URDI: An affectionate event

The vibrant colours, the warm atmosphere, and the kind and friendly people inspire a sense of homeliness. There are acacia trees everywhere, enormous and mature, with countless birds hopping from branch to branch and pollinating bees.

Mindelo is definitely a musical city, quiet and yet endowed with an infectious energy. I felt very much at home.

Mindelo’s city centre is converted over five days to host art, design and handicrafts. Creators and artisans present their work and share their knowledge with young people, establishing foundations to safeguard identity and build memory and know-how, during an event entitled URDI. Urdi, from the Portuguese verb urdir; which can be roughly translated into weaving, celebrating Cape Verdean art and culture. From concerts to large-scale talks that are ultimately turned into a book and whose theme this year was Emigração na Poética das Ilhas (Emigration in the Poetics of the Islands), URDI is not just about the fair and involves a whole dynamic throughout the city and the country. Several speakers were invited to take the floor, not only from Cape Verde but also from different parts of the world, with expertise in the topics under discussion on the important issues surrounding emigration, vital in a territory like Cape Verde, whose population is largely unsettled and where people are constantly coming and going.

URDI also features an exhibition charting three venues in the city; an artist’s residency that becomes an exhibition; the Urdi Júnior exhibition and the 6.1 exhibition, a retrospective of the design competition, on display in several shop windows in the city, aimed at broadening the visibility of the work done daily at Centro Nacional de Arte, Artesanato e Design (CNAD). This whole dynamic encourages and fosters the artistic creation which is so unique to São Vicente: the last island to be populated, mostly by people from Santo Antão and São Nicolau. “The settlement started when the British found the Porto Grande bay and turned it into a coal trading post, causing ships to dock there on their transatlantic crossings to stock up on coal. Mindelo has a very different background, given the strong English cultural influence. It is characterised by its film and photographic scene and by cricket and golf in an area called Mato Inglês. All of this means that the São Vicente island will enjoy a cosmopolitan experience, with a cultural and intellectual dynamic that is not so prevalent on the other islands, since they have not had the same geographical, social and economic structure,” revealed Artur Marçal, CNAD director.

Making room for a dialogue between the Minister of Culture Abraão Vicente, Artur Marçal and the choreographer António Tavares (director of Centro Cultural do Mindelo – CCM), the whole event is thought out in such a way as to not only reach the archipelago’s different islands, but also a whole international stage of players and spectators who travel to Mindelo every year to watch and be part of URDI. “As the CCM director and an island resident, I now feel, on the occasion of URDI’s eighth anniversary, that this event is already a landmark in the city, in contemporary thinking and is also leading the way on this island and country. I draw an analogy between the island and a game of pool. And pool, in this case, has different balls and different levels of playing. São Vicente, then, acts as the ‘cue ball island’, touching the other islands, triggering the new and becoming very important in contaminating the archipelago. All 22 municipalities take part in URDI and, as regular participants, are proud to take part. We can feel the results of our actions through their direct response, in work that is becoming more and more consistent. We have managed to establish a line that emphasises the notion of contemporary, Afro-contemporary thinking, which is being contested in all the cities, but we were not expecting that, from such a low-key event, with few resources, we could achieve such an international footprint,” António Tavares pointed out.

As part of a proposal to knock down the walls and open up the courtyard to the city, in dialogue with Casa Senador Vera Cruz, the CNAD building (the central venue for URDI) was designed by Ramos Castellano Arquitectos. The architects applied a plethora of colourful can lids to give the building a second skin, making it iconic in the city and the country. Using these lids reflects Cape Verde’s reality and identity, since this is how most products, such as clothes, food and other items, reach them. The same lids reveal a score composed by Cape Verdean musician Vasco Martins, in which each colour is a musical note.

Now an architectural landmark in the city for the way it shapes the landscape, the CNAD is a socialising and bonding venue whose origins date back to 1976 through the hands of artists Manuel Figueira, Luísa Queirós and Bela Duarte when they founded Cooperativa Resistência. Ever since its creation, young artists and master craftspeople from all over the islands have come together in the same place, sharing a common ground of knowledge between art, crafts and design. “We are carrying on with the project naturally and adopting a more contemporary outlook. Considering that the 70s and 80s are not the same as the challenges of today, we have to both anchor the roots of handicrafts and popular culture and also try to be innovative from a formal perspective. This is why URDI and the artistic residency are aimed at facilitating these experiences and knowledge exchanges, creating opportunities for sharing between different creators, craftspeople and artists,” said Artur Marçal.

