For decades, Werewere-Liking Gnepo (Cameroon) has been pouring her heart and soul into the arts and cultural scene in Abidjan. In 1985, she established the artists Village Ki-Yi M'Bock in the bustling city in order to house resident artists from diverse disciplines and backgrounds. The assembled village is a physical manifestation of her African utopian ideals for a renewed Africa - one that celebrates hybrid identities and traditional, pan-African thought. ARTERIAL NETWORK spoke to the doyenne of the Ivoirien arts and cultural sector about her achievements, the changes she has witnessed and the problems that continue to stall African development.
ARTERIAL NETWORK: Your work and expertise spans over an impressive array of mediums, including creative writing, poetry, acting, singing, painting, filmmaking, jewellery, traditional African sculpture, festival direction, costuming and more. The inexhaustive list clearly expresses your passion for and commitment to the African arts and cultural sector. In your opinion, what are some of your greatest achievements to date?
WEREWERE-LIKING GNEPO: I do not really know how to judge myself. It is as if I were being asked to tell you which of my children I prefer... What I can say is that I am glad to have found a lot of public support and in a lasting way - in my romantic writings, my poetry, my stagings, and in the choice that we made to rely on professional infrastructure on site which allowed us to accommodate more than a thousand young people over the years, without using subsidies. The results of our training give me a lot of satisfaction.
Your activist spirit is legendary as you strive towards an aesthetic African renaissance that embraces pre-colonial forms, ancestral wisdom and spiritual heritage. Could you elaborate on where you see the biggest social impact of arts and culture in the post-colonial era that we are living in?
You know, expressions like ‘post-colonial’ disturb me a little because I am not sure that I have fully the content and the contours of this concept, especially since a large part of the African population is convinced that colonisation is not yet finished in Africa... But hey, let's say that from the point of view of where I am placed around the ‘Tree God,’ as we like to say at Ki-Yi, it seems to me that it is through spirituality and all of its cultural and cultic expressions that Africa will have the biggest impact on the world’s societies today. But it would take me much more time and space to explain this vision.
In your opinion, what are the biggest difficulties faced by the arts and cultural sector across Africa today? And what urgent changes would you like to see made?
The greatest difficulty that we face is political. There should be a genuine desire for liberation and promotion of the spiritual and cultural knowledge and powers of Africans, and their endogenous and autonomous creativity. However, how can this be achieved if politicians are forced to inhibit them, knowing that they could diminish the interests of the powerful ‘Grey Men’ in finance and arms?
You can see for yourself that the budgets allocated to the various Ministries in charge of Culture in Africa are most ridiculous and even within the hierarchy, the Ministries of Culture are at the bottom of the ladder! These are signs that contradict all of the new discourses that abound, advocating for the priority and inescapability of culture as a tool for the development of the continent.
What we would like is that this minimum should be corrected. That our states should give a little more respect to creators and support the means for artistic creation. Above all, they should not consider themselves cultural operators themselves, but focus on subsidising culture on the basis of their skills and commitment on the ground.
When you established Village Ki-Yi M'Bock in 1985, you were responding to the needs of the community and of the era. Thirty-two years later, how have these needs changed, and what is the future trajectory of Village Ki-Yi M'Bock?
In fact, the needs of the community have both diversified and increased in light of the effect of globalisation and a greater need for the skills and competitiveness that are required today for creators to secure their place in the sun. For this reason, not only will the Village have to be transformed into a real vocational school, but there will also have to be more centres of this kind in order to urgently meet the greater demand for training and supervision.
Regarding the recent relocation of Arterial Network to Abidjan, how do you think a pan-African organisation like Arterial Network can best serve the artistic and cultural community of Côte d'Ivoire?
In my opinion, Arterial Network can better serve the community by physically visiting the grassroots communities in order to gain better knowledge. They need to exchange directly with active cultural operators on the one hand, and young creators on the other hand. It is necessary to collect their aspirations, their input, their actual needs, and to collate the recommendations that they propose before establishing projects of support and collaboration.
Abidjan, 22 May 2017
Interviewer: Marie-Louise Rouget, Arterial Network
1 - 3: Village Ki-Yi M'Bock
4: Lièvre Georges via Panoramio
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