A Sul. O Sombreiro
or A Pele do Invisível
(Under our Skin)

Leaflet text by Tila Likunzi
 
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”1

The exhibition A Sul. O Sombreiro2 reveals
Iris Buchholz Chocolate’s unease with the silent treatment of themes that are never spoken about. Troubled by this collective reticence, she seeks in the life of her late grandfather, in the history of her country (Germany) and in Angola, and in the universality of violence and repres-
sion, the other, the self.

Inspired by the homonymous novel by Pepetela, she captures the hypocrisy and barbarity of the early beginnings of colonization in Angola and invites us to revisit a past where the horrors of the genocide of peoples native to South America are parallel to the inhumanity of the transatlan-
tic slave trade at a time when Europe celebrated Illuminism sustained by instituting the racial inferiority of other peoples.

What does the world forget? What does it remember? Are we the victims or the perpetrators? Is anything certain in life?

In an exhibition comprised by several instal-
lations, we are immediately immersed in ‘Certaines n’avaient jamais vu la mer’3, a video projection of water reflexes that recalls the diaspora, the severance of family, community and cultural bonds. We advance towards a series of pieces made of gleaming metal, braided artificial hair, green silk and peacock feathers. They evoke the three institutions of colonial power: secular, ecclesiastic and military. The pieces are arranged as if in “a sequential dia-
logue” with one another, reflecting the geopol-
itical dynamics of the time. Of the horror beautified by braids and feathers, of the ‘manto imperial (imperial mantle)’ inspired in baroque landscaping supported by slavery, the eyes of the peacock feathers stand out as silent wit-
nesses. ‘Perucas (wigs)’ betray the fraud. ‘Mitra e capa do Bispo (Bishop’s miter and cape)’ allude to the soft forces of the conniving Chris-
tian civilizational mission. ‘Luvas, armadura e capacete (gauntlets, armor and helmet)’ attest to the brutality of the hard forces. The life-sized ‘Bakamas’ screen projections flanking the pieces, whirl dreamily in affirmation of ances-
tral pre-colonial heritage. The colonized territories were not “empty spaces”.

The multi-channel audio installation ‘pele de tatu (cuirass)’, reproducing bird calls imitated by human voices and sounds of the tropical forest, by composer and designer of contempo-
rary musical instruments Victor Gama, breaks the pieces’ implicit silence, giving us a virtual or metaphorical involvement with the figures and objects, enveloping us like a skin, giving us another potential layer of meanings and interpretations.

How do we distance ourselves from the past when we carry the stigma of being the descendants of the victims and oppressors?

The pieces, suspended, disembodied, incar-
nate the traumas of forced migration, cultural humiliation and survival of the colonized peoples. Traumas that, passed on from genera-
tion to generation, are relived to this day in civil wars, conflicts, genocides and north-south inequality. Our inertia numbs and distances us from one another, turning us into beings pivoting around ourselves, disconnected from an identical reality that we all share, that gets under our skin.

How do we talk about themes that are never spoken about?

Propelled by the need to interact, the artist proposes catharsis through dialogue with the intrinsic duality of each artwork. Creation and destruction. Love and hate. Peace and conflict. However, she chooses to answer these dichoto-
mies by rescuing our sense of our body, which registers our experiences and reminds us
who we are. The serial installations ‘O Fio das Missangas (String of Beads)’ (in beeswax and artificial hair) embodies the pain and marks
left on each generation; ‘Momentos de Aqui (Hereon Moments)’ (ink on paper) reproduces the act of combing, placing the artificiality
of the wig vis-à-vis with the creativity of the braids.

“The past is present in our present.”4

Avoiding the dialectics with which these subjects are usually treated, the artist escapes from the analytical, based on the utility of
the artworks, to the intuitive, grounded on the participation of the viewers, channeling the universal into the individual, questioning not “who we are”, but “why we are what we are”. She exteriorizes the colonial past interiorized
in the post-colonial present and externalizes it
to a decolonial future. She concurs with Walter Mignolo’s observations on the “(…) global pro-
cesses to decolonize aesthetics and to liberate aiesthesis”5. She embraces the reflections of Lewis Gordon who states “(…) we have no other option but to build the options on which the future of our species rest.”6

There is a future, which we can only reach by facing the dilemmas of the present, assumed by the performance of rock, jazz and soul singer Irina Vasconcelos (‘le fou du roi’). By inventing
a dialogue with the suspended figures, the present confronts the past in an attempt of reconciliation.

“To understand the future, we have to know
the past because unless there are deep ruptures, we are tomorrow what we are today and were yesterday. Thus, remembering the past is not only knowing what once was, it is also thinking what is to come.”7


At a time that Africa regains itself, it becomes increasingly urgent to seek alternatives to ‘what is’ and ‘what was’. This process of self-knowl-
edge is no longer the “search for the African soul immortalized in masks” discarded by Isaa Samb at the 1966 Senghor Festival. It is their legacy in continuous metamorphosis.

Questioning our hopes and dreams, the legend told by the Sona drawing of the Cokwe people (on the imperial mantle) reminds us of the mortality of man.

In continuous experimentation, the exhibition does not stop at the universality and individ-
uality of human experience. It visualizes the future, travels in possibilities, invents other places, other situations. It converges the need
to imagine a future where differences coexist.

The exhibition is supported by an educational program, A Pele do Invisível (Under our Skin), which will hold several workshops on these themes. It also includes the distribution of re-
lated educational material for cultural media-
tors and school teachers for further discussions in other venues. It endeavors to create the grounds for mutual understanding.

1 Requiem for a Nun (2006), William Faulkner
2 A Sul. O Sombreiro (2011), Pepetela, A. P.
3 Featured in artist’s 2013 exhibition
Os Sonhos do Embondeiro
4 The Pain of Future Generations
5 Essay on BlackEurope Body Politics 2012
6 Fanon and Development. A Philosophical Look, 2011
7 Alexandra Barahona de Brito