António Ole, the current past

The CAM Collection includes an installation by Angolan artist António Ole that combines various elements, materials and techniques. Find out the story behind this artwork.
António Ole, 'Hidden Pages, Stolen Bodies', 1996-2001. Inv. 16E1823

António Ole (1951) was born António Oliveira in Luanda, but spent his primary school years living in Maiorca, near Coimbra, the native village of his paternal grandparents. His first artistic memories are of this village and it is where he began to practice drawing. Returning to Luanda, he continued his studies at the Liceu Salvador Correia.

Ole is an Angolan artist whose work stems from his journeys and discoveries, inspired by his location at any given moment. The influence of geography began at an early age, when he already showed an interest in the rupture and ambiguity that are so characteristic in his work and are reflected in the installation Hidden Pages, Stolen Bodies. The installation approaches a more sombre past: it tells the untold story of lives marked by forced labour under colonial rule in the late 20th century.

 

António Ole, «Hidden Pages, Stolen Bodies», 1996-2001. Inv. 16E1823
António Ole, «Hidden Pages, Stolen Bodies», 1996-2001. Inv. 16E1823

 

The images and objects of this work are not associated with specific individuals: they are bodies without a face, without an identity, representing society’s lack of memory in relation to an unknown and anonymous past. The found objects function as relics, a kind of ‘anti-memory,’[1] that contrasts with touristic memories recalling happy times. An example of this is the presence of a basin, a common element in his work, alluding to the constant lack of water in his house. For years, Ole kept a basin under the taps to make sure he caught every drop of water when the supply was resumed during the night, at which point the artist would get up and sleepily use the same basin to fill a larger canister. These real-life elements give us a glimpse of the artist’s existence in a city at war, his art reflecting an idea of survival.

These objects incorporate a troubled history, initiating a process of remembrance as material remains of the past, forming a new physical archive.

 

António Ole, «Hidden Pages, Stolen Bodies», 1996-2001. Inv. 16E1823

 

In Hidden Pages, Stolen Bodies, the artist combines his own films with found objects, their origins unidentified, and photographs that are copies of documents from the city archive of Benguela – indexes of names, maps and photographs – mostly referring to the port of Benguela (which was one of the main embarkation points for Portuguese ships on the transatlantic slave route, towards both the Americas and Europe).

António Ole brings this material together without any hierarchy, imagining a new idea of the archive and making possible alternative ways of writing history. The found objects tell of daily life and forgotten biographies, thus gaining the same value as the materials from the official archive, which are also ignored and forgotten.

 

 

This installation shows the artist’s intention to use art as a form of cultural memory instead of a political weapon, demonstrating another facet of the artist’s interests: inquiry and investigation into forced labour and slavery, which have had a significant influence on his installations since the 1990s.

 

Cláudia Lopes
Historian and researcher of contemporary art


[1] Nadine Siegert, ‘The archive as construction site: collective memory and trauma in contemporary art from Angola,’ World Art, 2016, pp. 103-123.

Updated on 28 march 2022

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