blank projects is pleased to present Fora da cidade (out of town), the first solo exhibition in South Africa by Mozambican photographer Mário Macilau. Fora da cidade (out of town) comprises a selection of photographs from two recent series, Living on the Edge (2012) and Outside Town (2013 – ongoing). Both series document the living and working conditions of socially isolated or marginalised groups living in rural or peri-urban areas of East Africa, with a focus on the negative socio-economic effects of migrant labour and foreign investment in developing countries. His images seek to represent the complex reality of the globalised labour market, communicating what Macilau describes as his “experience [of] human greed, seeing the weakest generate the wealth of the strongest, with human misery as their unique compensation”.
The muted tones and textures of the Living on the Edge series are apt to describe the subject matter; the Dandora rubbish dump and township of Korogocho (meaning ‘crowded, shoulder to shoulder’), which lies on the outskirts of Nairobi. The dump is one of the largest in Africa and a source of meagre income for thousands of people, some of whom are the subjects of Macilau’s portraits. Recyclable materials are gathered and washed in the now heavily polluted nearby river, and sold through middlemen to companies who send large collection trucks to Dandora at the end of each day. The burned and untreated waste poses a serious health risk to those living and working in the area, and the sheer volume of garbage (at least 2000 tonnes added per day) is an ecological crisis. These social imbalances and their environmental impacts form the basis for Macilau’s critique of neo-colonisation, defined as the process by which “foreign capital is used for the exploitation rather than for the development of the less developed parts of the world. Investment, under neo-colonialism, increases, rather than decreases, the gap between the rich and the poor countries of the world” (Kwame Nkrumah, Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism, 1965).
Outside Town is an ongoing series of black and white photographs that documents aspects of daily life in the rural communities of Burundi and Mozambique. Macilau’s imagery points particularly at the way in which economic development in Africa has been configured to incur wastage of natural and human resources, through the ever-increasing drain of human and financial capital out of agricultural regions into already overcrowded, congested and polluted urban centres.
While the subject matter of Macilau’s work is not new to the medium of African documentary photography, his (usually long term) projects are steeped in his own personal narrative. Growing up during the civil war in newly independent Mozambique, Macilau suffered financial difficulties and, like many others, was forced to move to the capital, Maputo. There, from the age of ten he worked at a market, carrying groceries and washing cars in an effort to support his family. In 2007, he stole and traded his mother’s cellphone for his first camera – his first solo exhibition followed in 2009. Macilau considers the subjects of his photographs to be the ‘ghosts of society’, a group of outsiders he felt he belonged to while working on the streets of Maputo. According to Macilau, he too “would have disappeared in the city if photography had not intruded”.
Mário Macilau lives and works in Maputo, Mozambique. His work has been recognized with numerous awards and featured regularly in solo and group exhibitions in his home country and abroad including ‘Pangea: New Art from Africa and Latin America’, Saatchi Gallery, London (2014), ‘Tempo’, Galeria Belo-Galsterer, Lisbon, Portugal (2013), Dak’art Biennial OFF (2012), Bamako Biennial, Mali (2011), VI Chobi Mela Photo Festival, Dhaka, Bangladesh (2011), Photo Spring, Beijing, China (2011) and Lagos Photo, Lagos, Nigeria (2011). Macilau has also completed several artistic residencies and most recently, he has been selected by the Africa Centre’s Artists In Residency (AIR) programme for the Fountainhead Residency in Miami, USA.