To those who think and say that what is past is past and that it is a waste of time and energy to dwell on reparations, restitutions and repercussions (!), we say that there is no such thing as the past when it comes to colonialism and its revolting consequences. There is no such thing not just because we say so but because those who have inherited the gift and curse of being the wretched of this earth still breathe the encroached dust of a history in which survival and resilience have always been the ultimate way to win.
When French-Burkinabé illustrator & cartoonist, Gregory Dabilougou, known as El Marto took on the role of visual storyteller for the residency held in the “poor yet sexy” capital of Berlin, at the offices of Correctiv!, an investigative non-profit newsroom founded by David Schraven, he had just left the somewhat insurrectional climate that Ouagadougou had been plunged in in recent months. For those history buffs (that we ought to be), Burkina Faso had witnessed a popular revolt in 2014 leading to the proper expulsion of its repugnant president Blaise Compaoré and the after effects of this political jolt are still very much felt today despite France’s covert attempt to quell the legitimate indignation of the masses. Like in many African capitals and cities, the relationship between those who govern and those who intently and needless to say proactively shape and mould the quotidian is one of incessant back pushes, circumferences, and pretences. And the grand puppeteers that stir the show have absolutely no interest in letting go of the strings that they affably pull and release at the mercy of “our” nations. Public outcries about the stalled motion to extradite Compaoré’s brother- safely tucked under the wings of the current French monarch- or about the unveiling of admissible evidence in the horrid assassination of Thomas Sankara, Pan-African leader, revolutionary & former president of the “land of the upstanding men” remain unanswered.
With this in mind and hands, it became a somewhat seamless transition for El Marto to engage with journalist, Frederik Richter to narrate the three-tiered story of Rwandan political figure, Ignace Murwanashyaka on the founding of his rebel militia in the eastern region of the Congo, the FDLR* and the murky ties entertained between former colonial power, Germany and the nations of Rwanda and ultimately Congo.
To those who ask why the history of sensational news-worthy African nations is marred by bloodshed and never-ending geopolitical conflict, we say that there is such a thing as the danger of the single story and that more often than not, the villainous protagonists are conveniently becoming the law enforcers and social saviours in the stories told. This is why combining savvy investigation with caustic illustration make for the perfect combo in the quest for truth and accountability. And there was born:” Made in Germany: ein Massaker im Kongo” (Made in Germany: A Massacre in Congo), a one-of-a-kind comic reportage written by Richter & illustrated by Marto launched at Campfire 2018, the annual festival dedicated to digital and print media in Dusseldorf & soon available in English on Correctiv’s website.
El Marto’s artistic and instantly recognisable street artsy style has been dipped in political satyre and mockery for years but with this new challenge, it has become even more direct, serious, and perhaps more intentional in addressing injustice, inequity, violence and deeply entrenched racism and colonialism. Inspired by his wanderings in the dark alleys of Berlin’s colonial past and by movements propelled by organisations such as Berlin Postkolonial & Black Lives Matter, Marto has gained precious knowledge which he feels compelled to not only share but also amplify.
As the documentary on the Life and Death of Sandra Bland** is now officially released, there is a formidable parallel that can be drawn between what this generation of social influencers and genre-defining artists are currently producing. There is an urgent need for Art that speaks to the times, Art that tells our times, Art that breaks the silence, Art that soothes and rebuilds.
Ultimately what Marto proclaims is the basis for all of us, amidst our privilege(s) or lack thereof to deepen our knowledge of who we are and who we can be. Through his many art-driven travels and cultural discoveries (he recently did a mural in the city of Meknes, Morocco and is planning on traveling to Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal next year), he hopes to continue to provide a canvas for mutual and nurturing understanding between social worlds, races and histories. When asked how he would encourage continental creativity, he instantly replied: transnational mobility and collaboration first at a regional level and then as wide as one can imagine. Creativity is only hindered by the very fictional borders we have got to stop claiming.
In refining his illustrative voice, El Marto has also found his calling and with his inimitable Burkinabé swag and humour, fierce posture to speak with and for the people, ubiquitous artistry and globalised creativity, he is bound to become a visual force to not only reckon with but more so, fully endorse.
“Imperialism is a system of exploitation that occurs not only in the brutal form of those who come with guns to conquer territory. Imperialism often occurs in more subtle forms, a loan, food aid, blackmail . We are fighting this system that allows a handful of men on Earth to rule all of humanity.” Thomas Sankara
*FDLR: Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda). The FDLR is considered the main cause for insecurity in the region of the Great Lakes.
**Sandra Bland is an African-American social activist who was stopped by a police officer for a minor traffic violation, arbitrarily jailed and then found dead while in custody in 2015. Her controversial demise has been a source of civil unrest in the US and the world for the past three years. #sayhernameSandraBland
For more info on everything El Marto, check out his brand new online platform https://elmartostore.bigcartel.com/
To get the comic reportage https://shop.correctiv.org/graphic-novel/23/made-in-germany-ein-massaker-im-kongo/?c=6