The Debrief is Foreign Agent's interview series. In this issue, RitaGT tells us all about the importance of Women’s Rights in her art practice, why ceramics have such a critical importance in her work, plus all the tips of what to see and do in Luanda and Sao Tome and Principe.
Tell us how you first became engaged with Africa.
In Portugal, it’s quite common to know or talk about family members who were in Angola, Mozambique or Brazil before the Independence. That’s my case.
In 2003 I was admitted into a really good school program called Maumaus, in Lisbon, post-colonial studies and my white-Western-supremacist-education started to be deconstructed there. Since then I’ve been researching the other side of history mainly on the African continent. I lived in Angola mostly but also in Brazil, where my ancestors were. My aim is to be able to continue this research, I’m particularly interested in countries that had a connection to Portugal.
Human rights - and Women’s Rights in particular - are central concerns in your artistic practice.
One’s art practice always comes from a personal experience. Art as a way of critical thinking and my personal journey has been expressed in my art practice. As women, we inherit a battle for our human rights. I have experienced it in my life - domestic violence, abuse, harassment - on a level that I was not even aware of. Like myself, most of the women out there who became aware have started their own journeys of healing. As Audre Lorde said: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
How can art bring about significant and real change on specific human rights issues?
In my perspective, art is a tool, a peaceful weapon that should be used in favor of collective healing, highlighting what makes life and living a wider mission, beyond our limitations.
You were the commissioner of the Angolan pavilion. How did this project come about? How was the pavilion received in Venice?
I was directing at the time e.studio Luanda, an artist-run-project that aimed to support and internationalise contemporary art made in Angola. After volunteering to help and support the Angolan pavilion in 2013 with my dear friends Edson Chagas, Paula Nascimento, among others, who won the golden Lion, e.studio Luanda team was invited by the Ministry of Culture of Angola to follow the legacy. “On ways of travelling” was the title of the exhibition curated by António Ole. Being a commissioner is mainly making things happen. It was hard and intense work and it was worth it! We had more than 27’000 visitors but most importantly we had great teamwork and an amazing opening.
You work and live between Portugal and Angola. What are the key players, platforms and institutions for the artists from the African lusophone countries?
Contemporary art is quite a closed market, or in other words, specific. Being an artist and producing art from the South is even more challenging as we know.
Before Independence, Portugal was under a dictatorship and therefore the Portuguese speaking African countries had barely any investment in art and culture. Still we can talk about the Instituto Camões, and a few private initiatives. There’s so much to be done!
What should a perfect art day in Luanda look like? What places should we visit?
The best is always to visit artist’s studios, unfortunately it’s getting more rare to find them! Centro cultural do Brasil, Instituto Camões, Casa Ser- artists run space, geração 80- young artists revolutionising cinema in Angola, some galleries like Movart who I work with, espaço Ela, Fundação Arte e Cultura to name the most relevant. Fundamental to visit the slavery museum outside of Luanda.
What about Sao Tome and Principe? Sounds very intriguing. Where should we go?
São Tomé has this known space called Cacau where the Biennial takes place. Then there’s an amazing project run by a dear friend of mine, Kwame Sousa, which is an independent art school. Also highly recommended is to visit artists’s studios like the one of the great sculptor Geane Castro.
You often use ceramics in your work. Tell us more about that.
I grew up in the woods, playing with earth, clay and wild animals. Ceramic is an amazing medium and has been excluded from the status of fine arts, often sidelined as craft or a a leisurely activity to entertain women. My constant “return to earth” comes from my desire to deconstruct and question that limitations, as a woman and as a contemporary artist.
You always seem incredibly busy all over the world – except for this year for obvious reasons. What are your plans for 2021?
I love travelling! Getting constantly out of my comfort zone is part of my art practice. I’m working on a big performance for Yorkshire Sculpture Park in the UK, it will be live streaming on the 8th of March. Also I have a solo show in Lisbon at my gallery Movart, a residency in the south of France in July following another residency in Alentejo, south of Portugal for the summer. September to November will be time to return to Angola and work there. I feel happy and grateful to continue my mission as an artist. Also thank you for contributing to it!
Yemaya series on show at Foreign Agent
Yemaya power! Since moving to Angola, RitaGT has been fascinated by the everyday action of carrying and collecting water in Africa. Millions of women and girls spend hours every day travelling to water sources, often exposed to danger on their way, waiting in line and carrying heavy loads - often several times a day. In our world today, women still carry most of the world’s water. RItaGT’s ongoing ceramic series #yemoja - the title comes from the Yoruba candomble belief system, yemaya meaning Goddess/mother of the oceans which evokes the slavery trade - pays homage to all those women and girls. The jerrycan is an object of everyday life in many African countries and each of those pieces evokes a powerful woman who is carrying water right now. Come and discover them at Foreign Agent!