The Mission: Perserve Angola’s Cultural Assets and Bring Them to the World
In a beautiful and colorful ceremony held yesterday evening, the Fundação Arte e Cultura (“the Fundação”) inaugurated Angola’s National Arts and Culture Digital Archive, rhythmically named the e-Zomba. The Fundação has been active in Luanda, Angola’s capital, for over 17 years, promoting and exposing local culture and artists, teaching arts and passing the heritage on to the public.
The e-Zomba is the new flagship Strategic Philanthropy initiative of the Fundação, a Memonadin Foundation subsidiary, established with the collaboration of the Angolan Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and the Environment. The e-Zomba ambitiously aims to collect and curate Angola’s cultural treasures, preserve its diverse arts and expose this rich heritage to all. Today, in the age of knowledge and technology, countries worldwide strive to harness innovative technology to the benefit of humanity, pursue digitizing our cultural assets and make them accessible—much like the National Library of Israel, for example.
“Over the years, Angola has produced many talented painters, sculptors, and writers whose works are often deeply political and thought-provoking,” said Menomadin and Fundação’s founder Haim Taib at the ceremony, adding, “the country has a strong tradition of music and dance, with traditional styles such as the Samba and the Kazukuta still widely practiced today.” Documenting and preserving the music and traditional folk dances of dozens of ethnic groups rooted in Angola is at the heart of the e-Zomba’s work. These are ephemeral artworks, many of which have never been documented or preserved, and the e-Zomba strives to prevent them from being lost to national and human culture.
The Minister of Culture, Tourism, and the Environment, Dr. Filipe Zau, said at the national archive inauguration ceremony: “The different cultures and their diversity are part of a unique global culture that creates a common language that enriches and unifies all of us.” Next to Zau and Taib, also in attendance were former Angolan Vice President, Bornito de Sousa Baltazar Diogo, Prince of Zombo Kongo–Bambata, Iam Maquito Daniel, artists, government officials, and honorable representatives from both Israel and Angola.
Art, an Ever-Growing Treasure
No, it’s not a typo. The archive is called Zomba, with an O, and not Zumba, like the energetic aerobic dance. “Zomba” in the local dialect means “the joy of culture”, so if you feel like dancing, you should! Not only are we in the same semantic field, this is e-Zomba’s exact target—to prompt a staggering experience and provoke artistic creation through the encounter and engagement with Angola’s national cultural assets. Taib, president of Mitrelli Group and founder of vast and varied infrastructure and cultural projects in Angola, defined e-Zomba’s mission: “This exceptional project is intended to raise attention, encourage exposure and discourse among researchers, students, historians, musicians, artists, and the general public, and show whoever is concerned just how wonderful, colorful, and interesting this country’s art and culture really is.”
The Fundação empowered its team with the recruitment of professionals and volunteers and the acquisition of advanced and innovative technology for documenting and cataloging information. The e-Zomba staff intends to record and photograph the different artworks and conduct comprehensive video interviews with prominent Angolan artists. In addition to seeking rare works of art and heritage, scanning and cataloging films and theatrical performances, the archive will also curate and exhibit records collections, masks, and sculptures. These unique collections capture Angola’s long and diverse history and are often never exhibited in museums or galleries; exposing them to the public is another of the e-Zomba’s future goals. The e-Zomba will allocate resources toward establishing a virtual sphere, enabling every child, man and woman to approach these magnificent Angolan treasures appreciate them, and be aspired by them.
Expanding Circles of Impact and Hope
Setting up the national Archive, the e-Zomba is yet another step in the evolution of the Fundação in Luanda and its impact in Angola and beyond. “Life is art. Art is life.” So goes the saying, and the Fundação’s founders are adamant it is a valid phrase. According to them, since its inception in 2006, the Fundação’s treasured the idea of art as a force of healing and empowering to the individual, the neighborhood, the community, and the entirety of society and nation. Art has such power, it can reach and touch anyone, every child, man, and woman, anywhere and in any circumstance. It is within art’s power to make life better.
In its early years, the Fundação supported artists whose work was primarily traditional in nature; it later went on to incorporate the artists’ community into its team and harnessed them to operate an intimate community center in the heart of Luanda, where the artists provided creative painting and sculpturing workshops for the neighboring residents. But they also went out to the streets of Luanda, seeking the many less-fortunate homeless kids and youths, engaging with them through music and dancing lessons—and most of all, instilling them with hope.
The same hope Dr. António Agostinho Neto, Angola’s first president and most preeminent poet, wrote about in his poem “Farewell”:
“I do not wait now
I am he who is awaited
It is I my mother
hope is us
gone for a faith that sustains life.”
e-Zomba: Preserve, Nurture, Revive
The beneficial activity flourished, made waves and gained recognition. Soon, the Angolan government became a partner in many of the Fundação initiatives. In Luanda, the Tamar Golan Art Gallery was founded, named after Israel’s first ambassador to Angola. Today, it is one of Luanda’s renowned and influential galleries, famous in launching the artistic careers of dozens of young promising Angolan painters and sculptors. The Casa de Musica conservatorium was operated on the city outskirts, and three more community centers served the people throughout the country. In 2019, a large community center was completed—spreading over a vast compound in the island area of Luanda (Ilha de Luanda), it houses all of the Fundação operations and institutions.
The Angolan citizens come in droves. With thousands of people participating, learning, and creating art, we witnessed the genesis of a community. It is the community who operates the center and benefits from it, just like the Israeli community centers that inspired it all. The community’s members cultivate the collective garden and enjoy its yields; they initiate plays and shows, perform on stage or relish the concerts as an audience at the center’s outdoor amphitheater; use the recording studio, classrooms, and workshops, and exhibit their artworks in the gallery.
In the past four years alone, nearly 200 artists exhibited their work in the renewed Tamar Golan Gallery. For about half of them, it was their first professional exhibition, and nearly 70% went on to pursue a career as artists. “Just imagine,” said Taib at the ceremony, “the exposure and opportunities the e-Zomba is destined to give all those talented Angolan artists, and how it is destined to enrich the world.”