Interferências at MAAT

When we enter, we see hanging cloths from the ceiling as if they were tapestries. They prevent us from entering, forcing us to swerve or duck. We cannot avoid them – and neither can we avoid the voices we hear, the hidden and marginalized contexts, the urban cultures interfering with the imposed norm, broken here into pieces. The cloths show us photographs and stills – the red CP train on the Sintra line (which I used to be writing this), the automatic access gates to the train station, a tunnel, a night scene. Composed of two translucent layers, we can subtly see the messages on the back, like tattoos, graffiti, marks on the skin of the image. We read deconstructions, reinterpretations of the national anthem in Cape Verdean Creole and graffitied lyrics, vivid, variations under Hinu digra .. by Tristany, preamble to his first record. We hear it softly in the installation. The train departs from here.

We start with the Carnation Revolution: we see projected photographs, men with guns on their shoulders. It’s the background to the liberation of the former Portuguese colonies, alongside Gonçalo Mabunda’s sculptural geometrizations composed of disused weapons. Ana Hatherly’s Revolução is on an antique, cubic TV – whose presence is conspicuous in the show’s videos – a Godardian exercise composed of the noisy montage of posters and voices, which captures the urban, affirmative euphoria of recent revolutionary progress. In this first section, there is also the mural of Galeria de Arte Moderna, made on June 10, 1974 (temporarily reformulated outside Central Tejo). On the one hand, through the video account of its execution; on the other hand, through Julião Sarmento’s photographs documenting the unfortunate fire that destroyed the gallery in 1981. A mural that was proof of liberation and then of exclusion, just like the narratives told here. The text of this section ends by evoking the “contract workers” from Cape Verde, who then actively recreated the city of Lisbon, whose story we began to hear at that moment.

We head in that direction. We see excerpts from an article in the vanished Jornal Independente, published in 1993. There is an overblown and prejudiced caricature of groups of young black men from the Southern Bank of the Tagus and the Sintra region, divided into gang categories, such as Zulus, Raps and Black Boys, deemed responsible for the crimes in those areas. Alongside, we see documents that counter these generalisations, and the very interesting documentary Tá-se bem Geraçon Rap contextualises these peripheral worlds, exploring hip-hop as an emancipatory agent of these new peripheries. We highlight Filipa Bousset’s installation Mankaka Kadi Konka Ko, divided into three sets: a pile of books on the floor, dirty, painted, used; a black bed frame, with nothing on it, on whose bedspread are sewn portraits of children, sayings, fabrics as if they were marks; a painting of a person dressed in a black cloak, in a fetal position, whose pillow is the only trace of colour. We see a reinterpretation of experiences, which is evocative and almost diaristic. Also surprising is Fidel Évora’s Dispidida, dedicated to Alcindo Monteiro’s memory. A screen within a frame, as if it were a painting, is confused at first sight with the two dramatic, but almost mathematical silkscreens flanking it.

We pass from the social to the urban layout. The coldness and rigour of Casa Portuguesa by Mónica de Miranda is paradoxically one of the most empathetic works in the show – it recalls the idealised concept of “Casa Portuguesa” proposed by Raul Lino, based on noble and bourgeois contexts defined by manor houses and stately homes. The artist shows sincere archetypes of the Portuguese house, the rural, urban or peripheral dwellings that we see daily in the country’s housing landscape. She dignifies them, moving from photography to mock-ups, assigning them a pattern as if they were ambitious architectural projects. Opposite is another unreal and cartoonish maquette: Pontu de Vista by Sepher Awk, an artist from the Unidigrazz collective, responsible for the exhibition’s initial installation. Pontu de Vistatakes us out of the exhibition’s documentary side and puts us into a subjective imagination.

