Rita GT or the significance of remembering/forgetting

As a Portuguese, white and privileged woman, living in the postcolonial era, Rita GT, currently residing between Viana do Castelo and Luanda, theorizes and develops her artistic effort. A consistent and recognizable body of work that materializes itself in the simultaneous use of different media: from sculpture to photography, video and, inevitable, performance.

The exhibition (Re)membering / (For)getting, at Galeria Belo-Galsterer is a reflection on that, the sort of multiplicity that the artist uses to fuse a discourse based on a feminist, non-conformist, politically committed standpoint, advocating particularly for the need to revise colonial history – focusing on the intricacies of Portuguese imperialism. This historical revision, in Rita GT’s eyes, is not only essential, but also a propelling force for the rewriting of national colonialism. The discourses of power, elaborated, diffused and imposed by western and white men, with a paternalistic and ethnocentric basis, must be replaced by other narratives: those brought by the enslaved, oppressed and forgotten, making visible all those who history has decided to conceal, women included.

The set of unprecedented works now presented by Rita GT, curated by the Zimbabwean George Shire, has in ceramics a common denominator, which surpasses the materiality of the works summoned or integrate by it, in a more or less explicit way (like the sculptures, together with other materials such as rope, wood or plastic). All the pieces on display, sculptures, photographs and video, were produced in the same place: a deactivated ceramic factory, located in Viana do Castelo, which the artist visited about three years ago, and where she has temporarily established her studio. Rita GT went even further in the recovering process of ceramics, something that Shire associated with female writing history. The artist literally appropriated some of the pieces that, being 20, 30 or 40 years old, loaded with memories and meanings, had fallen into oblivion in that the old factory. She rescued, recycled and gave them a new life by integrating those into some of her sculptural compositions, namely Mulheres Vudu. This work is a set of white dolls, arranged on top of a ladder (also taken from the same place), with black paint running down their faces, something added by the artist. It is not a racial issue; the use of black paint suggests instead the act of burning and, as a consequence, rebirth. Also in this work, the transparent plastic armbands that partially cover the bodies of these dolls/women must also be highlighted, pointing out to the imprisonment and the need for liberation, as well as the strength that results from the union between women.

By rescuing, from a critical standpoint, ancestral techniques, materialized in ornamental and utilitarian pieces – thus associated with crafts – Rita GT wants to challenge the stalled compartmentalization between art and crafts, structuring the relationship between both in a hierarchy that privileges the former over the latter. The artist extends the battle fought by the Arts & Crafts movement, taking it to the realm of postcolonial studies, and approaching it from the point that considers it to be an exclusively Western/European classification; in Africa, for instance, the notion of “utilitarian art” does not exist. Another struggle is to continue to develop an all-embracing artistic exercise, a concern materialized in one of her side-projects – Escola ao Lado – with an itinerant character, which implies a strong cooperation with the community of which it is part.

On the inauguration day, Rita GT presented a performance where she carried a pile of dishes, which she promptly destroyed by throwing it to the ground (debris as a memory of the performance remain on gallery’s floor). The act of destroying should not be understood as an evocation of the end, but rather as a revitalizing, enhancing process of rescue (of memories, specifically) and rebirth. Sometimes, one should remember that cycles are never definitively closed, it is necessary to exhibit, to deconstruct, to break, to shatter and then, from the fragments, initiate new narratives. Narratives that, albeit not neglecting the past, metamorphose themselves in contemporaneity.

Cristina Campos has a University Degree in Modern and Contemporary History, as well as two Post-graduate Degrees, one in Cultural Management and another in Journalism. She was a founder, coordinater and writer for Artecapital magazine. She was the main writer at Artes & Leilões magazine and a correspondent for Arte y Parte magazine. She currently works as a cultural mediator, mostly in Calouste Gulbenkian Museum.

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