Mónica de Miranda. Deconstruction / Reconstruction
Sabrina Amrani is delighted to present the online viewing room Mónica de Miranda: Deconstruction/Reconstruction, a complement to the artist's IRL exhibition All that Burns Melts into Air, currently on show at the gallery space.
To really understand an artwork, we need to know its context. And, in Mónica de Miranda's pieces, the places that each photography shows have a history of their own. In this sense, Deconstruction/Reconstruction brings to attention the unique conditions of the places the artist has visited in order to create her works. Through a deconstruction with a post-colonial gaze, Mónica de Miranda proposes a reconstruction of the cartography of her affections.
Across her investigations on the Afro-Portuguese world, Mónica de Miranda’s works creates a space for debate on the historical relation between Portugal and its former colonies, informed by the artist's own experience. De Miranda draws addresses bodies, ideas, and emotions, hinting at the fact that most of those in the path of the empire did not have the power to change history.
De Miranda body of works talks about exile, dislocation, and displacement, as well as the genre of travel. Her narrative mode sits strategically between fiction and documentary, exceeding the possibilities permitted by realism in order to get as close as possible to a truth that eludes traditional documentary and autobiographical practices. Her photographs are, thus, imagined autobiographies that narrate her experiences of being out of place, as well as the possibilities opened up by the enriching processes of contact. Various figures -sexual and romantic attachments, as well as de Miranda’s’ friends– who come in and out of the frames, also act as conduits to temporary homes, especially in the absence of the familiar, reflecting psychological and emotional considerations about the effects of being a product of amalgamation and erasure.
In her films, she relies on visual strategies to explore the significance of cityscapes, landscapes, and oceanic bodies to deconstruct the self-through memory, imagined reconstruction, physical return, and creative production.
Mónica De Miranda’s films and photographs form an unusual arc that warrants methodological attention to the complex ways in which she uses visual vocabulary to address the persistence of uncanny reminders of past encounters, and the ways in which these “reminders” continue to make themselves present in both Portugal and its colonies. Portugal cast a shadow over a spectrum of the world, with large landmasses and islands that became colonial possessions that now are Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and Cape Verde Islands in Africa; Brazil and a plethora of islands in South America; smaller territories and coastal cities in South Asia: Goa in India, Colombo in Sri Lanka, and Macao in China; among dozens of others. In each of these locations, the Portuguese disrupted existing trades linkages, monopolising sea routes. In the artist’s works, we see traces of the restless expeditions that the Portuguese made five centuries ago, and the colonial wound that still lasts today.
Any reflection or study on the history of Angolan architecture starts pondering the Portuguese colonial influence and impact in the building of Angola’s cities.
Angola urbanism is an expression of the process of colonial domination that took place in the public space and buildings, as well as in its social hierarchies, influenced by historical, economical and political factors.
The modernization of urban tissue was one of the main political activities of the Portuguese Estado-Novo regimen. This allowed the legitimization of architectural and urban production, what resulted in the Angolan context, in constructions that expressed a very unique tropical language, rooted in the architectural principles of modernism but adapted for its geography and local climate.
This new archicture called Tropical-Modernist does not represents the principles of the Estado-Novo colonialism, being, in fact, the foundation for a rupture from where a new narrative emerged, a narrative of an egalitarian and democratic society – which never really existed. In Angola, not only did the urban plan lead to the erasure of existing places and the imposition of new social ideals, but also the modernist utopia of freedom was a big failure.
With the end of the civil war in Angola, came an economic boom, a consequence of the rising of oil prices and the emergence of a capitalist economic model. All these changes led to the construction of new buildings under the subject of “national reconstruction”, what included vast housing and infrastructure projects, as well as the beginning of a large-scale private real-estate venture.
The rhythm and scale of these new projects in the Angolan cities was proportional to the state of abandon of the historical architecture heritage. Even thou the conservation of Monuments is a delicate matter, it got the support of private companies with commercial interests, and thanks to these monuments conflicted relationship with history- if this architectural legacy part of a past which we want to distance ourselves, then the new skyscrapers emerging now are the image of a “New Angola”, flurrying with a new desire to erase history and memory.