The collective’s works are the show’s highlight. Perhaps the central nucleus helps with that. It is open, but also isolated from the sides, like a capsule, where the works are presented. This isolation seems to have justification in the urban-onyric imagination, far from almost everything we see on display. We had already seen their works in Linha Imaginária, the beautiful and almost premonitory exhibition at the end of last year, at Museu das Artes de Sintra. Their naturalness among the country’s cultural references, twisting them into a direct, ironic, almost surreal imaginary, but always detectable to the most different spectators, immediately attracts us. We have the old wooden cabinet with napkins on the shelves, a replica of our grandmothers’ furniture. But there are also the two small paintings by Sepher Awk, Dias de ouru and noites de prata, displaced and post-ironic, leading us into the room. We also highlight the seal compositions by Onun Trigueiros, especially Batota, a nocturnal creation, bluish on tile, in a convivial setting. Or the work of Rappepa bedju tempu, using the same material in a three-dimensional format. We quickly read Fuck Tha Policia. We leave with the emotive intimacy of Diogo Gazella Carvalho’s work and his monumental Mamã.

On the right hand side and behind this nucleus, we enter a grey area of the exhibition. We see Fluor Scent by OBEY Sktr, a painting under the museum wall, as if it were graffiti transposed to an asserted setting. In this case, institutionalisation seems to have defined the work’s formal decisions, in a technically impressive but overly premeditated composition. We do not feel the expressive and impulsive urgency of the pictorial medium. Marta Soares’ huge paintings, just across the way, look like walls eroded with traces of posters, in a dialogue with the earlier graffiti. But they add little to the exhibition’s narrative, except for an abstract formal suggestion, too similar to Vhils’ ideas (curiously, without using his pseudonym, Alexandre Farto intervened in the show as curator).

There are photographs along the way, as if they were testimonies of the communities in this peripheral city. In Retrata-me, Diogo VII creates a mirror of the cultural diversity of the neighbourhoods of Quinta do Loureiro, Casal da Boba and Pendão. Marta Pina presents in 25 photographs the artists of the music label Príncipe Discos, key agents for the international spreading of an African cultural identity of the Lisbon suburbs. Abdel Queta Tavares’ works show yet another more ostentatious connection, with portraits of women and men – unnatural, looking like models – on a mostly poor background. But the colours are vivid, creating compositions typical of the fashion realm. In a smart curatorial decision, there are also portraits in music videos in Cape Verdean Creole throughout the exhibition, trying to fit in with the exhibition nuclei. We must praise this multidisciplinary option, which uses all artistic means in the exhibition, attempting at all times to emphasise individuality as a fundamental element in the narrative’s identity. But I point out a flaw: the excessive overlapping sound between video clips. Next to each other, they are practically a cacophony. Premeditated or not, it would have been better to watch them with greater ease and attention.

The exhibition ends with Padrão, one about how the Padrão dos Descobrimentos may have reflected the transformations and experiences in the city of Lisbon after the Carnation Revolution. We see resonant and conclusive images: in a photograph by Alfredo Cunha from 1975, a symbolic mark of the beginning of Portugal’s decolonisation process, we see containers with the belongings of the Portuguese who had returned from Angola. They seem to magically dialogue with the ramps of Cottinelli Telmo’s monument. Next to it, in an eye-catching vertical photograph, we see individuals we associate with the suburban context. They pose in front of the statues of the Portuguese navigators from this monument, where the weight of the stone crushes their human sizes. But they look happy and confrontational, telling us that they are also part of this nation.

We are left with Rod’s Pink Flag. We finally read: “It wasn’t Discovery, it was Slaughter”. Two months after the opening of an exhibition with such urgency, it is sad to see that, just over a kilometre from this site, the Royal Treasury Museum, inaugurated with much pomposity, refuses to problematise and contextualise these issues, despite having a collection quite related to them. We still have so much to learn. Fortunately, we have this first great exhibition, an unavoidable testimony and perhaps the first of further interferences.

Interferences is at MAAT until September 5.

Miguel Pinto (Lisbon, 2000) is graduated in Art History by NOVA/FCSH and made his internship at the National Museum of Azulejo. He has participated in the research project VEST - Vestir a corte: traje, género e identidade(s) at the Humanities Centre of the same institution. He has created and is running the project Parte da Arte, which tries to investigate the artistic scene in Portugal through video essays.

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