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A journey of courage: from Cameroon to Limassol

feature2 main with his art by daria makurina
photo: by Daria Makurina

SARA DOUEDARI meets an unconventional artist whose works reflect his journey that began in the name of education

Located in the heart of Limassol, Dinga’s studio is a realm where simplicity meets creativity. There’s an immediate sense of contrast upon entering the pristine white space with its vivid artworks and scattered brushes. Dinga appears reserved at first, yet like his workshop, his presence is vibrant, a source of inspiration and curiosity.

The only image I had of where I was going was what I watched on TV,” he said, highlighting the stark disparity between expectation and reality.

Born in 1988 in Cameroon, Dinga is the oldest of four siblings. He grew up mainly with his grandparents, who were really important in raising him and his siblings. Even though his brothers and sisters spent some time with their mother and father, Dinga feels that his grandparents were the main people who looked after them all. “I felt safe in my family, even though we lived in very modest circumstances,” he said.

feature2 by daria makurina
photo: by Daria Makurina

However, Dinga had always dreamed of leaving Cameroon for better opportunities, specifically to pursue his master’s studies in media. His relationship with a girlfriend in Germany, offered a glimpse of hope. Although she was unable to bring him to Germany, she suggested north Cyprus as an alternative. And with her financial support and some help from his family, Dinga took the plunge at 25 and travelled to the north to chase his dreams of an education.

Occupied Cyprus presented a harsh reality where ‘survival of the fittest’ wasn’t just a phrase but a daily ordeal. “It was all about survival,” he said, emphasising the constant battle for food, shelter and safety, which took precedence over his academic aspirations.

He found jobs to support himself financially and send money back to his family. But, the demanding nature of his job left him with no opportunity to continue his media studies. “I was overwhelmed with work, trying to survive and financially support my family, who had to flee due to the civil war that started in Cameroon. There was no chance I could go back.”

Little did Dinga know his life was about to take another dramatic turn. While working at a jazz bar that attracted a diverse crowd, he met a woman from Paralimni, with whom he fell in love. But their relationship brought into focus a new set of challenges, primarily how Dinga could move with her to the Republic.

Dinga eventually found himself crossing into the Republic under the cover of night, an action born out of desperation and the hope for a better life. This illegal crossing marked the beginning of a new set of challenges: navigating through bureaucratic mazes for proper documentation, securing employment and establishing a new life in another unfamiliar territory. Amid these trials, Dinga’s fortune took a positive turn when he got married, which offered a sense of stability.

He began to rebuild his life from the ground up in Paralimni, mastering several languages and pursuing his career ambitions. However, just as his life seemed to be stabilising, tragedy struck. A few months after their wedding, his wife passed away from an autoimmune disease. “I believe this is still the biggest pain I have ever felt in my life.”

It was at this point that Dinga finally started to paint, which has always been a dream of his. Art became his sanctuary, a channel for his sorrow and a place where the pain, anger, sadness could be expressed. “Life became more at ease; I could see hope. Art was a supernatural comforter.”

His move to Limassol in March 2021 was influenced by a friend of his wife, who introduced him to the potential Limassol held for art and fashion. Taking this advice to heart, Dinga relocated, seeing it as a promising opportunity for his artistic endeavours and his work as a model. This shift marked the start of Dinga’s entry into the art world.

feature2 working as a model photo thebrisva
Working as a model. Photo TheBrisva

Another friend convinced Dinga that his story, articulated through his art, deserved a broader audience. “Fikri saw my art and said let’s do an exhibition together.” Dinga works are predominantly with acrylic on canvas, a medium that allows him the flexibility to layer his narratives with rich, vivid strokes of colour. His art is inspired by his Cameroonian heritage, which serves as a vibrant backdrop to his exploration of longing, pain, identity and gender issues.

Dinga’s art reflects his voyage from the heart of Africa to the shores of Cyprus. “I am my own subject matter.” This connection renders his work as chapters of a life lived with intensity, a bridge between past and present, despair and hope.

Looking forward, Dinga is getting ready to show off a big new project – an exhibition titled 5 Faces inspired by African masks he imported from Cameroon that symbolise significant life stages. This exhibition is not merely a display but a journey through childhood, chaos, darkness, discovery, and peace, mirroring Dinga’s own odyssey.

This June event will not only highlight how much Dinga has grown as an artist but also spark conversations about overcoming challenges, who we are, and how art can change us. “In the canvas of life, we’re all artists,” Dinga said, and as he prepares for his next exhibition, it’s clear that his story is far from over.

 

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