This geography of tensions between a past still present and a present that is uncertain, full of spatial and temporal contradictions, particular of post-colonial territories, is the starting point for the Panorama series. Panorama is a post-archival research project which explores the connections between colonial and post-colonial memory. Using different media such as photography, video and installation, Mónica de Miranda reflect on themes like urban archaeology and her personal geography, tracing a critical process of historical deconstruction and construction of the Angola collective memory.
The duality between past and present (and, why not, future), can be found in all Panorama Series, as we can see in the work Fall (2017). The title is a direct allusion to the fall of colonial empires and to the environment to which we are transported: the Kalandula waterfalls. Here, an old, colonial type guesthouse is swallowed by nature. The landscape remains intact and absorbs the foreign element, the man-made architecture.
The title of this project is also the name of an iconic hotel constructed in the 1970s on the Island of Luanda, with panoramic views over the city bay and the sea. In the past, it was one of the most emblematic and charming hotels in Luanda, but it has been long since it was completely closed and abandoned. For de Miranda, hotels carry the symbology of journey and diaspora transit, being one of the reoccurring architectural elements in the artist’s work. Hotel Panorama (2017) is the materialization of decadence, a shipwreck resigned to its fate.
In Angola, de Miranda also photographed the city of Malanje, although the exact locations are never given. In Springboard (2017), the artist presents an abandoned open-air modernist swimming pool, built in the colonial period and currently surrounded by musseques, an Angolan type of informal settlements. The swimming pool in Malanje was built mostly for the white population. After the independence and the civil war, it was re-appropriated. Today it is not as abandoned as it might seem at first sight, being actually used as an improvised storage for construction materials, as the soil-filled swimming pool and adjacent spaces make evident.
Throughout my research I raise questions that are connected to my sense of belonging to various places and culture and investigate the concepts of integration and separation, the public and private, and the opposition of here and elsewhere. This project researches my sense of place and identity, my memories, my search to belong, my life romances and the challenges of being a mother living away from home and the context of a broken family.
- Mónica de Miranda.
Shot in the botanical gardens of the Floresta da Ilha near the Hotel Panorama on the island of Luanda, When Words Escape, Flowers Speak (2017) portrays a constructed, “natural” landscape of functioning gardens.
Miranda analyses botanical gardens in this and other works in order to recall the weight of colonial history in collecting, cataloguing and displaying specimens for Europeans pleasure. She examines the ways in which the spatial remnants of such colonial times have been re-appropriated in post-colonial times. The Angolan sisters re-appropriate this territory with a meditative shared presence. Portrayed in an inward-looking moment, they seem to be listening to the manifold pasts remembered and futures foretold by the landscape itself.
Cape Verde is a country spanning an archipelago of ten islands located in the central Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of West Africa. The islands, volcanic in origin, are mostly rocky and do not have a lot of vegetation or green landscape, due to the infrequent rainfall. The population is mostly Creole. Few countries have experienced emigration as extensively as Cape Verde. The diaspora outnumbers the resident population, and virtually every household has an emigrant family member. Mónica de Mirand's work uses the eroded soil as a metaphor for the experience of emigration from Cape Verde. Tough economic conditions during the last decades of its colonisation and during the first years of Cape Verde’s Independence led many to migrate to Europe, the Americas and to other African countries.
On the island of Fogo, in the archipelago of Cape Verde, Mónica de Miranda recognizes the intensity of the life of our planet in the sense that it is renewed by the volcanic eruptions that spew fire and lava, which immediately cools and everything crystallizes, everything transforms and updates; in an approximation to the paradoxical duality that the presence of the volcano implies: between life and death.
Cape Verde rocky landscape, almost lunar, evokes the fertility promise. It became an ambitious colonial project for Europe's great leap into the New World, the experiment of what would become the biggest imperial expansion in Portugal's history. As a true colonization laboratory, a trade hub of goods and human beings , Cape Verde would become a platform for permanent migrations and a fragmented community, with most of its population now in exile.
In her series Linetrap (2014), Mónica Miranda uses a line to undo a fixed and unique landscape, crossing the interior and exterior of the image to fix it. Sewing, an activity usually associated with the private world, is in this work depicted in a public place, touching, almost prodding, the public/private dichotomy. Moving between the interior and exterior, these lines do not divide, but mend the rifts between colonizers and colonized, between the present island, and the past, lost archipelago.
