Today, I'm so excited to share with you this virtual interview that I recently had with Mozambican artist Rui Tenreiro. It's one thing to come from one of my most favorite countries in Africa (admitted I've only been to a few), but add the talents of drawing, storytelling, textile design and pottery and you have a whole other story! All those things, and so much more, just barely begin to describe Tenreiro. The artist spends his time between Sweden (where he recently finished his MA) and his hometown of Maputo. In addition to having two books under his belt, Tenreiro also runs a small publication, Soyfriends. But let's dive straight into the conversation....
What are the first five words that come to mind when you think about Africa?
Home, fish, wood, smoke, school.
What is one of your favorite memories from time spent in Africa or around other Africans abroad?
My favorite memories from home are spending time with friends and family and enjoying the good things of my hometown, Maputo, like eating out and going to cultural events; and also just generally walking around the streets.
If you could go to one place on the continent right now, where would it be and why?
I’m curious about Luanda because it’s the ‘other’ Portuguese-speaking country in Southern Africa.
Many people who have not been to Mozambique (or anywhere in Africa) either have no idea what the country is like or have a lot of pre/mis-conceived ideas about the country, what is one thing that you think someone would be surprised to learn or see in Maputo or other parts of Mozambique?
I think anyone may get surprises anywhere in the world. For an African, going to Europe or America is very exotic and full of surprises. I’m hoping that people realize that, just as it is tempting for some tourists to photograph and pose next to Masai people in Kenya, it might be equally tempting for an African to photograph a Geisha in Japan, a Sami person in Scandinavia, or a cowboy in America.
It’s hard for me to tell about this. But, as a city, I think people might be surprised at how much cultural activity there is in Maputo, despite the lack of funding for culture by the government.
What do you miss most about Mozambique when you are in Sweden or outside the continent?
People, food, the careless wondering around with friends. I do miss the fact that time seems to stretch. I also miss the fruits, the swimming, and driving by the seaside. I don’t miss the bureaucracy, police and corruption. They’re problems that need solving.
How did you first get interested in design/ illustration/storytelling, and what made you decide to pursue this as a career?
I always drew, so it just seemed natural to continue. I initially did advertising art direction but the Ad industry can be really lame at times. Some of my friends sort of had a mid-twenties crisis, when they became so tired of the advertising world that they thought of dropping the whole thing. At the moment, drawing is the only thing I can do, and I don’t mind that.
When you are not coming up with amazing stories, what else do you like to do?
I’m happy you think they’re amazing. I like to read. I love good art house/independent films because I was never exposed to that while growing up. So when I finally discovered there was a whole world of good films out there, I never tired of watching them. I read the news almost everyday, I listen to music everyday, work out, nothing out of the ordinary. I like going out for a beer. Sometimes a beer alone while reading a good book or drawing is the perfect thing to do. The occasional Japanese-style karaoke and skiing trip is also something that I like doing. And let’s not forget food. I like to cook.
Where is your favorite hang out spot?
My great studio, where I spend most of my days. I sometimes enjoy simply being at home doing nothing, just wasting time; waking up late and having breakfast at lunch time. When I’m back home in Maputo my favourite spot is the new café that opened in the old Parque dos Continuadores in Maputo. But my favouritest is probably Piri-Piri, a very old and relatively affordable restaurant in central Maputo.
What is your personal soundtrack right now?
Hard one. very mixed. I discovered Glenn Branca only the other day. I’ve been into that. Different Trains by Steve Reich is one of my favourite albums. Most stuff by Ivor Cutler is amazing. But also Animal Collective, Ariel Pink, Adam Green. I recommend ubu and if you have Spotify, my current favourite playlist is Parables & Parallels.
Who or what has been your greatest inspiration?
Many people and things. Music and things I read. I prefer the dark stuff. I like dramas where things don’t end happily. Of course I like happy stuff too. But I always go back to the grim, dark stories. That’s much more interesting for me.
What has been your proudest achievement?
To write a story, a graphic novel that I liked (the Celebration) and having it published in five different languages. And to write for film — which we are shooting in Mozambique this year. It’s an adaptation of a short story by Albert Camus for which we got support from the French Cooperation in Mozambique and the Mozambican Cinema Association. Adapting it made me write one more script afterwards. That might stay in the drawer. Or it might be made. Never knows.
What is the best lesson you've learned so far?
I think that maybe I don’t learn so fast. I have this feeling I’m getting less wise with age. Some more wisdom would be good. Maybe it’s the stubbornness that gets in the way of wisdom. That could be it.
What dream do you still want to fulfill?
I’d like to live from my art and personal work, and not from commercial jobs.
While that may be the end of this interview, I know you are remain curious to find out even more about Tenreiro. First you can check out this excellent piece that he wrote about his own experiences as a white African artist. Of course there is also his website, tumblr and of course you can also find him on twitter!