O desafio de reescrever a história
[ The challenge of rewriting history ]

Interview by Ludmila Böse
The exhibition “Okufeti(ka)” by visual artist
Iris Buchholz Chocolate re-imagines the Feti myth and archaeological site which is located in the central highlands of Angola. It is considered one of the largest in Central and Southern Afri-
ca. In an interview, the artist talks about retell-
ing history through art, the rediscovery of an ancient African society and the awakening of dormant history.

LB: "Okufeti(ka)" is your latest solo show, open until 10 August. After "A Sul. O Sombreiro" (2016), which reflected on the silence surround-
ing transgenerational traumas caused by colo-
nization, racism and genocide, what brings us the new exhibition?

IBC: "Okufeti(ka)" is a reflection on humanity, on how ancient societies came together and flourished. The exhibition was inspired by the Feti archaeological site, in the central plateau
of Angola, but actually deals with deeper issues linked to the treatment of history. In particular, the historiography of ancient African societies, the need to rethink and rewrite that history.

LB: Why did you decide to tackle such a broad topic through art?

IBC: As a German living in Angola, I have always had an interest in investigating German pres-
ence in the country. When I finalized "A Sul. O Sombreiro," I began researching the role of the German explorers in Angola, and this was how
I discovered the work of the German ethnologist Beatrix Heintze. Her research focuses on the 'pre-colonial' history of 'West Central Africa' and especially, Angola. "Okufeti(ka)" was initial-
ly inspired by one of her books, not yet trans-
lated into Portuguese, about the travels of Ger-
man ethnologist Alfred Schachtzabel in south-central Angola, in 1913–1914. A short paragraph about the Feti archaeological site – followed by
a full-page footnote – captured my curiosity to the point where my research turned to this specific site.

LB: And from there came the title of the exhibition? Why "Okufeti(ka)"?

IBC: For a long time, the title was simply "Feti", the name of the archaeological site. When the project reached a certain maturity, I decided to call it "Okufeti" because I thought it meant, in Umbundu, to 'start'. Until I looked up an Um-
bundu-Portuguese dictionary, where I discov-
ered that the verb ‘to start’ is 'okufetika'. When you have an idea in your heart, it's hard to let it go, but I did not want to make a linguistic mis-
take. In conversations with the curator, we agreed on this compromise: "Okufeti(ka)". The choice of the title tells a lot about how it is not possible to have certainties about the past. This also applies to our lives. For example, during
my research, one report stated that the archae-
ological site of Féti had been flooded by the con-
struction of a dam in the middle of the 20th century. However, I did not find another regis-
ter to support it. So, these parentheses in "Okufeti(ka)" reflect on these uncertainties about the past.

LB: About the uncertainties ... The exhibition reimagines an African narrative whose discov-
ery is based on documentary sources written
by European researchers. Is "Okufeti(ka)" an African narrative or a narrative of Africa told from an individual and artistic perspective?

IBC: Both. It is an African narrative registered
in Ovimbundu orality, later documented by a French missionary, a German explorer, a Portu-
guese prospector, an American ethnologist, an Angolan archaeologist, and mentioned by the Angolan writer Henrique Abranches in the work "A Konkhava de Feti" and finally, by the Ger-
man ethnologist, as far as I know. This tells a lot about how often the narrative has already been written and rewritten in its various versions. The oral traditions in Angola, and throughout the continent, are being partially recorded, leaving much of it out of reach. When investi-
gating the past, these records, regardless of their nature and the time of writing, remain sources of written information. Some of these sources have been edited to reflect what might actually have been.

On the other hand, I chose to 'tell this story' because I live here. For me, "Okufeti(ka)" is a personal experience. The works are the evidence of my feelings, my thoughts. It's my individual approach to a specific location. At the same time, "Feti" is a universal history, something experienced by the entire humanity; creation myths, birth of kingdoms, unexplained things found in archaeological sites .... Whenever we explore the past, we are faced with mysteries, with the unknown. The works are a reinter-
pretation and reimagining of these spaces and narratives, they give the public the possibility
of feeling a part of this possible history.

LB: To what extent does "Okufeti(ka)" rewrite African spaces and narratives of the past?

IBC: These spaces and narratives have always existed. Moreover, and here I quote the artist Grada Kilomba, "in art we also produce knowl-
edge, by creating works that generate questions that were not there before (...)". Few know about the site. I got the impression that I pulled a story out of silence. What is missing is probably con-
textualizing it for today. There are several records on the history of the ancient kingdoms and peoples of the central highlands and other regions of the country. In the end, rewriting is rediscovering. There is much to be discovered by young Angolan researchers. It's a matter of who writes history. Only when we ask, do we get
new knowledge.

LB: In one of the works, a recording narrates
the myth in Umbundu. What is your view on orality?

IBC: They are records and archives of past and present practices. It is crucial that they are not forgotten, and that they are passed on to the next generations. Today's technology allows the recording of orality. Why not record the stories narrated in national languages? The beauty is that there is a variety of languages. It is impor-
tant to share the orality, the multivocality of the various peoples of Angola. The translations into Portuguese, the official language, are already
a bridge between these various identities.

LB: Africa's history is often divided between a 'pre-colonial' period and a 'post-colonial' period when, in reality, most African countries were colonized for no more than 100 years. How does "Okufeti(ka)" treat the break of the continuity
of African narratives – colonization?

IBC: Even 100 years of colonization have had
a tremendous impact on African societies.
I believe that colonial policies in Angola, like Lusotropicalism and assimilation, denied and oppressed the histories and identities of the country’s peoples. Colonialism ended almost two generations ago. Many, alive today, have witnessed the colonial reality, and I see that society continues to seek its identities and roots. It is a slow and continuous process and I hope that this exhibition will stimulate interest in getting to know more about the ancient African societies before European colonization. Feti is just one example. In Southern Africa, for exam-
ple, Zimbabwe is known for its ruins of ancient stone architecture...

The educational program "Okuoya", which accompanies the exhibition, addressing themes related to African archeology, astronomy and material cultures, is a way of sharing what I learned during my research.

When these stories are known and valued, we also value something very fantastic and impor-
tant for the history of the country: who we were in the past. We should know about the existence of these sites in the same way we know about the existence of Angolan tourist attractions like Kalandula Falls. Feti is one of the largest archae-
ological sites in Central and Southern Africa.
It is dormant history that must be awakened.

Okufeti(ka) by artist Iris Buchholz Chocolate reimagines the Feti archaeological site, one of the largest in Southern Africa, located in the central highlands of Angola. The exhibition is open until 10 August 2019, from Tuesday to Saturday, from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM, at Jahmek Contemporary Art Gallery, Rua dos Coqueiros No. 201 (Mission Factory), Coqueiros, Luanda.

Published: Cultura – Jornal Angolano de Artes
e Letras, Nº 186, July 23, 2019