pov: Odete — “I don’t think Portugal is very aware of History as fiction that is assumed as fact”
pov: | point of view: | starts from the individual to rehearse the collective, attempting to scratch those minutely polished surfaces: of the public life, of the finished work. It is a series of interviews with emerging individualities in art and culture – about some of the most urgent current issues: issues that are increasingly present in the life and work of these figures, going beyond the conventional places of production, mediation and exhibition; social, political, economic, ideological, cultural, identity or environmental issues – in any case, indivisible from today’s causes and struggles. It is a set of uncertain and oblique interviews, guided by the references summoned by these figures: references not only theoretical or literary, but also visual or imagistic – which illustrate their views on Society™ and its deepest strata.
Henrique Machado da Silva – In On Revelations and Muddy Becomings, you argue that the (writing of) History underlies a “political strategy” (e.g., “a definition of colonial violence… as nonviolent”). In Portugal, do you think that a path is being followed to deconstruct the “truth production techniques that benefit certain versions of History, certain groups, certain movements”? In other words, to show them as mechanisms of political instrumentalisation?
Odete – I am not sure if this “revelation” happens as a progress of deconstruction. After all, the multiple writings of History that could happen (and do happen) will always be political instruments. I don’t think Portugal is very aware of History as fiction that is assumed as fact, admitting perversities within the country’s structure that have always eroded it. An example is the Portuguese colonial and “post-colonial” discourses, both stuck in ideas of History that does not see itself as political. For example, a few years ago, in a course at Faculdade de Letras called “Post-Colonial in Portugal”, or something similar, the prevailing narrative assumed a post-colonial period marked by a failed colonisation. Being poor, Portugal did not impose itself like the British or Spanish Empires, “miscegenating” with the colonized (as the professors used to say). And I don’t even know if I answered your question. I just want to say that Portugal lacks everything, especially creativity and plurality in the management of the discourses of trauma.
HMS – There is a certain tendency to contextualize prejudice(s) from an individual perspective (e.g., the rotten apple argument, the #NotAllMen discourse, etc.), which fails to consider the structural dimension of the issue(s). How do you see the role of education – the school, in specific – in the legitimisation and reproduction of the “history of the winners”?
O – How do I see it? Can I say anything other than that school and education are fundamental factors in the reproduction of this “history”? From childhood we absorb the structures of the world, allowing them to mould the structures of our still-soft brains. It is at school that we must imagine other pasts and futures. Colleges (and artist colleges especially) should prepare people for the various realities that exist and might exist. I constantly see new artists saying “not all cops are bastards” and #NotAllMen, without understanding how this is a historical/activist strategy of writing reality with goals of liberation and equality. But maybe expectations can’t be high when our institutions don’t do their job. I always feel bad “blaming” individual people, when the rot is in the structure itself. This should be a joint effort.
HMS – You even wonder about the “history of the losers”. How might new constructions about the past subvert power relations that have made them invisible?
O – By saying, for example, that they are not “losers”. By creating histories based on evidence, archaeological remains, documents, etc., that rethink the categories in which we place each narrative. In that interview, I purposely used “history of the winners” and “history of the losers” [with Elisabete Sá, for maat ext.], almost to see if anyone noticed how I was already creating narratives a priori. History is a set of objects, things, statements, words, silences, landscapes – and that should be no more than a territory we could claim as our own. The idea of a historical fact serves a thousand different things – and one of the priorities should be to heal the wounds of this world. Why know things about Marquês de Pombal? I don’t give a shit. I want to hear the story of Pedro Furtado, Estevão Cobra Luís, among others. Reconstructing the past, always being aware that what we do is almost sci-fi in reverse… we will always have a way of rethinking the world without rigid structures that determine who deserves to be remembered and who does not. But we have to start somewhere – if we have to fill the silences with lies: let’s do it.
HMS – There is a work of “excavation” that needs to be done – that will sustain (or not) these other narratives, these new fictions. Can you tell us about some of the figures that have inspired you the most in these last years: Pedro Furtado, Estevão Cobra Luís…?
O – Pedro Furtado and Estevão Cobra Luís are names that I found in my research in the online archive of Torre do Tombo. They are people judged by the Portuguese Inquisition and accused of witchcraft, sodomy and pacts with the devil to alter their bodies. Pedro Furtado would have made a pact to become a woman, for example. Estevão Cobra Luís would have been a black person who prostituted dressed as a woman, anyway. These are always people who called into question gender corporality and, above all, black people considered to be “free slaves”, accused of magic and gender insubordination. It is a work that I feel should be done in Portugal more profoundly and, as I am not a historian nor can I freely access Torre do Tombo, there is always something missing. But Portugal owes a lot to a lot of people: and this work of exploring the archives and recovering a history of the black and trans body (let’s put it that way), which was apparently vital to the history of the Inquisition… should be a priority. Not least because trans history is constantly whitewashed.
But we know little about these figures, beyond what we find in the files. So I’ve been creating stories out of those that I feel I can work with, honour their names, pass them on to other people, I don’t know. I also feel that I have only fragments in my hands.
HMS – When attention is focused on the curricula of Citizenship and Development, or even History, the vandalization of certain statues or the eventual return of certain pieces of museum collections to their territories of origin (former colonies), reactionary voices show great hostility. Given the progress in these areas, will these voices become more violent or subject to obsolescence?
O – Are you asking me to prophesize? kssksksksk Unfortunately I don’t have the ability of a seer. Even though I think you should keep this question in the interview, I’m not the best person to answer. I refuse to make prophecies about realities I don’t know. But one day we can talk to someone who can, who knows.
HMS – Going back a bit: you were telling us about some personal experiences (e.g. the “Post-Colonial in Portugal” course or #NotAllMen and the rejection of ACAB by the youngest generation of artists). We usually see art, music or academia as privileged places for the testing of possibilities and the construction of alternatives, open to plurality, theoretically attached to progress. Considering your experience, does this happen in these three fields? How are these ideas reflected in practice?
O – Well, I don’t want to generalise too much. The multiple realities and contexts of art are not a single coinciding and congruent voice. These three fields are quite different and, most of the time, very limited by their institutional contexts. I think there is a conceptualisation that is disconnected from an active political practice, but I can’t get an overview of everyone’s work concerning the task of combining that practice with ideas. What I feel is that art institutions have greater responsibilities than any of us in managing that practice, in generating actions too, in making choices. And, from what I see, most institutions are extremely far from that.