African arts, culture + politics

Dangerous mind


(ARISE magazine, issue 18) You’re as likely to find MIA in the news as the charts. but after last year’s storms, she begins 2013 with new projects that’ll make headlines for the right reasons

“There’s nothing that can touch me now. You can’t even break me down”, sings MIA on a preview for her new track Come Walk With Me. It’s trademark MIA: obstinate, single-minded and resilient. At the start of 2012 she summoned a storm at the Super Bowl by flashing her middle finger. The same month she was widely criticised (and also defended) for her Bad Girls video, shot in Morocco and described by Asian-American magazine Hyphen as “just a hipper, high-definition stereotype of Arabs as desert-dwelling, sword-wielding, horse-riding and dangerous”. And in March she got into a Twitter spat with CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, tweeting “@AndersonCooper called me a terrorist for speaking out [about Tamil civilians dying in Sri Lanka]” (although after defending their positions the two called a truce).

Of course, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. And that’s just as well, with a raft of MIA projects landing soon. She has a new, eponymous book on the shelves; newly commissioned art works on show at India’s first biennial Kochi-Muziris Biennale; a new album, Mathangi, poised for release; and a documentary about her in production. She also inadvertently revealed another ongoing venture – a design collaboration with Versace – in November while speaking at New York’s MoMA PS1. Her personal laptop was hooked up to a giant screen so the singer could share some of her works and indulge in some collective Googling, leaving folders labelled Versace Prints, Bootleg Versace and Versace Outlines clearly visible on her desktop.

The 37-year-old rapper describes the new album as “Paul Simon on acid”, but also as “basically all my other albums… like an anthology”. The same could be said of her characteristically colourful self-titled book, which is part art portfolio, part discography, part autobiography. Inside the London-born, Sri Lanka-raised artist (real name Mathangi Arulpragasam) shares her DIY works of art, drawing on Google Search, stencils, video stills, Photoshop, typography and her formative years studying at Central St Martins. There’s also an intro by designer Steve Loveridge, her friend and collaborator, as well as song lyrics and fascinating explanations from MIA herself of the stories and inspirations behind each of her three albums – Arular, Kala and MAYA – plus her free mixtape Vicki Leekx, released in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

It’s a fascinating documentation of a career and life, and a demonstration of MIA’s global outlook – in which India, Sri Lanka, the Caribbean and Africa figure as much as London, LA and New York. Consider the African connections of her recent output alone: the video for Come Walk With Me borrows pre-existing YouTube footage of Congolese coupé decalé dancers, while her muses for Bad Girls include the female bikers of Marrakesh (see right). Bring on the next chapter, MIA.


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