Art and assassination in Angola

A locally produced arts festival creates panic for Angola's authoritarian government, who has, predictably, responded with panic and repression.

Graffiti by Okupapala.

The Benguela-based human rights group, OMUNGA, attracted international attention last year when it sponsored an international festival of urban art and culture in Angola. Organized by a group of local artists and social activists, “Okupapala” was launched as an effort to create visible, collaborative responses to socio-political exclusion. About two weeks ago, one of their volunteers in Catumbela was assassinated. This week OMUNGA’s published a brief statement (here in Portuguese):

On April 24th 2012 JÚLIO SANTOS KUSSEMA died after being shot in the head by three bullets at approximately 11 pm in the municipality of Catumbela, where he was working at a small establishment. He was killed by non-identified persons. Júlio Santos Kussema was born in Lobito and lived in Bairro da Luz. He graduated with a degree in business administration from the Universidade Lusíada and volunteered with OMUNGA as an IT facilitator between 2007 and 2009. OMUNGA is shocked by this event but has found no association between the murder and the ties Kussema has maintained with OMUNGA. OMUNGA take this opportunity to once again extend condolences to the bereaved family and to urge the National Police to continue with appropriate investigations.

Their first annual festival went off in November 2011. The line-up was impressive. Artists and other thinkers from Argentina, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Cuba, France, Guatemala, Italy and Portugal joined Angolan artists in Benguela, Lobito and Luanda. They organized lectures, workshops, theater and musical performances. Yes, French artists wanted to do “Afro” and “urban tribal dance”. See the list of venues under “locais do evento.

Okupapala’s work has struck a nerve among government officials, who have responded with panic. Throughout 2011, they routinely canceled or disrupted public events at the last minute. Questionable police action was documented by Front Line Defenders in English and archived by OMUNGA here. Ongoing harassment is available in more detail in Portuguese (in different parts: onetwo, and three).

Angolan rappers and other visible protesters have continued to face police intimidation and alarming levels of state violence this spring (see coverage in our archives and this in-depth feature on Al Jazeera).

In the past weeks I’ve asked organizers how this violent pushback has changed the way they think about establishing and maintaining public platforms. Organizer José Patrocínio stresses the importance of their new coalition building within the ‘Por Uma Angola Livre’ (For a Free Angola) campaign against the prohibition, repression, and criminalization of demonstrations. As far as creative intervention goes, members joining ‘Por Uma Angola Livre’ offer public images that play with the authoritative poses of government officials.

Okupapala members call for international participation and cultivate space where local artists can talk about what it is like to live under the threat of dispossession and displacement. They describe themselves as play fighters; playing as discovery, experimentation, pleasure and change.

One woman challenged graffiti artists to make something beautiful in her home. Such a challenge puts a good twist on the twentieth century conviction that the personal is political, and claims a public sphere that extends everywhere it has not been officially defined. Okupapala ‘took over her house and sprinkled it with imagination.’

To be continued.

Further Reading

An unfinished project

Christian theology was appropriated to play an integral role in the justifying apartheid’s racist ideology. Black theologians resisted through a theology of the oppressed.