“Batik is like weaving, a chance to tell stories through the poetics of the image.” – Marcelino Santos

Um Teatro do Mundo is the name given to a three-week Batik residency exhibition that combines the final work of four master artisans (Manuel Fortes, Marcelino Santos, Sota – Saturnino Coronel and Wagane Guéye) and three aspiring future masters (Risilene Fortes, Karine Patrício and Petra Preta – Sara Fonseca). They worked side by side throughout the residency to learn, teach and develop, using ancestral batik techniques, a depiction of the predefined concept of “(e)migration”, resulting in a unique end effect in each creator’s interpretation. Carlos Noronha Feio, the exhibition’s curator, monitored the work up close, sharing impressions with the different participants with a perspective of understanding their motivations, ideas and formalisation so as to design the exhibition’s curatorial concept and all the scenery surrounding it in one of the CCM’s rooms.

Although an ancient printing or dyeing technique that has been used around the world for centuries, in Cape Verde it was only introduced in the early 1980s and developed by using a paste of flour, lime and water, while in other regions the material used is mainly wax, as in the Senegalese case, where Wagane Guéye comes from. The artist and curator arrived in Mindelo not only to learn the Cape Verdean technique, but also to share his knowledge of wax batik production. This exchange of know-how and the selflessness with which one learns and teaches led Marcelino Santos, a master craftsman who was instrumental in introducing the batik technique to São Vicente, to join the residency to teach and learn from Guéye. He said: “Batik is like weaving, a chance to tell stories through the poetics of the image”.

The exhibition rationale came from the technique itself, first showing a glimpse of the world’s theatre with a set designed especially for the exhibition. A large black curtain refers to a stage, which is where most of the pieces made during the residency are housed. The others, hanging from the ceiling, are floating in space, creating a whole exhibition dialectic of circularity and work immersion, an intimate way of observing art from different perspectives. “We needed to accommodate all these highly varied works and yet at the same time give them a sense of consistency, creating an atmosphere to show that this ancient technique is also one that can be used in the arts,” Noronha Feio says. Two works by Manuel Figueira and João Fortes (from the CNAD collection) are kept separate in another dimly lit room due to conservation issues, as a tribute to the first and second generations of master craftsmen. “We are paying this tribute because, if we are dealing with the idea of emigration and the fact that the technique itself migrated to the archipelago, we must not miss the opportunity to display what was accomplished by the first generations. I felt it was essential to show people who are now producing the work of these masters, as it is extremely important to remember that one should not fall into the trap of simplifying a technique once it has reached such a peak in its ability.” As he wrote in the exhibition’s curatorial text, “Um teatro do mundo is a place where, by interpreting ‘(e)migration’, the stories and histories travelling with us are recounted and documented in different languages, from graphic design to music.”

Pasárgada by Irineu Destourelles

Showcased in three different venues – Gare Marítima do Mindelo, Museu do Mar and Centro Cultural do Mindelo – Irineu Destourelles’ Pasárgada displays the artist’s ongoing reflective process on the experience of existing as a black, Creole, African and immigrant in cities such as Lisbon, London and Glasgow, where he has lived since the age of four.

The exhibition eventually maps out the city, and everyone who gets on or off the boat linking São Vicente to the other islands at Gare Marítima witnesses and is confronted with the work Simultaneously Self-Caressing and Self Punishing, a series of performative actions filmed on video between 2005 and 2006. This video performance, where the artist fondles one part of his face while attacking the other, is punctuated by the sound of people reacting to the character’s self-inflicted aggression with clapping, laughter or comments. The artist’s work reflects on Franz Fanon’s writing about the psychic universe of the colonised and ex-colonised when faced with the coloniser’s culture.

