Dalaba: Sol d’Exil, by Ângela Ferreira
“We speak of houses like someone who speaks of soul itself”.
This passage from the poem Prefácio, written by Herberto Helder in 1961 for the book A Colher na Boca, illustrates Ângela Ferreira’s work for the exhibition Dalaba: Sol d’Exil, through which she summons the house where Miriam Makeba and Stokely Carmichael lived during their exile in Guinea-Conakry, invited by then President Sékou Touré.
This is the first exhibition of the project entitled Reação em Cadeia commissioned by Delfim Sardo, resulting from the collaboration between Fidelidade Arte and Culturgest. For three years, there will be exhibitions of the works of three artists per year in Lisbon’s Fidelidade Arte, which are then taken to Culturgest Porto, enduring the necessary changes and adaptations to a space that has quite different characteristics. The proposal requires the artists to take part in the process that chooses the next artist.
Born in Mozambique, Ângela Ferreira (Maputo, 1958) lived and studied in South Africa developing, under her “white girl” reality, an artistic work based on a permanent dialogue with architecture as a symbol of specific social and political contexts related to the colonial history, a “forgotten” past for many years in Portugal, or rescuing individuals associated with these contexts.
Miriam Makeba (Johannesburg, 1932-Castel Volturno, 2008), a South African singer and a human rights and anti-apartheid activist, became a role model and inspiration in Ângela’s life. Her contribution and impact motivated her to conduct a tribute, akin to similar moments that have been punctuated the artist’s career, particularly the tributes to the Mozambican journalist Carlos Cardoso or the South African poetess Ingrid Jonker.
Miriam Makeba’s evocative personal history fuelled the work presented in Dalaba: Sol d’Exil. In the 60s, she saw her passport being revoked when she left South Africa on tour. Exiled by force, she settled in the United States, where she would eventually marry Stokely Carmichael, member of the Black Panther Party. Their marriage only boosted her politicization and she was denied entry to the US. At the time, Sékou Touré, president of Guinea-Conakry, offered her political asylum.
Dalaba, about 300 kilometres from Conakry, with a landscape similar to that of Johannesburg, Miriam Makeba’s hometown, was the place she chose to live in. Notwithstanding the exile, the connection to its roots was unremittingly present. There, she built a house whose circular shape is reminiscent of the traditional African house, rondavel, whose inside walls are lined with typical motifs of Conakry architecture. The option to integrate these motifs in her home suggests the acceptance and involvement with the local culture of a place that welcomed her during her exile.
The house evokes an exile ground. That is the memory that Ângela Ferreira transposes to the exhibition, relying on a set of three metaphorical sculptural objects that refer to different elements of Miriam Makeba’s house. The veranda, revealing the landscape that surrounds and contaminates the Dalaba house with Johannesburg memories; the porch through which one has access to the interior of the house, whose structure and configuration refer to a modernist architecture built during the last 15-20 years of the colonial period; and the conic roof of the house’s central area, a rondavel-inspired shape, this third sculpture is not exhibited in Lisbon, it will only be part of the Culturgest Porto show.
From a first perspective, house and exile are paradoxical concepts. The notion of house presupposes roots, fixation or establishment in a certain place, whereas exile implies the shifting movement from one place to another, being rootless. By dismembering the house, Ângela Ferreira turns it into something portable and the act of suspending each one of its parts, freeing them of any foundations, materializes assertively this contradictory unrooting of the house.
Confronted with the fragmented space and the exhibition of work of someone who mainly conceives large-sized unitary projects, it was necessary to connect not only the spaces, but also the different elements displayed. Using an autobiographical gesture, Ângela Ferreira conceived an anchor element composed of steel cables that cross the different rooms and unify the whole project. The piece alludes to imagery related to transport mechanisms and to the memory of Cape Town’s cable car, the city where the artist lived.
Ângela Ferreira takes us to Buster Keaton’s whimsical realm, of dismantled houses, since, by relying on the imagination, we can visualize the fragments of large-sized houses moving along the steel cables that unite the various exhibition rooms.
In addition to the suggestion of movement provided by static sculptural objects, the colour blue ensures an implicit circular movement, brought by the Conakry motives that constitute the house’s architecture. The exhibition starts with a mural where Ângela Ferreira draws with, using that same color, a perspective of the interior of the house, where these motifs are visible, and ends with a wall cloth that shares the same tonality.
The sound of the 1966 song A Piece of Ground by Miriam Makeba, alluding to the loss of soil of the colonized to the colonizing, follows and provides meaning to the exhibition focused on the memory of the history of someone who creates her own soil, my own piece of ground, through the construction of a house in a place where it did not belong.
Relying on Herberto Hélder’s verse at the beginning of the text, Ângela Ferreira delves into Miriam Makeba’s house as someone who talks about the soul itself. From the sad and happy, personal, historical and political nostalgia, embedded in its architecture, that surpasses any formal and compositional interpretation, while also encompassing memories contained in each element, be it a veranda, a porch or a roof.
Dalaba: Sol d’Exil, an exhibition that marks the start of the project Reação em Cadeia, is on display until 17 May at Fidelidade Arte in Lisbon and at Culturgest Porto starting from 31 May. Fidelidade Arte inaugurates its second exhibition of the project on 6 June, with works by the American artist Jimmie Durham (Houston, Texas, 1940).
Following its exhibition in 1997 at Galeria Módulo in Lisbon, pieces around the book of José Saramago The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis will be gathered, in addition to a new piece specially conceived for this exhibition. As in the two exhibitions by Ângela Ferreira, the solutions adopted in the spaces of Lisbon and Porto will be entirely different.
Together, Delfim Sardo and Jimmie Durham have already selected the third artist who will become part of Reação em Cadeia this year, Elisa Strinna (Padua, 1982). At the end of each year, a book will be released to remember the three interventions of the previous year.