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Chief Nyamweya

Graphic Novelist Chief Nyamweya on having a flawless creative plan

It is time to unlearn some outmoded and harmful stereotypes about creativity that are, in my experience, the biggest obstacle to implementing creative education — The stereotype of the creative person as a slothful or self-destructive free-wheeler who makes no plans for the future. This is too bad because creative education is possibly the only education that will matter for Africa in the 21st Century.

Every single successfully completed creative project that I have ever participated in observed the ‘50:50 Rule’. That is, when we spend 50% of the project time on effective planning and 50% on the actual execution of said plan, competent teams generally produce excellent work in a fraction of the time taken if planning was instead rushed.

Conversely, every single mediocre or incomplete project I have ever participated in had at the root of its failure the rushing -or worse- skipping of pre-production planning. And it made no difference how talented or sober the team members were. A poorly defined goal squanders talent, time and money. Failing to plan is planning to fail.

I learned this lesson thoroughly from animators, who are some of the most disciplined creators I have ever worked with. They live under constant pressure from clients and lay management to save time and money by taking shortcuts. Unfortunately, the ungodly amount of time involved in animation and the diversity of expertise that has to be coordinated precludes shortcuts. Any compromises made by a storyboard artist for example, is paid for dearly in the editing room.

This does not mean that we cannot break rules or write new ones. It does however mean that we must respect sequence and timing. You can kick and scream all you want, but some things simply cannot be rushed. For example: the nine months of human gestation, the rising of a cake in an oven, the rising of the sun, a first kiss, any kiss, the threading of a needle, and my personal favorite — the sequence of ‘card first, cash later’ at an ATM machine. (Can you imagine how many people would forget their ATM cards if that order were reversed!) These things remind me of the Ekegusii saying Genda ng’ora, oike bwango or “move slowly so that you can arrive early.”

New innovation always occurs on top of a preexisting innovation. Even jazz which is best known for improvisation grounds the flamboyant saxophone with the consistency of the bass. Pure improvisation is noise.

A flawless plan hides in plain sight like the desert winds that shape the sand dunes. Professional writers such as columnists and screenwriters will tell you that the so-called writers’ block we hear so much about is quite often nothing more than a symptom of poor planning — not procrastination. A writer who begins with an encyclopedic knowledge of her characters’ motivations and context is less likely to get stuck than the novice who plunges into writing without the scaffolding of an outline. When we experience the fruits of a writer’s diligence we say that it is “a great story”.

Art done well expands our possibilities and challenges existing paradigms. It is the indispensable upgrade of our cultural operating system without which our future evolution as a technical and empathic species is impossible. Art is not ultimately about the pretty pictures we create, but about the source of those pretty pictures — humanity which yearns grow and blossom. If any human being succumbs to self-destructive patterns, it is in spite of these patterns that they continue to create, not because of them.

Creativity is the fusion of our dreams and actions. The hardware of our bodies meeting the software of our imagination — through which we transcend biology and become MAGIC!

Conor Ralphs

Visual artist Conor Ralphs on the relevance of understanding the history of an artist lead space in Antananarivo

I’m at the Centre for Art and Archaeology in downtown Analakely, an old building called Raharihasina making its last stand against a wave of developments on the Avenue of Independence in Antananarivo. This year it feels like the avenue is finally seeking its own freedom from the now-dilapidated style of its former French blesser. Unfortunately it’s the all too familiar look of our times, glass facadéd capitalism; La Gastronomie, Tana’s unfortunately named pizza takeaway, looks like a modern Indian bank. By contrast, the Archaeology Centre is an ancient four stories of time- weathered wooden construction. Upon climbing the stairs to the second floor I felt grateful for the quality of Malagasy trees and craftsmanship and their ability to keep things standing. The building houses a small restaurant, school, museum and research centre connected to the University of Antananarivo. The centre itself contains a small collection of old Malagasy artifacts in a display seemingly unchanged since the 1970s, faded labels barely visible with long-since outdated factual information under the topics of food, weapon, home. 

