Mirages and Deep Time: Mónica de Miranda at Galeria Avenida da Índia
Nature, identity, body, reflection, river, island. At Galerias Municipais – Galeria Avenida da Índia, Mónica de Miranda presents Mirages and Deep Time, a multimedia exhibition on ecology and communion with nature. And also, black history and identity in the context of Portuguese colonial history, in particular about the black community that inhabited the banks of the Tejo and Sado rivers.
Entering into Galeria Avenida da Índia is refreshing. The green of nature floods our senses and, seconds later, we see the first two characters of the stories told by Mónica de Miranda. They emerge along the exhibition itinerary. Two young girls stand side by side, parallel to our body, staring straight into our eyes. Their clothes look like military uniforms. Are they guerrilla fighters? Next to this photo, we see Mirages (2022), a small ecosystem composed of a tree and natural vegetation, inserted in a parallelepiped made of wood and mosquito net. This natural setting is illuminated by an artificial white light. A mirror inside this structure reflects the interior of this ecosystem and our body. When we walk to another point in the exhibition, we notice the ambient melody in the exhibition venue, sporadically overlapped by other noises and voices. “Our bodies are older than images or words”, we hear.
We continue. Nature looms in a large-format photograph that takes up an entire wall. Deep Green (2022) shows one of the female guerrilla fighters in a dense landscape. The red of her beret stands out amidst the natural green. On this wall, we see another image superimposed: the young guerrilla women together again, sitting on a tree trunk fallen over a river, their legs in the water. Then Play in (2022), a complex installation, whose base is a wooden structure composed of several elements: a mirror, a red curtain and a kind of flowerbed with natural plants. Most of the installations have wheels at the base. They are mobile objects, as if they were made to be in motion. Play in is fantastic, dramatic and theatrical. In Salt Island (2022), we see a long photograph of a riverbank and the huge surrounding vegetation. It is a horizontal, black and white landscape that has the oddity of having been embroidered. With fine lines and different greens, Mónica de Miranda embroidered species of trees and bushes. The threads go beyond the limits of the image, as if the landscape came to life and became three-dimensional.
Flowing between two banks, the rivers of the world have been decisive for the communities that started to live on the banks. They offer water, biodiversity, fertile soil, and a fluid route to other places. On the other hand, it is a spiritual place, one that cleanses and purifies, that promises rebirth and baptises. Mónica de Miranda’s images in this exhibition were captured on the banks of the river Tejo and recapture the memory of black people enslaved in rice cultivation on the rivers Tejo and Sado, between the 15th and 18th centuries. It is something poorly explored by Portuguese historiography, as stated in an article in issue 44 of the scientific journal Diacronie. Studi di Storia Contemporanea:
“The blacks of the Tejo and Sado remain limited to an organic functionalism, as if the historiographical silence legitimated their absence in the history of these rivers. (…) The history we seek may have remained only registered in the socio-environments, transitory and peripheral, of the marshes and swamps. To continue this effort, and based on other studies of rice cultivation in transatlantic contexts, further archaeological (hydraulic systems, agricultural tools, etc.), archaeobotanical (rice seeds, ancestral substrates, etc.) or geophysical (landscape patterns at the surface or subsoil) investigations may clarify rice cultivation during the 15th-18th centuries and formulate new questions about unexplored documentation.” 
Through art, Mónica de Miranda revisits these forgotten and unstudied places. In Tide (2022), a shelf on the wall displays four photographs of time-scarred objects. They look like artefacts and remind us of the importance of archaeologically exploring the banks of the Tejo and Sado. At the back of the gallery, the highlight is The Bath (2022), a diptych showing two women sitting on the riverbank vegetation. They seem the reflection of each other, they look at the landscape and are in communion with it. The title of the work suggests an intimate moment of harmony with the river waters, a fresh and pristine bath in memory of their ancestry. Further on, Lost and found (2022), an installation with five speakers, housed in wooden boxes of different heights. We hear voices, melodies and radio sounds. The words warn about our relationship with the soil, the earth and the climate. The Lunch on the Beach [after Manet] (2022) is a large format photograph divided into six parts. We see in it a lunch by the river between a woman and a man; seated opposite each other at a table, the image contains small still lifes (a radio, flowers and a basket with grapes). The guerrilla women appear one on each side in the edges of the photo, distant from the central characters, but they are part of the landscape, as if protecting the meeting that is taking place at the riverside. This is a wonderful and intimate image. It seems taken from a short story, where we see the extraordinary dimension of the natural landscape in relation to humans. On the other hand, the photograph reclaims the female perspective on art, in a new interpretation of the famous painting Luncheon on the Grass (1863) by Manet.
The exhibition ends with the film A Ilha (2022). We see all the images from the exhibition in movement. The characters acquire a voice, share ideas and doubts, question their place in the world, in the past, present and future. Their lines are poetic, reflective and existential. The connection to the land and soil, physical and spiritual, is clear. They wander the island, mapping with their bodies, exploring the water, vegetation, soil and subsoil. In the film, we see an archaeologist who reminds us of that work Tide (2022). Between fiction and reality, the place we see is a reference to the Portuguese village São Romão do Sádão (Sado), pejoratively called “the Island of the Blacks” between the 17th and 18th century (a term coined by José Leite de Vasconcelos in his work Etnografia Portuguesa). An agricultural map, from the end of the 19th century, underlines the continuous presence of black people near the Sado estuary margins, where some areas were named “Black Village”, “Black Sesmarias”, “Black Fountain” or “Captive’s Quarter”. “Spoils of a past. I will be free because I fight. I fight, I mourn in the fight. Our bodies are older than the images and the words”, we hear.
Mirages and Deep Time shows the cross-disciplinary work of Mónica de Miranda, a Portuguese artist of Angolan origin, in an exhibition about decolonisation and ecology. Between reflection and mirage, the mirror appears as an essential element. We cannot see the exhibition without being confronted with our own image. The artist deals with the spiritual and metaphysical aspects between humans, soil, territory, nature and resources, simultaneously reviving the memory of the black communities that inhabited the Tejo and the Sado rivers.
The exhibition is at Galerias Municipais – Galeria Avenida da Índia until September 25, 2022.
 Carmo, Miguel; Sousa, Joana; Varela, Pedro; Ventura, Ricardo; Bivar, Manuel. “Transferência de conhecimento tecnológico africano em Portugal durante a Modernidade: pessoas escravizadas e cultivo de arroz nos rios Tejo e Sado” (2020) Available in: https://www.buala.org/pt/a-ler/transferencia-de-conhecimento-tecnologico-africano-em-portugal-durante-a-modernidade-pessoas-e