Welcome Jean Katambayi

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Jean Katambayi  from Lubumbashi DRC is our Artist in Residence for December. We sat down with him for a few insights on his practice and a closer look at his way of thinking.

So how are you finding the heat?
(laughs) Everyone here is talking about the heat all the time so I’m feeling like its very bad. But really it’s the same in Congo. Kinshasa gets very hot. Lubumbashi also.

Is this your first time in Tanzania?
Physically, yes, but I have been here many times in my thoughts and in my dreams. I have read a lot about Dar and other cities. There’s a lot of history in this part of the world, especially near the coast. So I feel like I know the place, but a dream version of the place. I still need to discover the real one.

What about Dar? How the city been for you?
Fine, fine. The people so friendly and open. I like it very much so far.

Well, we’re happy to have you with us at Nafasi. The first question I wanted to ask you, about your art I mean, is why you use so much mathematics? Maybe you can begin by telling us how that came about?
I think it has always been there. I was interested in maths at school, and since I was young, so I felt like this was the best medium for me to create. There were so many questions that I wanted to approach, such as colonialism, oppression. But also I wanted a way to look to the future and find what can be there. For me the best way to do this was with mathematics.

Can I ask why?
The numbers we use don’t obey categories. They exist in the same shape in the middle of global forces and outside global forces. They can be divided and grouped but they are not affected by what the name of that group or what it means to other people.

So numbers are a universal language, so to speak?
Yes, but more than just that. Numbers are a language of thinking. They have the same self-evolutionary spirit as thought. When you are working with numbers and with algorithms you are working within something that grows cumulatively from separate points of input but that is indifferent to that input. So you can move forward objectively. All these different colors you use can carry the same spirit. Like in a dream. Numbers are the language of dreams.

(Pause) Jean rises to switch off the fan

I don’t like busy machines. I’m very low tech.The world is moving so fast right now.

And being ‘low tech’ resists that?

You can create something in your own time and something that means a lot to your real self. The world right now wants only new things. But if you take you time to create something with regular materials it can last longer and be more meaningful.

Why more meaningful? In what way?
In a material way. In the process, and in the purpose of that process. What I like about this kind of work is when you calculate and use algorithms, what you are looking for is balance. You are not being optimal or minimal, needing too much or using too little. If you work out the equations correctly then you find exactly what need, no more and no less.

Ok, so final question, who are your influences?
There’s a Congolese artist called Kingelez, who many observers place me with. We have the same preoccupations: time, mind, precision. But he’s more formal than I am. He created model cities so his equations serve a single aesthetic purpose. I’m more much more experimental, someone like Panamarenko maybe fits what I do better. Or a classical inventor/creator like Da Vinci.

Jean Katambayi is the Nafasi Artist Residence for November. For more on his work don’t miss his Artist Hangout on Thursday 6th November at 4.30 pm.

And for something more practical be sure to sign up to his Geometric Art Workshop, happening from the 10th to 13th December. Send an email to jesse@nafasiartspace to take part.