Documenting social inequality in Mozambique

The fluidity of power and social inequality are main drivers in Mario Macilau’s images. The Mozambique photographer’s often thematic series of images were described by London’s Saatchi gallery as ‘a narrative by means of a certain epic realism’. ‘They are simultaneously crude and beautiful’.

Often stark and uncompromising his series such as The Price of Cement captures working conditions in Maputo particularly within the context of poverty and socially isolated groups. It highlights the impact cement dust is having on men and children who collect their remains from manufacturers.

Untitled (5) The Price of Cement


“I use photography as witness, to record facts and then to show these facts”, he explains, adding ”from the dirt, men and children collect the remains of cement to resell in the street markets and earn some money to survive”.

“During the collecting process, the cement collectors aren’t aware that they are being exposed to increased risk of developing silicosis, an incurable lung disease that causes disability or death. Whilst the cement dust gradually destroys their lungs, they work towards certain death”, he explains. “Their faces are masked by dust – they are literally paying the price of cement, which accounts to a daily wage of about 20 Mts per day (1USD=30 Mts)”.

Choosing to document the environment around him, his experiences have influenced not only his subject matter but also focus. At the age of 23 he swapped his mother’s mobile phone for a digital camera taking up the medium professionally.

His most recent project Growing up in Darkness, captures homeless children. “In Mozambique, boys and girls under the age of eighteen are likely to come from working class, single parent homes or child headed households, who struggle to sustain their families. Circumstances force these children to leave home and turn to the streets”.

16Macilau6Macilau“They turn unoccupied dwellings and wastelands into homes and take up jobs that are inadequately protected and under-supervised. Street children are often subject to abuse, neglect, exploitation, or in extreme cases, labouring in factories or formal and informal markets”, he explains.

“Some years ago, I started working with street children in Mozambique, spending time with them in order to gain a deeper understanding of their reality.”

“Against the common sense that separates this group of people from the ‘normal’ ones, my aim was to go where everyone advised me not to go”, he says. “I was determined to reach the site that seemed to frighten so many. I entered their private spaces: bridges and abandoned buildings where they live and sleep, that is, where they camp. These places were very dark, damp and dangerous.”

The resulting photographs  are haunting yet simultaneously hopeful on its rare occasions. In contrast, his Moments of Transition series focuses on Mozambique’s avant-garde and shows “how in search of identity young people from the country mix European fashion with traditional dress”.

“I am interested on history and environment, how things change over time and how this influences our lives”, he says.  

His portfolio of images in The Grand Hotel documents the luxury building which opened in the city of Beira in 1954 and was billed as the “pride of Africa”. Widely regarded as the largest and most exquisite hotel on  the continent, its owners intended to include a casino, but failed to secure the necessary government authorization. The hotel was never profitable, and never attracted the wealthy clientele it was intended to and closed in the early 1960s Macilau explains.

“The building today has no running water or electricity, and is currently home to 2,000 families”.


Macilau’s work is showcasing as part of Making Africa: A Continent Of Contemporary Design, at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain until 21 February 2016

This is part of a longer interview for African Digital Art network. Click through to ADA to read in full.