I walked into the room designated to the Gallery of African Art (GAFRA) at the 1:54 Contemporary African Art fair in London, and there they were, glorious works of charcoal that took me back to a place I knew too well – my carefree childhood. I had to meet the man behind these pieces. I later sat across Nelson Makamo in a loud coffee shop, notebook in hand, phone ready to record, and questions written and rehearsed. I was going to interview him, ask him about his art, his medium, his process, his message, and all other cliché’s based on my intense research the previous night. It may as well have been another cliché interview, but there is nothing cliché about Makamo’s passion about the entirety of the artistic process and the African art industry. So instead of an interview, we had a conversation from which I picked up two main nuggets that make his work stand out: he is purpose driven and sees African art as intentional.

Makamo is a mission-driven artist.

“My role is to restore the image of the African child. I want to show the child and remind them that you can be anything and do anything you put your mind to.”

He realizes that a simple Google search of images of black African children bring up negative pictures and messages.

“I want to show the African child in a positive light. A picture can tell many stories. One single image can make people start a war, or start an interesting conversation. It may seem like I am not being political with this specific exhibition, but I am. I am asking, ‘why aren’t we all related?’ Living Memories is proof that we are related, we all have childhood memories, and if we can see ourselves in the African child, then I have given power to the African child.”

Nelson Makamo – Di papadi (Games), 2017, Charcoal & soft pastel on paper, 160 x 121cm. Courtesy of the Gallery of African Art (GAFRA)

Makamo is also intentional with his medium. It is not just the images that tell the story. His exhibition, Living Memories, was all charcoal drawings, some with a little paint and watercolour. I asked him, “So why charcoal?

“Because we are black. But it’s also because black artists back in the day used charcoal because they could not afford paint or pastel. My choice is a homage to that, to say let me go back to those times”. His response then led into a discussion on the African art scene and the future.

“African artists are the only artists that address issues on the African continent. We are the only ones who are vocal about things that are happening, and we are able to put it out to the world. This is the time when, if you are African, everyone wants to hear what you have to say, what you think, and where the continent is going. Will this be the time and place, historically, where Africa will be recorded like the renaissance period for example?”

Although the question is one which is yet to be answered, one thing I am certain of is that Nelson Makamo’s name will be a part of that history. His art is already making waves today and it will leave a mark in history.

Nelson Makamo is represented the Gallery of African Art (GAFRA): www.gafraart.com 

Nelson Makamo Instagram | @nelsonmakamo

Written by Rutendo Chabikwa
Rutendo Chabikwa is a Zimbabwean writer. She is passionate about exploring the ways in which African's can control and direct the African narrative academically and creatively. When she is not writing, she is a student, a photographer, and a spoken word artist.