Pan African Unity Mural: Ângela Ferreira on the intersectional experience of the African community
Pan African Unity Mural is also a return story – an eternal return to the starting point. Ângela Ferreira (1958-) returns to the Community House in Cape Town, South Africa, to conduct a collaborative mural painted by an artistic collective which was she was part of in the 80s. By that time, she had already started her intersection route: being from Maputo, Mozambique, she had come to know another feature of the African reality of that time. Not surprisingly, she understood the strength of power and the power of violence. After all, she had witnessed the brutality of colonialism and apartheid. That is the turning point – or the moment when she questions herself about her own place in the world and her relationship with the other. “I asked myself who I was” reveals the artist, interviewed by Katarina Pierre (1962-), the Bildmuseet’s director.
Ângela Ferreira began her artistic career guided by a social and political commitment, fuelled by a critical and interventional stance, assuming an absolutely contextual trait right from the beginning. Indeed, she paved the way for an artistic practice deeply embraced in its own context, permanently questioning its own condition. According to the artist, a perennial intersectional quality: a life in movement, on both sides of the border, so far, so close, irretrievably in the interstice, somewhere between, everywhere and nowhere. In other words, a plural life. Therefore, a work from the inside out, open to the world and to the other. But a real one. In this case, that same commitment is far from a discursive apparatus for the legitimation of a certain aesthetic procedure. After all, the artist awakened her senses to a theme that had yet to become a trend, still distant from the institutionalization process that would ultimately place it under a logic of instrumentalization – something more or less found in the entire system of contemporary art.
“How did I react then and what does that mean now?” – she affirms in the same interview. In fact, that is an issue that unfolds itself along her artistic journey, crystallized in this exhibition. In 1986, a mural was held at the Community House of Cape Town, South Africa, in Africa. In 2018, there is a mural in the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology of Lisbon, in Portugal, Europe. But one mural only. Pan African Unity Mural is, above all, an exercise of perspective based on that first intervention. According to Jürgen Bock (1962-), the exhibition’s curator, this mural “is conceived, retrospectively and introspectively” for the current reality. Indeed, the first mural is now crossed by a contemporary glance, presented from a genuinely contemporary reading. Ângela Ferreira cherishes the contextual side of the artistic practice, but not as previously. We should mention that she brings not only the mural with her, but also her context. The artist screens on the immaculate wall of the Project Room a photographic record – of her own – that includes not only the painted area, but also the current architectural background. Also, she takes advantage of the perceptive game that comes from the projection itself – on a curved surface, nonetheless.
Pan African Unity Mural incorporates, in a time and in the same space, a scant and necessarily fragmented story. This second mural emerges as a shredded blanket: based on the character and the episode, in memory of, the memory for, from the individual to the collective, always from the inside out, the case that establishes the story, the story that was never materialized. Ângela Ferreira narrates the intersectional experience of the African people: a hinged life, close to a breaking point, searching for something and in confrontation, in perpetual transition, the eternal return home, when one is always ready to depart. For the artist, the African reality has a unique sensibility, supposedly determined by an intersectional experience – something she somehow shares with Miriam Makeba (1932-2008) and George Wright (1943-). After all, the artist evokes the principle of pan-African unity by juxtaposing her own story with the South African singer and the Portuguese-American fugitive. This means that she operates from a biographical information – and in particular from a visual biographical information – to edify an identity image of the African community. Pan African Unity Mural assumes the intersectional sensitivity as a common denominator, the primary linking point. Ângela Ferreira once more summons her first home – using a model – and the pyramidal structure of a matrix tower – which encompasses, as a symbolic element with a unifying character, her own artistic production. We should take into consideration that the house, the territory of eternal return, has a decisive role in this visual narrative: the artist also includes Miriam Makeba’s in Guinea and George Wright’s in Portugal. The latter’s portrait, interrupted by the opening in the wall, fixates only the contour. It should be emphasized that this tracing also reveals the kidnapping of the Delta plane, in which he fled to Algeria, delaying his capture for years – a humiliating negotiation for the FBI, as we can see in Umbigo’s current issue, which has an artistic project of the same author.
It is interesting to recall that the idea of a unifying mural for an identity image of a specific continent comes from a precedent proposal, whose title is now adapted. In 1940, Diego Rivera (1886-1957) presented his Pan American Unity Mural, concluding the work developed during – and after – the exhibition Art in Action, for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco, California. Ângela Ferreira retrieves the Diego Rivera’s unifying tone, not neglecting the revolutionary message that supports the muralist tradition. Pan African Unity Mural is a political proposal. If not for the exaltation of the strength of the work, or for the allusion to the worker’s ultimate triumph, then for the attention it pays to women’s role in that context.
(Until 8 September, at MAAT)