In conversation with António Ole

(Extratcts from the interview published in the exhibition catalogue)
By: Isabel Carlos

Isabel Carlos (IC): Perhaps we should begin with the title of the exhibition. It’s three cities, which in a sense represent your geography.
António Ole (AO): Yes, exactly. This triangle: Luanda, Los Angeles, Lisbon.


IC: The feeling I have – and you can tell me if I’m right or not – is that until you went to Los Angeles, what you were looking at and what you were in dialogue with was above all European art, Pop Art, Surrealism… In Los Angeles, it seems to me, looking chronologically at your works, you suddenly find your Africanness.
AO: It’s true. That’s right!


IC: Why Los Angeles?
AO: I started very young, for family reasons but also because of my drawing teacher at secondary school, Eduardo Zinc, who was passionate about Cubism. When I was 16 I was very influenced by Picasso and I tried to imitate the Cubists. When 25 April 1974 came [the end of the dictatorship in Portugal], I had the feeling that I should try to take a break from painting and what I had being doing up till then. Although I had produced numerous covers and illustrations for books by Angolan authors.


IC: One of the things that seems obvious to me in your work is the way that you’ve never adopted either one form of expression or one support. What I mean is that you’ve tried out every kind of support, you’ve explored every form of expression.
AO: To an extent, this is also because I didn’t study fine art. I always felt that, even though I’d drawn my whole life, studying fine art would have been useful to me from the point of view of drawing well, disciplining my drawing, my way of looking, the history of art. But because I didn’t, I felt this freedom to get on with things. And when you talk about the cities: in Luanda I was influenced by all of western art – the modernists, contemporary artists, all of this was a great discovery for me. But when I got to Los Angeles, it was a period where I was more involved in cinema, in filmmaking. I worked as an assistant to various filmmakers. […] I’m a product of African and European culture, and Africanness has really played a part in my development. The long holidays we spent in the bush, in the south of Angola in Caimbambo, Cubal, the contact with these great African expanses had a profound impact on me. […]
When you’re far from your place of origin, thought is very fertile. Everything becomes clearer, and at the same time I was also on an interesting course, a programme of African studies in the film department at UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles]. […]
When I was at secondary school, what I wanted to do as a job was to be an architect. Architecture was my obsession, and I was interested in that architecture of poor neighbourhoods, made of tin, and I ended doing a photographic project, long before 25 April and Angolan independence. I went about with my camera specifically to make portraits of anonymous people and also to photograph the patchwork of the intersections of salvaged materials; a piece of wood here, a piece of metal there to make shacks. […] As Luandino Vieira said, there was a wisdom in that Babylon of volumes and I started to gather materials thrown out by society, offcuts of wood, pieces of tin, and to make my assemblages, which were also a way of raising the awareness of people who go to museums and exhibitions, because otherwise this reality passes them by. […]

The assemblages were accompanied by the photographs of all these anonymous individuals, the people who live in the musseques and who aren’t really of interest to the media.
Before the war, Luanda had 700,000 inhabitants. Now it has nearly 7 million. So it was really difficult because the fratricidal war that lasted 30 years brought people from every province of Angola and they converged on Luanda. Because, as Ruy Duarte de Carvalho put it, Luanda was where the phone rang. […]

António Ole is my artistic name because when I was younger, in my first exhibitions, I thought that António Oliveira was too much like António de Oliveira Salazar, and so I took a few letters off Oliveira and was left with Ole. […]


IC: I’d like now to focus more on your works and themes: the island, the sea, the city, architecture, walls. All these themes always have, more or less explicitly, a kind of social criticism, or perhaps the word critical isn’t the most apposite, it’s more of a social conscience.
AO: A social conscience, that’s it. You started by talking about the sea, the islands. I’m a pure Caluanda, as they say over there.


IC: Caluanda?
AO: Caluanda is someone from Luanda, and the proximity of the sea is so intense, and this proximity is so vital for my body, for my equilibrium. […] And naturally that proximity and relationship became very evident. I have routines, and one of them at that time was to always take a plastic bag and to gather things as I walked along the beaches, along the shore. There are things that the sea sometimes washes up that inspire me…You take the pieces, little bits of things, a bone, a shell and when I take this to my studio I get motivated and inspired for things that I don’t always understand, but these objects, these collections inspire works in me in a reallycomplexway. […]

The sea really has a tremendous force. I’ve even filmed images. Hidden Pages, for example, is a work that is also very much linked to the sea and to water. For many years I’ve been interested in exploring something that people are reluctant to talk about or to remember. In the United States in particular people are very reluctant to talk about the issue.


IC: The issue is slavery.
AO: Slavery, forced labour. I sensed that they didn’t want to deal with that. It was like they wanted to forget the past and for me forgetting is a terrible thing, because I think it’s better for us to remember these issues and to talk about them in order to approach the future in a new way.


IC: The worst racism is probably to not talk about racism.
AO: Definitely. And so when I went back to Angola, I started this project. Even in my own country it wasn’t talked about much. Still less in Portugal because it’s an issue that is somehow taboo. I’m aware that Lisbon was one of the most African cities in the whole of Europe. […]

Updated on 09 october 2016

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