Interview with Isabel Cordovil, now on Umbigo’s cover of the month

Mafalda Ruão interviews Isabel Cordovil, author of the monthly cover of Umbigo’s online edition, exploring a large part of her body of work, the one that materializes an invitation to dialogue and, through the irreverence of her voice, reveals herself as an attempt to respond to the power structures.

Mafalda Ruão – Do you consider yourself an artist with an activist side or do you prefer not to categorize your art?

Isabel Cordovil – I believe that all art is political. This belief is already a category.

MR – I think your work is a response to the current power structures. Do you think it materializes in critical research or can it be, more than this alternative voice, a form of intervention, a trigger for change originating in the art world?

IC – I am not so naïve as to think that art can change anything, except in the individual who is already predisposed to it. My work is perhaps sometimes a statement and an invitation to dialogue about that readiness.

MR – Martin Luther King Jr said it in 1963 “Freedom is sure to be attained by all once we truly get that the freedom that we enjoy must be given to everyone.” I think this was one of the main starting and reference points for Free at Last. Do you believe that, by reproducing alternative images of historical events, we can have a new reality and free ourselves metaphorically from violence and oppression? What is the essential motivation for this work?

IC – This speech (among others within the same struggle) gave rise to ideas for studies of removing bodies from imaginary situations without consent. I was reading Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others and associating all the images that were (extremely sellable) Time magazine covers or the evening news to the productive machinery of “History”, through the repetition of the same images. Propaganda always has an emotional pull, something clear in this case. What I have done is not so much a metaphor for an alternative freedom, but more an attempt to create a glitch in the unbridled reproduction of the same image, where the entities (that have not consented to be landmarks for a narrative discourse in the contemporary “history” of humanity) are no longer there.

MR – In the work Empire Dreams (comfortably defeated), you use simple and powerful metaphors. The work impresses with its raw finesse, its resonant meaning. Is it a symbolic way of expressing your conscious need to numb global imperialism and decolonise narratives of power?

IC – In making this work, I was keener to decolonise my personal narratives; to numb the childish ideas of grandeur or imperial symbols within me. I see this column on the mattress as a coming-of-age work. Anyone who has seen the piece physically knows the crack the marble has (almost unnoticeable in the images). It also pleases me to think that marble is class conscious. But, above all, it is an object that does not comply with its symbolic purpose in the same way that a son has the freedom not to comply with the will of his parents (or his country).

MR – One of your most recent works, entitled Current strongest investments from the Vatican in the stock market, depicts an ecclesiastical cassock with embroidered corporate logos. It is a work that literally stands upright and wordless. I interpret it as a way of pointing out the indifference and abuse of political and economic power by the institutional Church. After the Russian invasion began, the Vatican’s commentary made this even more visible – when the Orthodox Church blessed the violence of Putin’s government, employing rhetoric arguing that war demands seemingly universal responsibility, with the slogan “we are all guilty”. What is this work’s intention? Through artistic interventions, can we open people’s eyes to the varied blindness and devotion in the name of faith and other ideologies?

IC – I was born and raised in a very religious environment. That is evident in some of the works, I think. Growing up, I realized the affinities between political organizations (like the Church) and certain companies, and how it all fed into a system that distributes blessings to one side and pardons to another, in criminal ways (for example: paedophilia, deranged oil drilling, misappropriation of humanitarian funds…). The gesture in this work was simply to give image to these contracts, with the same clarity with which Formula 1 does it. The source for the information was the 2011 Vatileaks.

MR – Your work has a very contextual side to it. We are living in effervescent times, will you share with us your current project?

IC – At the moment I’m putting together my debut exhibition at Uma Lulik, with all my heart. To have the gallery’s support, which gives me a major vote of confidence, is a great privilege. I can say that much of the gesture has focused on the performative object that attempts to document without limiting.

My practice’s great source is dialogue and sharing. I want to invite you to visit the studio I share with the brilliant Rudi Brito, to have a cup of cold tea or a chat about this odd and wonderful thing that is being alive.

Master in Curatorial Studies from the University of Coimbra, and with a degree in Photography from the Portuguese Institute of Photography in Porto, and in Cultural Planning and Management, Mafalda develops her work in the areas of production, communication and activation, within the scope of Photography Festivals and Visual Arts - Encontros da Imagem, in Braga (Portugal) and Fotofestiwal, in Lodz (Poland). She also collaborated with Porto / Post / Doc: Film & Media Festival and Curtas Vila do Conde-Festival Internacional de Cinema. In 2020, and she was one of those responsible for the curatorial project of the exhibition “AEIOU: Os Espacialistas em Pro (ex)cess”, developed at Colégio das Artes, University of Coimbra. As a photographer, she was involved in laboratory projects of analogue photography and educational programs for Silverlab (Porto) and Passos Audiovisuais Associação Cultural (Braga), while dedicating herself to photography in a professional format or, spontaneously, in personal projects.

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