Bwanga Kapumpa, Enos Nyamor, Miriane Peregrino and Lorna Telma Zita speak to Rose Jepkorir about why they write, their motivations and practice in recent years.
Contemporary And: What prompted you to go into writing about art and culture?
Bwanga Kapumpa: I’m from Zambia and there aren’t many writers or artists committed to critical art discourses and writing. My goal is to intervene in this in my own way. I have been working as a professional writer for over a decade, mainly writing advertising copy and short fiction. In 2020, I expanded my work to include visual art practice – writing about art and culture also seemed like a natural career progression.
Enos Nyamor: When I began writing professionally, my interests gravitated towards culture, which the mainstream media in Kenya had neglected. Much attention focused on political narratives. Yet I found myself in situations where I related to isolated artistic expressions and was deeply moved by them. It is a ripple effect – one thing leads to another. In the end, most of my writing is constantly a reaction to an object or event, but mainly to other expressions.
Miriam Peregrino: I like to read and reading is an important antecedent for those who want to be a writer or journalist. I was always curious to know the context in which culture is produced, so that aroused my interest in researching and writing about that aspect. Today I write mainly about literature, but I started in 2014 when the community museum where I worked in Rio de Janeiro was undergoing an eviction action. I started by researching what was happening to other community museums during the huge sporting events in Brazil. The situation made me produce a series of reports on this subject, and to this day I keep an interest in writing about expressions of memory and resistance in several languages.
Lorna Telma Zita: Art is a way in which we express our emotions and approach our history and culture through aesthetic values. In writing about it, I’m taking it to a larger audience, showing what we value most in and outside our communities. Writing plays an important role for me today because it is through it that I take stand on certain issues related to cultural events and formulate a point of view on what has been done by different artists.
C&: Would you say that critical writing is a powerful tool for you? Why?
EN: I invariably grapple with the question of criticism that aspires towards literature, and this shapes my approach to our craft. If literature is a powerful tool, so is criticism. Why do critics choose to write about specific aspects of a show? I believe it begins with the urge to express something, and then to find the most fulfilling form for it. As art writers we are not going to solve any famine or discover cures for diseases. A critic’s work is likely to mostly concern a handful of critics and cultural producers. But we can enrich our communities by articulating, affirming, or even negating aesthetic standards. Critics also provoke and articulate new concepts, and therefore extend conversations and narratives beyond traditional spaces, such as galleries and classrooms.
MP: It sure is! Critical writing leads me to research and build arguments, not justto present a collection, works, or pieces of art. During the liberation struggle the writer Antonio Jacinto said, “It is by poetry that everything will begin.” I believe that critical writing, that writing itself, has this powerful role of spreading ideas, values, instigating those who write, sharpening the curiosity of those who read, and mobilizing art agents.
LTZ: Yes, critical writing has the function of making an interpretive analysis, exposing personal considerations about artists’ works and practice. It allows us to better know the positive and negative aspects, expand on the vision, and understand the approach of the author. I believe it is important because it allows us to understand what we are analyzing and give value judgments.
BK: Writing allows me to explain my own work in ways the observer might appreciate. Secondly, it gives me another set of skills on my utility belt. I find satisfaction in creating my own artwork and writing, but I can also find joy in contributing to much- needed discourse in Zambian and African art through critical writing. More writers like me writing about art with well-informed, thought-out, and contextual contributions is powerful. It also doesn’t hurt that I could make a little extra money from having this range of skills!
C&: In view of the changing contexts in which you work, has your sense of responsibility as a writer changed? Has your perception of your audience changed? In which directions is your work now moving?
EN: I came to New York City and the pandemic happened. Then, during the antiracist uprisings, I found ways to participate in culture. Shows and performances were scarce. But I think a writer is like a nurse whose services are always in demand. Political context and material conditions might have changed, but the human condition is universal. Like the Zimbabwean-born writer Dambudzo Marechera, I believe there is no writer for a specific nation or race. However, I find myself not only a stranger but also part of a minority group, and so face everyday life struggles. I have wrangled with the balance between the social and technological aspects of constant movement. For this reason I have increasingly focused on the archival aspects of art writing. I figured out that if I was to dedicate the next decade to archiving, collecting work by our generation of Black writers, then it would be possible to set up a framework for nurturing Afrocentric narratives.
