Paulo Kapela’s installation reproduces, on a kind of altar, the recent history of Angola, and of the city of Luanda in particular, using newspaper cuttings, drawings, found objects and texts in a continuous process of fixing memory and exorcising the past. His installations appear to imitate a shamanistic act of exorcism of the present, and the construction of new realities. This gesture – the creation of new imaginary or critical spaces – sets the tone for No Fly Zone. Unlimited Mileage.
The artists all share in this gesture, as they question discourses, aesthetics and realities, offering us other possibilities. A subversive gesture in the sense that it corrupts the reality it finds at the same time as forging alternative gazes and viewpoints. It is also a gesture centered on the individual, as it reinstates him/her as the subject of history and of the discourses commented on here. Paulo Kapela’s work exemplifies this in the intersection between a collective narrative of history and a personal narrative. Both are presented in parallel: Agostinho Neto and Rasta Kongo, Ngola Kiluanji and Kota Mena, the heroes of Angolan history and the artist’s companions in life. The individual is the yardstick by which this equilibrium is measured. In this exhibition, we will explore this different gaze in the work of six Angolan artists: Paulo Kapela, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Edson Chagas, Yonamine, Binelde Hyrcan and Nástio Mosquito.
Balumuka (Ambush), from 2011, by Kiluanji Kia Henda, portrays the statue of Queen Njinga Mbande and statues from the colonial era, such as those of Luís Vaz de Camões, Dom Afonso Henriques and Pedro Álvares Cabral, formerly displayed on pedestals in the city of Luanda, hidden away with old military vehicles and remains of cannons, in a space that combines different moments from Angola’s history, allowing them to confront and interact with each other. In these photographs from the series Homem Novo, which continue with images entitled Redefining the Power (2011-2012), Kia Henda analyses Luanda’s relationship with its colonial past, through the pedestals now vacated by statues and occupied by figures belonging to the contemporary history of the city. In O.R.G.A.S.M. – Organisation of African States for Mellowness, from 2011, Kia Henda leaves behind the imaginary world of Luanda and turns his attention to humanitarian discourse with a surprising twist. In a mirror effect, Kia Henda reflects back onto Europe the pro-aid discourse typical of non-governmental organisations in Africa, using a generous dose of humour to address a serious topic, the relationship between Europe, or the West, and Africa, and the humanitarian gaze that condemns an entire continent to civil war, famine and the need for international aid.
Nástio Mosquito, in My African Mind (2009), explores the West’s relationship with Africa and the discursive construction of this relationship, exposing the inconsistencies in this discourse, their consequences and the accompanying aesthetic, from the construct of primitive man in contact with nature, to the aesthetic of the clown, typical of the Jim Crow era in the United States of America. Nástio deconstructs Western discourse on Africa in an attempt to question how Africa is removed from modernity, how the black man is transformed into a monster, how the culture is turned into ritual and most of all how this process sets about exoticising the other, and space and memory.
Taking a different approach, Edson Chagas takes African masks out of the anthropological context and gives them a contemporary identity. In these masks we recognize human and personal traits which combine with the body bearing them. Each of these masks is a face, an individual. In his series Oikonomos (2011), Chagas starts out from the idea of the global economy and looks at the individual. At a time when the economy exists as a kind of meta-reality, the plastic bags used as masks point us to the individual and his role in this process.
A similar process is used by Binelde Hyrcan in Thirteen Hours (2011), where the hens take on human characteristics and social roles. The absence of the human form draws attention to what is most human in us. In his turn, Yonamine points us to European and world history. From the individual viewpoint, the artist explores the archive of memory. Archive as a space where memory is built from individual experiences.
‘No Fly Zone‘ is an exhibition that asks questions without presuming to find answers, where memory is put together as the spoils and experiences of life, offering alternative outlooks and paths to understanding.
This is an excerpt of Suzana Sousa’s text published in the exhibition catalogue. Sousa is living and working in Luanda as independent curator. She is one of the curators of the 2013 Trienal de Luanda in November and December.
‘No Fly Zone‘ is a project conceived and designed by Fernando Alvim, Simon Njami and Suzana Sousa with the artists Binelde Hyrcan, Edson Chagas, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Nãstio Mosquito, Paulo Kapela, Yonamine. It is a coproduction of ‘Museu Coleção Berardo’ and ‘ø Núcleo Criativo’.