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West African Video Art at the Venice Architecture Biennale
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West African Video Art at the Venice Architecture Biennale

Picture of Cassandra Naji
Updated: 19 December 2016
During this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, eight video artists from Portuguese-speaking West Africa will transform a Venetian island into Ilha de São Jorge, an extra-territorial island featuring videos documenting how modernity has affected Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe. The exhibition will trace the connections between the former Portuguese colonies during a period of rapid development and flux, as experienced by these contemporary video artists.

Ilha de São Jorge, curated by Beyond Entropy, a research-based architecture studio, will show a series of short films documenting the changes wrought by modernity in Portuguese-speaking West Africa. The exhibition explores urban development, the legacy of colonialism and the common geographical and cultural ties that bind the six countries.

Guinea-Bissau © Valeria Rodrigues
Guinea-Bissau | © Valeria Rodrigues

Suleimane Biai

Working together on the video ‘Uma Cabana’, director Suleimane Biai, from Guinea-Bissau, and Portuguese artist Filipa César created a work that explores the notion of construction as vehicle for memory, in particular the collective memory and experience of Guinea-Bissau. In February of 2014 Biai and César spent three weeks in rural Guinea-Bissau filming the construction of the ‘cabana’, a local meeting place. Biai, in addition to working as a director, is also the village’s regulado, a role important for community cohesion. Hence the construction of the building became, to an extent, a metaphor for the construction of modern communities and social groups.

Biai (b. 1968) is a director, producer and screenwriter based in Bissau. He studied directing in Cuba and has created several independent films, including Djitu ten ku ten, which won plaudits on its release in 1997.

Filipe Branquinho and Rui Tenreiro

Short film ‘Journey to the Centre of Capricorn’ is a surreal take on the architectural legacy of colonialism by Mozambicans Filipe Branquinho and Rui Terneiro, along with guitarist Tiago Correia-Paulo. Directed by Terneiro, the piece is made up of three small sections, and proposes a lyrical reading of Maputo architecture and Mozambique’s experience of colonialism.

“Journey to The Centre of Capricorn- Postal da Baía dos Mpfumos”, 2013, 16:9, full HD,2’7’’

Filipe Branquinho is a Maputo-born photographer who combines his background in architecture with his interest in portraiture, eschewing stereotypes of Africa’s scorched countryside and capturing the life of city-dwellers instead. Rui Tenreiro, who is currently based in Stockholm, is a writer and illustrator with an interest in depicting imaginary worlds through his drawings.

Monica de Miranda

Monica de Miranda’s video ‘Hotel Globo’ explores the Angolan diaspora through the prism of a modernist hotel in Luanda. This treatment aligns with de Miranda’s previous work, much of which deals with themes of ‘personal geographies and urban archaeology.’ A visual artist and researcher as well as artist, Miranda currently spends her time between Lisbon and London, although she was born in Porto as part of the Angolan diaspora. Consequently, her work focuses on Angola’s changing urban spaces and the themes of diaspora, identity and hybridity.

Mindelo, Cape Verde © Manuel de Sousa
Mindelo, Cape Verde | © Manuel de Sousa

Irineu Destourelles

Irineu Destourelles’ video project builds on the relationship between ‘the constantly evolving socio-cultural matrix, the built heritage and organisation of the contemporary urban fabric’ of Mindelo, Cape Verde. In practice, this means Destourelles weaves together ideas and icons from Africa and the West, exploring how urban heritage contributes to the construction of national identity in Cape Verde.

Kiluanji Kia Henda

In creating her film ‘Concrete Affection’, Kiluanji Kia Henda was inspired by the book Another Day of Life by iconic Polish journalist and Africa correspondent Ryszard Kapuściński. The book focuses on the Angolan Civil War, and Kia Henda uses this as a jumping off point to allow her to examine what happened to the city after the departure of the Portuguese. As with the other videos in Ilha Sao Jorge, Kia Henda’s work uses architecture, in this case that of Luanda, to bring her themes into focus.

Kwame Sousa and René Tavares

São Tomé and Principe forms the backdrop of Milonga House, a short film by artists Kwame Sousa and René Tavares exploring community identity on the island nation. As two of the best known artists on São Tomé, Sousa and Tavares have worked together since 2009, examining modes of resistance against Portuguese rule and the mutability of Santomean identity.