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Homo Kosmos (cough, cough) by Tiago Borges & Yonamine at Galeria Avenida da Índia, Lisbon

The exhibition Homo Kosmos (cough cough), by Tiago Borges (Luanda, 1973) and Yonamine (Luanda, 1975), curated by Tobi Maier, has had an impact on visitors since it opened in July at the Municipal Galleries – Avenida da Índia Gallery. They are symbols of ancient civilizations, of the origin of the world, of a technological age, or an interplanetary world. They are eyes that watch us, they are projected images and videos, the sound of the hungo that marks a rhythm, a repetition, a continuous loop. They are stimuli that influence all the senses and lead us into a trance, translated into feelings that oscillate between anguish and euphoria. An antagonism marked by a vision of what the world is and what we would like it to be.

The collaboration between Tiago Borges and Yonamine is not something new. In 2014, they developed the AfroUFO project at the São Paulo Biennial. Homo Kosmos (cough, cough) continue this collaborative start. It is not by chance that the two artists have encountered each other. Their paths combine common personal stories and experiences, particularly in the Angolan civil war, which they both experienced closely from childhood to adulthood. Forced into exile, confinement and living with countless racist episodes and dire physical and psychological violence, they have built up common thoughts and beliefs at the same time, now translated into their work.

Homo Kosmos (cough, cough) is a single opus, a vision shared by both, between the past and the future. It faces a present dominated by technology and too fast a pace, where discrimination and the destruction of nature are ranked above egalitarianism and the preservation of the natural world. A gesamtkunstwerk which proposes a reflection on issues such as racism and discrimination, the history of post-colonialist Africa, technology, climate issues, the acceleration of the pace of life in an era dominated by capitalism, and the will for a new world, one without prejudice, more self-aware and united.

A rock suspended from the ceiling reflects approximate images of the sea, rivers, land and fields. Natural and living elements, which contrast with the trunks and flowers painted black on the floor and suspended from the ceiling. They are still lifes, associated with the forest devastation caused by fires that this year destroyed much of the Amazon forest. Suddenly, the rock suspended from the ceiling, instead of invoking the beauty of the natural world, resembles a meteorite about to hit and destroy the Earth.

A little further on, we see a “white pig” drawing. Different parts of its body are marked, giving rise to different types of meat for human consumption. Expressions like “pig farming” or “white pig strips” are written on a mural where black was painted white over white that was painted black and so on in a “perpetual loop”. This idea of perpetual repetition of a gesture or action, which afflicts us and revolts us, is reinforced by the sound that Cabuenha, musician and capoeira master, produced for the exhibition. The hungo, musical instrument predecessor of the berimbau, marks a rhythm repeatedly unremitting.

The scars of racism lived in the first person are also represented with figures that float in space, conceived by Yonamine. Klu Klux Klan costumes in transparent plastic personify the ghosts of racism that does not hide and continues to persist. On these figures are projected images of Africa, with personal experiences, factories in operation, people busy in daily life, in a society marked by destructive capitalism, corroding the bodies of these terrifying spectres, about to clash with ours.

Occasionally, something like travel capsules, distributed throughout the gallery, carry us from the past to the future or vice-versa. They appear, on three glass screens, based on wooded structures, which invite us to sit and observe the reflections on their surface. The remaining images in a single plane unite past, present and future.

The exhibition lexicon also includes drawn or projected symbols. Hands with burning fingers, icons of the digital realm, planets, representations that remind us of the DNA molecule. And perhaps one of the most disturbing, a Mickey Mouse, a symbol of modernity, with the key to life in hand, the Egyptian representation associated with fertility and life after death. He laughs maliciously at the fatality of birth in today’s world.

All these representations, in addition to being distributed throughout the gallery, are gathered in a black box, marking the exhibition’s beginning or end. Illuminated by black light, the “hieroglyphs” are adorned by a video that superimposes various images and collages, objects of memories of different times, from the colonialist heritage to the conquest of space. The dark environment reminds us of a cave whose imagery, a symbol of birth, of the maternal womb and place where rituals of initiation normally take place, could be a metaphor of a return to the origins, a passage to another world, to a new cosmos.

In this context, homo cosmos appears, depicted in a small sculpture of the human figure, pierced by nails, screws, syringes, knives, pens, brushes. A clear allusion to the Congolese nkisi sculptures, more specifically to the nkisi nkondi sculptures. They are figures used in rituals, a midpoint between the real world and the supernatural world.

Homo Kosmos (cough cough) is a kind of constellation completed by black stars drawn in chalk, associated with the universe of Chris Ofili’s paintings. A system that builds a kind of African astronomy. An imaginary marked by the desire for a better world, full of “cough, chough” irony, and the expression of a jest.

Homo Kosmos (cough cough) by Tiago Borges and Yonamine, curated by Tobi Maier, is at the Municipal Galleries – Avenida da Índia Gallery until October 4.

Joana Duarte (Lisbon, 1988), architect and curator, lives and works in Lisbon. She concluded her master in architecture at Faculdade de Arquitectura of Universidade de Lisboa in 2011, she attended the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands and did her professional internship in Shanghai, China. She collaborated with several national and international architects and artists developing a practice between architecture and art. In 2018 she founds her own studio, concludes the postgraduate degree in curatorial studies at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas of Universidade Nova de Lisboa and starts collaborating with Umbigo magazine.

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