As a fictional construction the intervened pigmented and waxed series of photographs- entitled ‘Bedrock’- rescue this intermittent materiality which, while present, merges into the printed image affirming in the artist’s gesture the intervention on the image as a recording of a journey; a time that is updated in its finalization.
- Joao Silvério
I recognize the process that gave rise to the term diaspora, understanding it as a form of “awareness” that recovers access to non-western narratives and models for cosmopolitan life and nation, which I attempt to define through my work. I identify diaspora as a consequence of globalisation and connect it to a personal network of affections and to a motivation to communicate beyond fixed boundaries.
- Mónica de Miranda
The photographs of women dressed in black with bare feet, or the artist’s own body in the diptych entitled Horizon (2017), are relevant in the sense that these figures transmit the idea of osmosis with the burned soil, on which its own regeneration survives the deserted landscape. The volcano is a presence that rises in the landscape and is also a recurring image in the collective imagination and visual representation throughout history.
In Untitled (da série Arquipélogo) (2014), Mónica de Miranda uses fragments of several pictures taken from various point around the island to rebuild what is in fact a fictional island, one that is not dominated by the fixed stare that ruled painting up until the XX century. By creating an image from a moving perspective, the island deconstructs the traditional paradigm. The landscape itself is not fixed but the result of the movement of a body, a journey. Not as a final scene, the landscape is in a continuous process of reinvention, where different fragments, memories, times and cultures are constantly added.
While the original islands are located in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean, these patchwork islands could be literally anywhere.
For the last decade, Mónica de Miranda has investigated the archaeological urban reality of Lisbon and its African neighborhoods that stand on the city limbo. These places stand as points of resistance and places that reclaim an African ownership to belong to Europe. The project South Circular reframes the contemporary ruins of illegally built neighborhoods in Europe and the reclaim of belonging to a city that excludes foreigners from its centre. It is a double consciousness act of time and space: these two concepts are related and inquire on how the colonial past in Africa has direct implications to the present urban realities, struggles and the experiences of European and African postcolonial cities.
The archaeological traces of an old military defense line takes on a different role and meaning in the present. This symbolic wall sets a paradox before our eyes. What have begun as a military defense to keep the French invaders out of the capital, during Napoleon’s attack two centuries ago, is now a barrier that keeps a large African native population, coming from the Portuguese old colonies, out of the prosperous and much desired capital city.
This territory, excluded from the city basic infrastructure, and its inhabitants, also excluded from society, are the protagonists of South Circular. The video shows us a stage especially built for its community, their cultural activities and events. Nevertheless, these spaces were never used for their intended purposed, becoming a ruin before even being finished. Unlike the other ruins, the ancient forts used centuries ago for defending the capital, the ruins in South Circular are contemporary ones that never served the community.
Just like the soldiers in the 19th, Mónica de Miranda’s urban knight goes along the old military road, passing old defense posts, now housing the homeless and the foreigners, travelling the hills from residential areas like Mira Loures and Olaias to Alto de São João Cemetery.
In 1899 this fortified line was called the Lisbon Trench Camp; a century later, at the end of the 1990s, it was deactivated. The wall perimeter we see in de Miranda’s pyrography consists of a circular line going around the north side of the capital and along a large portion of the south bank. That was Miranda’s itinerary for her research.
When I arrived to Lisbon in 2009, I found a hidden Lisbon , not the one of the postcards sold at the city centre. I started in that year a project with Paul Goodwin, titled Underconstruction, that was related to black urbanism in Lisbon and revealed an invisible black city that was hidden in the outskirts of the city. [...] The Military Road artwork was created as part of that project and there is a video of a journey that traces, as in an archeological quest, the landscape of the old military roads of Lisbon.
- Mónica de Miranda
South circular is a multi-voiced choir singing of a tension between memory, nostalgia and the urgency that tints our modern view of the city and its inhabitants — there are the “legitimate” dwellers, and then the outsiders. Using sound mixing and visual editing with a keen sense of rhythm, Miranda bares a narrative web of places and moments of historical significance, turning them into a series of heterotopias in flux.
- Joao Silverio
As an act of freedom performed at the borders of Lisbon, the city they are not allowed inside, the two twin sisters diligently go over pages and pages of Portugal –and its colonies- history, revisiting the past. In the ruins of the city that was never supposed to exist, the twins rip pages of Portuguese history, a political act seeking freedom and repair with the past.