The slow motion video Image of an Outsider with Popular Songs and Other Popular Sounds on the top floor of Museu do Mar features a photograph of the artist as a child in a primary school on the outskirts of Lisbon. The video initially reveals a child whose sweet, naive expression turns diabolical over the course of a few minutes. The manipulated image stems from a recollection of his childhood, part of which was great, but part of which was also troubling, “as I came to realise, when I moved to Lisbon, that I was a different child because I was black.” The next stop is Centro Cultural do Mindelo, where a work from CAM – Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian’s collection is on display: Several Ways of Falling Ordered Differently shows an image with 35 sequences also reflecting his experience of living in Portugal. Registered in his father’s vegetable garden, they depict several of the artist’s falls, arranged in different orders. The room leaflet mentions that “this is a place for exercising memory, which his father has used to grow the tropical vegetables he planted and ate during his younger years in Cape Verde”. Destourelles’ body of work is both timeless and self-referential, reflecting on identity, ambiguity, exclusion and inclusion, ultimately producing videos of a personal nature, even if the creative process is fairly abstract. The strong aesthetic element means that these works can live on their own. The artist says, “the videos can live independently of me and this is a hallmark of my work, keeping the narrative open and allowing the viewer freedom of perception”.

CNAD as an Exhibition, Research and Investigation Centre

With its important library and its research and investigation branch theorising about the different topics related to Cape Verdean art and culture, CNAD is also an exhibition site currently honouring its founding artists. It has recently concluded the exhibition Ilha em IV Atos, on the artist Luísa Queiroz, curated by Irlando Ferreira, and inaugurated the exhibition Manuel Figueira – Desenhar a Resistência on December 14, curated by Paula Nascimento and Ângelo Lopes. This will be succeeded by the exhibition on Bela Duarte, curated by António Pinto Ribeiro, to open in April.

The project is conceived from the city of Mindelo, but with eyes fixed on the world, endeavouring to present what they do internationally and, at the same time, welcome what the world has to offer. “This is why we do these exchanges with people who come and share their knowledge with us and, from our side, the opportunity to take what is made here to other places,” Artur Marçal reveals. Some examples include an exhibition by Master Marcelino soon to open in a museum in Portugal, or the Arkipélag! exhibition by the artist Carlos Noronha Feio, soon to travel to Lagos in Nigeria. And life goes on in this way, often “not to the extent that we would have wished, but within the limits of our human, intellectual and, above all, financial abilities. If we fail to dream and dare, then nothing will be possible. All this sharing has led us to build a web of partners and friends. We have never stopped doing any project and we do so because we see this work as a mission. As Manuel Figueira said: ‘we must be prepared to meet the needs of our nation’.”

And so we have left Mindelo with an overwhelming urge to build projects and exchanges, and a backpack crammed full of Cape Verdean music and authors to keep the island’s spirit in our minds until our next visit. As we mentioned at the end of Umbigo’s launch on the CNAD terrace: next year, same time, in Santo Antão!

Elsa studied journalism and over the years has taken several contemporary art courses, including Themes in the History of 20th Century Art (Fundação Serralves), a Curatorial workshop at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Lisbon, Aesthetics (Ar.Co) and History of Photography at the same Institution and a Postgraduate Degree in Curating at the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. She is a founding member and director of Umbigo magazine, created in 2002, with which she developed several curatorial projects, including the exhibition "Entre Limite e a Audácia" by Miguel Palma at the Fábulas gallery, "The Difference" by Andrea Splisgar at the Palácio de Santa Catarina, the exhibition "Pieces and Parts" at Plataforma Revólver, Lisbon, "Pierre Barbrel – Dissociation" at Espaço Camões da Sá da Costa, "Robe de contact (lys)" by artist Jean François-Krebs at Galeria Sá da Costa. In 2023 she curated the exhibitions "Unwinding" by Theodore Ereira-Guyer and Sam Llewellyn-Jones at Galeria Sá da Costa and "A Face is a Mask..." by Pedro Valdez Cardoso at Brotéria. She was jury and curator of the Contemporary Jewelry Exhibition "On the Other Hand", commemorating the 5th anniversary of PIN (Portuguese Association of Contemporary Jewelry), at Galeria Reverso (Lisbon), Galeria Adorna Corações (Porto) and at the Gray Area Symposium at Galeria Medellein ( Mexico City). In 2018 she was a jury for the ENSA Arte award in Luanda. Also for Umbigo magazine, she coordinated the edition of the book "Coordenadas do Corpo na Arte Contemporânea", a collection that brings together an essay by Bárbara Coutinho and several artistic works, many of them developed specifically for the book, in a set of works that represent a small sample of the concerns philosophical and aesthetic ideas of a group of artists. In 2018, together with António Néu (art director of Umbigo magazine), she created the UmbigoLAB Platform, a networking network for artists that promotes synergy between them and agents in the field (curators, museum directors, gallerists, collectors and institutions).

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