moments, I am devoting my time to writing a short novel. I am only at the beginning, but it captivates me and allows me to escape. I will give it the title Balade d’un fou heureux—“Stroll of a happy madman.”
WW: What are you cooking?
FT: I am experimenting with recipes with a vegetable that I didn’t know about. It is eaten at the Plateau de Bateke outside the city of Kinshasa in Congo. It is called Pondu ya ba chinois. In my workshop, I’ve planted it like flowers! It’s very weird but tastes good and is full of vitamins.
It has to be crushed for at least an hour in a traditional mortar called Eboka, and I add a bit of peanut paste in it accompanied by a braised fish from the Congo river called Mopongo—a soft tender fish. My mother has sent me some Chikwange, a kind of paste made with manioc starch that she prepares herself. That’s all that will be the accompaniment to my pondu ya ba chinois!
WW: How are you staying connected?
FT: I go online from time to time but my connection is pretty irregular so it is a bit complicated to remain connected with the outside world, but I am doing my best! I am definitely available by phone.
WW: How are you staying creative? Are you able to make work at this time?
FT: I am continuing to create works that I have wanted to create for a long time. Some artworks can take a month, three months, or sometimes six months to create… One of my works has even taken six years to create! It depends how and when the idea decides to come to you; that is the true mystery of artistic creation. Each work is a story, an attachment, a period of a life, it’s a sharing of emotions…
This period with the COVID-19 is a special one. Do not panic, tell your loved ones that you care about them, and believe in life! Life is sacred.
WW: Where are you finding hope or inspiration?
FT: I find hope in the eyes of children, in the eyes of old people, in the future, and in the past. I draw many things from my own experience as a human being. I always tell myself that life is priceless. You have to live your life sharing and respecting others.
I often imagine what these dreams will turn into one day. When I make work with iron, I enter into the life of a piece of scrap metal, and I tell myself its story! Inspiration is right in front of you. All you have to do is open your eyes and you will see it.