Although I return to and reflect on that history, my intention has less to do with the idea of getting the historical record straight, than with playing it again in order to listen to my own stories across these histories. Through this experience I seek to understand where my place is now, in the present, and where I will stand in the future.
- Mónica de Miranda
Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo is the main stage for Mónica de Miranda Project titled "Tomorrow is Another Day". This title is an expression that points from the present to the future keeping in mind the memories and heritages of the past, bringing to speech the flaws and absences of history and politics and pointing to a grounded hopeful tomorrow in reimagination. It also refers to a desire to make a new type of architecture that breaks with the established canon in the context of post-independence in the African continent, where architecture acquired the capacity of awaken utopias and also implied a commitment to democracy, social freedom, producing priceless places.
One of the most famous and symbolic buildings of this utopia architecture is the tower named Tour de l’Échanger, in Kinshasa. It was one of the tallest buildings in Africa at the time of its construction, between 1970 and 1974. Designed by French Tunisian architect Olivier-Clément Cacoub upon the request of dictator Mobutu as a tribute to Patrice Emery Lumumba, the leading leader of the resistance against Belgian colonial domination. Its shape is a mixture of architectural forms such as skyscrapers, pyramids and citadel, in the attempt to express a desire for power. Cacoub was also responsible for another construction in Congo, called Gbadolite, considered by many to be the Versailles of the Congo, as well as many other projects in the French colonies, before, during and after the Independence wars. The Tour de l’Échanger was an incomplete work for decades, being finished recently due to a Chinese investment.
All monuments are erected to fix symbols and to enhance the memory of events and the protagonists that made history from the point of view of those with power. They help to create a narrative that can last generations and change our opinion about reality. Buildings are also monuments erected to embody worldviews and to organize our way of living and understanding time and space.
Tomorrow is Another Day suggests another category of study: the body-monument. Recorded in the cities of Kinshasa and Maputo (Mozambique), it presents part of the national heritage built in the times of the Independence Wars to highlight the appropriation and resignification of power, the canon of beauty and the hellenistic aesthetics through the body of the black woman. This body, absent from the history books and official narratives, here becomes a monument body. The twins also add the representation of duality and otherness in a game of similarities and differences in natural and architectural environments, where ruin and resilience project us into a terrain of social reinvention.
The title “You can cut all the flowers but you can’t keep spring from coming” was taken from Pablo Neruda’s famous phrase that has inspired decades of resistance movements against dictatorships and fascism, newly awakened in the Americas and in Europe. These words were sung in the Women’s March in January 2017 in the USA and became a mantra in Brazil since the murder of black congresswoman Marielle Franco. The flowers, often associated with feminine beauty and fragility are also used as peace offers in the fight for a better tomorrow.
It is, therefore, an attempt to reflect on the reconciliation between what already exists and what has never been and which may one day be something different, between the old and the new, between memory, history, dystopia and ideological utopia.
- Mónica de Miranda
The narrative in my work is a non linear story embedded with documentary elements and recreated stories in order to blur boundaries between fact and fiction, art and auto-ethnography, identity and subjectivity. The media remnants used in the narrative exist as fossils but also as research objects that are simultaneously of the past and of the present. These fictional documentary endeavours are efforts to make manifest the imaginaries that haunt a landscape of forgetfulness, amnesia and impossible representations of diaspora. The interface between art practices and “auto-ethnographic” enquiry about biographic processes provides a key site for apprehending the affective potential of fictional imaginaries.
- Mónica de Miranda
Sao Tome Príncipe
Sabrina Amrani’s current exhibition “All That Burns Melts Into Air” starts with the eponymous project by Mónica de Miranda located on the island of São Tomé. In this immersive project we lose track of space and the physical dimensions of the island, located in a country with less than a thousand square kilometers. The photographs and video unveals immense fields, colonial buildings without ending, a broken bridge to the sea. They confront us from their paradoxical magnitude of rubble left by the Portuguese during the colonial period.
Born as a laboratory implanted in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, between a cultural crossroad, Sao Tomé is currently still, suspended between the past, the present and the future, between ruins, paradise, war, and the battle between man and nature. On top of the rubble and the nature, there are the lives of people: old, adult, young and children, descendants from Angolan, Cape Verde and Mozambican slaves, people bought, exchanged and sold as goods during the 19th and still during the 20th century.