During a conversation with the resident archaeologist at the centre it emerged that I had been working with an arts organisation called Is’Art Galerie. At this point the researcher excitedly pulled up his formal collar button up to reveal an original early-edition Is’Art T-shirt with an Eric Rakoto painting printed on it. The connection sparked a moment of mutual excitement about the hub now known as La Teinturerie, the active site where Is’Art Galerie operates from.

The relevance of beginning with this interaction is to highlight a few observations about arts organisations and art research in Madagascar as a backdrop to the festival this catalogue celebrates. The obvious one is the scarcity of resources for art, the inanimate and inaccessible public museums and their outdated collections and systems of display, lack of educational opportunities in the arts and the low level of critical humanities research. And then, in light of these factors, and few spaces and outlets for artistic expression, the pivotal role that Is’art Galerie @ La Teinturerie currently plays in the contemporary art
and music scene in Madagascar to compensate. La Teinturerie operates as an artist-led, project and exhibition space. It is a space where artists reveal themselves: with paint, with an instrument or their voices, in song or in conversations. It is also a space where artists actively make their own promotional  material through posters, video clips or interviews using the location as a visual backdrop. The audience is a mix of artists, locals, visitors and expats. People are enticed to visit though the active social media hype generated by each show or perhaps one of many posters scattered across the city, from the central train station to clubs and bars and cultural institutions.

For these reasons the formation of the artists space known as La Teinturerie is a tale worth telling. If you happen to make your way there it would be easy to imagine a long history of its development and funding. It is however a short and exciting story that contrasts the more common historically loaded and highly funded cultural initiatives dependent on France or through commercial interests such as product- branded festivals. You might also mistake the vibrant community that share the space to indicate a well established art scene in the capital. Apart from music, this is far from the case.

Is’Art Galerie began its life as ISA studio gallery, founded by Richard Razafindrakoto and Rafalimanana Ndremo in 1999. At this stage, contemporary art was poorly supported on all levels although Madagascar in the 1990s was in somewhat of an improving economic period. Prior to this, from 1975–1990, the socialist state weighed heavily on independent voices in the media and the arts. Against this backdrop, the studio created the space for a few enthusiastic students to explore and learn a variety of artistic mediums such as drawing, painting and sculpture. Early students included Eric Rakoto, Andry Anjonina, Nono Ramaro, RAV and Tahina Rakotoarivony. During the 2006 Elabakana exhibition, the founding artist and teacher Richard Razafindrakoto died, leaving a void for his student artists. But this void necessarily inspired action and from this space emerged the artist-driven Is’Art galerie, initially opening its white cube gallery doors in downtown Analakey in 2011. The gallery was the brainchild
of Cécile and Tahina Rakotoarivony and was a first of its kind in the history of art in Madagascar, the first Malagasy owned and operated contemporary art gallery, representing Malagasy and international artists in curated exhibitions. However, without the other institutional foundations necessary to sustain an active artist community, there seemed to be a bigger developmental role to play. 


This, however, required a bigger space. At this moment, La Teinturerie appeared as a gift from the earth, offered generously on loan by Delphine and Phillipe Andriantsitohaina. La Teinturerie was once a thriving laundromat and dry cleaners in the Ampasanimalo district. With all the character of its former business, the site easily converted into an artists space led by the artists who were initially involved with the gallery in Analakely. The transformation was phenomenal, the pictures say it all (following page). Apart from the obvious desire for the creation of an artists space, the impetus was also, in part, inspired by the need to host the first edition of the Festival d’Art Urbain, Antananarivo, newly funded by ProHelvetia, the Swiss cultural agency operating from Johannesburg.

The rest is history in the making and can only partially be represented by text and image in a catalogue. What this short piece illustrates is something of the foundations upon which the
festival relies and grows upon. It’s form, more than any building or location, is the generous Malagasy creative energy, big enough to share with others.

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