MP: It was in cultural and popular journalism that my critical writing began, but a few years ago I turned more to the relationship between performance, literature, and visual arts. In 2018, I did the C& writing workshop in Angola and this contributed to my changing perceptions of critical writing and the public. I was very pleased with the invitation to participate as a student of the Mentoring Program in 2019, and now, in 2022, as a mentor to a young Mozambican writer. For me, this whole process deepens my responsibility as a woman who writes, who investigates. Writing always requires an investigation process. It also sews the fabric of relationships that I have been building between Angola, Brazil, and Mozambique in recent years. Currently I am continuing to develop research on performance and literature, but looking at the productions of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, countries in which I have recently been.
BK: I’m quite new to art practice. My first foray was in early 2020 and later that year I was part of a group exhibition. Earlier this year (2022), I was part of another group exhibition. Both were with the Livingstone Office for Contemporary Art. Writing is my principal medium, and I like to include elements of text and storytelling in my artwork. I’m also trying to step out of my comfort zone and experiment with sound and other mediums. I’m carrying out ongoing research on traditional healing, “witchcraft,” and allied religious practices in Zambia. I’ve only dipped my big toe into this vast body of history and culture. I’ve had to put it on hold because I’m currently in Scotland for a year, but I’m hoping to see if I can find links between Zambian and Scottish mysticism while I’m here.
LTZ: I have improved my writing, and now I am very selective about what I write and what kind of material I want to present to my audience. I am planning to release a book this year and I hope to continue with my current trajectory in art criticism.
C&: Could you tell us of books, music, or other works that have been important to you?
EN: The writings of Marcel Proust constantly torment me. I covet his descriptions, often rendered in a leisurely fashion. Long paragraphs of lush statements and sprawling inferences. Reading Proust is like combing through a thicket of art writing and cultural criticism. I have read only two volumes of In Search of Lost Time (1913–29), and I find great solace in his work, especially as someone interested in writing about social interactions, creative expression, and performance.
MP: I highlight the book Palavras que andam / Walking Words (2021) by Mozambican Sónia Sultuane and the Angolan anthology É de gênero? (2015), but much of what I have researched has no written record – although sometimes there are audiovisuals since many performances are recorded and made available on social networks. Because of this it is so important to move to places of cultural action, to experience and understand the dynamics of spaces of cultural production.
BK: I really enjoyed Stephen King and other genre fiction when I got into college. Hunter S. Thompson’s essays really influenced the non-fiction articles I wrote after that. Ta- Nehisi Coates’ articles and Chinua Achebe’s essays helped me think more deeply about what I write now. And late 1990s to late 2000s hip hop has always played a role in the lyricism and wordplay of my work.
LTZ: One of the books that has most impressed me is Viagem (1939) by Cecilia Meíreles. The themes are eclectic and sometimes quite simple, but it captured my attention. It is interesting how the author creates space at the intersection between music, nature, and cultural issues for the reader to build memories through their reading. The other book is from Mozambican writer Marcelo Panguana: Como um louco ao fim da tarde (2009).
Bwanga ‘Benny Blow’ Kapumpa is a writer and artist from Lusaka, Zambia. He participated in the C& Mentoring Program in 2022 and was guided by Enos Nyamor from Kenya.
Enos Nyamor is an East African writer from Nairobi and presently based in New York and Seattle, USA, where he lives and works. He earned an MFA in Art Writing and Criticism from the School of Visual Arts, NYC, and is also a past participant of the C& Critical Writing Workshop in 2016 and a mentor for the C& Mentoring Program in 2022.
Miriane Peregrino has a doctorate in literature from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and studied abroad at Agostinho Neto University, in Angola. In 2018, she was part of the C& Critical Writing Workshop in Angola and became a mentee in 2019. Now, in 2022, she is mentoring a young Mozambican writer.
Lorna Telma Zita is writer, spoken word poet, and cultural project manager based in Mozambique, with different collaborations in the United Kingdom, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Brazil. She is a woman who finds in art the refuge and freedom to speak freely; in her writing she gives voice to the voiceless. Lorna sums up her participation in the C& Mentoring Program in two words: wonderful and unique . It is an experience that I will carry with me forever, as it placed me with different artists and helped me to see critical art from other angles.
Interview by Rose Jepkorir.
Watch out for the release of our new C& Special Print Issue #artofcritique featuring this roundtable and many more texts from our mentees in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic. Coming soon here.