The people who lived in those places, surrounded by the same palm trees and coconut palms that still today give us a false image of paradise are the same ones who experienced conflicts and atrocities. Within this duality the memories, identities and public space grow, and at the same time they look for ways to deal with the past in the present.
The twins evoke identity as a process of reproduction, projections of the desires that create the island, that give its meaning and guide it. That guide us. It is a like a duality in between two mirrors: the two girls have themselves a multi-cultural background spanning various countries, and build their identity on that difference but on that same likeness. Twins usually occupies my landscapes, cryptic characters evoking a multiplicity of selves, or a mirroring of self and other, revealing the sense of duality inherent in the experience of migration and diaspora. The twins also add the representation of duality and otherness in a game of similarities and differences in natural and architectural environments, where ruin and resilience project us into a terrain of social reinvention.
- Mónica de Miranda.
Roça, in Portuguese, refers to a countryside area used for plantations, a “humble” farm. Nevertheless, on the island of Sao Tomé, the colonial “roça” gained a new meaning. The Roças of Sao Tomé are within the cultural and historical identity of the islands.
Roça is a colonial village developed with a single goal: the exploration of new lands and the production of monocultures, like cacao and coffee. These “villages” are urban planned to serve their free population and to control the slaves: streets and buildings were carefully calculated and planned.
The “roças” represents the most important historical landmark in the history of São Tomé and Príncipe. They are true colonial monuments that have marked the history of the islands, representing not only the paradigm of its architecture, but also of the country itself and its culture. They are undoubtedly the most profound memory and heritage of the São Tome people.
The old platform from which the twins spot whales is in wreckage as if to remember that the geostrategic implantation of this country, with the arrival of the Portuguese in 1470 on the island of São Tomé and a year later on the island of Principe, was that of a platform. Facing the Atlantic routes and the African coast, its implantation dictated its use as a commercial warehouse, especially for the slave labor trade.
- Luísa Santos
Mónica de Miranda's Cinema Imperio (2020) depicts the main entrance of the eponymous cinema. Built in 1950, while São Tome e Principe was a Portuguese colony, the cinema's name has an important meaning.
Its size, given the area where it stands, and its modernist style converted the building in a monument. As a cinema, it had seating for 1,000 people and would have been one of the main social gathering spots for European community in São Tome until the independence, in 1975.
Today, Cinema Imperio still has a screening room (due to Taiwanese funds) and is being used for other purposes: a bank, a school and offices.
The exhibition "All That Burns Melts Into Air" reflects about the ruins left by the Portuguese. The show explores the experience of modernity, its utopias and its remains, as ruins and forgotten memories engraved within the decay of abandoned buildings. "All that burns melts into air" is simultaneously about destructive and productive forces, and their constant process of destruction and renewal.
Mónica de Miranda is an artist and researcher. Born in Porto (Portugal) in 1976 from Angolan parents, she actually describes herself as an artist working in the diaspora. Her work is based on themes of urban archaeology and personal geographies.
She holds a Visual Arts Degree from the Camberwell College of Arts, a Master’s Degree in Art and Education from the Institute of Education London and a PhD in Visual Art from the University of Middlesex. Mónica is also one of the founders of the artistic residences project Triangle Network in Portugal and she founded in 2014 the project Hangar Center for Artistic Research, in Lisbon.
In 2016 she was nominated for Novo Banco Photo Prize and exhibited at Museu Coleção Berado (Lisbon, Portugal) as finalist. Mónica was also nominated for Prix Pictet Photo Award in the same year.
Her group exhibitions include: Contemporary African Art and Aesthetics of Translations at the Dakar Biennial (Senegal, 2016); Telling Time at the Rencontres de Bamako Biennale Africaine de la Photographie 10éme edition (Mali, 2015); Ilha de São Jorge at the 14th Biennial of Architecture of Venezia (Italy, 2014); Do you hear me at the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian (Portugal, 2008) and United Nations at the Singapore Fringe Festival (Singapore, 2007).
Mónica de Miranda has participated in various residencies in institutions such as the Tate Britain, French Institute, British Council/Iniva. She exhibits regularly and internationally since 2004.
Her work is present in public collections like the MAAT, Fundaçao Calouste Gulbekian, Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado and Arquivo Municipal de Lisboa.