Monday, March 5, 2007

interviews by Sandra Vieira Jurgens to Manuel Santos Maia

Sandra Vieira Jurgens in artes/dialogo - Manuel Santos Maia, arq./a magazine of art and architecture, nº 22, year IV - November / December

Born in Mozambique, Manuel Santos Maia has been working with the Reality of the "repatriated" during the Portuguese colonial period, extending its approach to the condition of the "dislocated" in the contemporary society. With an extensive list of materials, including family album photographs, post stamps, and also objects, furniture and personal remembrances, he has been producing throughout his project "absent minded", installations which appeal to the essential sense of memory and lived history.

In the three solo exhibitions you made since 2002 and in many of the group exhibitions you participated, you've been continuing this only project called "Absent Minded". Tell me about that project.

The memory is the main theme in the project "Absent Minded". The history of my family: the fact that I was born and lived in Mozambique and that I returned to Portugal in the decolonization period is the starting point to approach other more specific themes. The project started when my paternal grandmother died. Back then I realized that many of the stories she used to tell me had an end and could be lost. The "repatriated" live from stories and because of that they're very close to the native cultures, in the sense that the stories of the tribe go from mouth to mouth. With my grandmother's death the sensation of loss grows in me. Meanwhile in college I had already started with some works related to the theme of memory, and in these works I questioned the validity of the artist and his/hers approach, the value and the importance of art, its power of representation or simply - to represent what (?). Only later, after what happened, I idealized several situations which could be presented in different exhibitions. I conceived then the project "absent minded". The memory is connected to an identity.

Is there in that work an appeal to a biographical narrative, the return to the origins and the reconstruction of the past?

It is the return to the origins. I started to crystallize stories I had in memory, later I included others I got knowledge of. I came to Portugal with 6 years old; the memories from Mozambique are few. In "Introduction", exhibition I made at Artemosferas, I start precisely from the memory of the house I was born. The house is a metaphor, the place when one returns, is the first place, the place of affections. In this work the house remits also to another place that is Mozambique. It's a return. To produce these works I listen to stories from relatives and other people whom I live together with and I record it.
It's the opportunity to know more about me and the others. Making it made me realize there are other people in the same situation, with whom we have something in common.

Is it about to affirm a cultural specificity?

In the work I'm a bit selfish, I understand I must start from the private, from my life experience, from my search, from the place I am from and where I am. The project "Absent Minded" is related with the personal familiar sphere, but it's extended to the image of a country, to a social and political body. I'm interested in the wandering condition of dislocated. I'm interested in what so many people left behind, what they had lost, how they live and what they live of. The image of someone dispossessed from its memory and the sensation of loss are still today very present. These reflections are approached in the book "De Profundis, valsa lenta" by José Cardoso Pires, from which I used the expression "absent minded" that entitles the project.

When you speak of the condition of dislocated, which is the point of view you adopt in relation to the contemporary cultural transformations? Are you aware of the changes, do you understand the phenomenons or do you feel that is necessary to recuperate something that is getting lost?

The memory is a point of anchorage, is something we must get back to by necessity so we can place ourselves and don't get lost. We can just see the emigrants from East, the Chinese that live here, and our emigrants, and we understand that currently we are all dislocated. I'm not from Porto, how many are not from the place where they are and they feel dislocated. When this is lived one feels the need to find a basis, to search for references, places with which one identifies oneself, which one will carry forever. The memory can get lost. Today we live quickly, we don't have time not even to look back, not even to question the passage carried through. We forget where we come from, and we confuse what we are with what we look like, we go anxious to a future we are unaware of. That is one of the symptoms of the present.

Since the project has a wider character, how do you articulate the personal and the collective, the singular and the general?

When the starting point is very personal I like to think that I'm making a representation, so I'm closer to painting. When I use objects from family I make a representation. These objects have a biography, a life of their own; they remit us to other places, other cultures. They came from Mozambique to Portugal, but here they earn other meanings, other values. The objects have the mobility as theirs owners have it too. In a museum or in an exhibition I get distanced from them, I modify their biography, their representation. Besides their own history the tables remit us to a "being", a praying. The suitcases remit us to the house's content, the transport of memories, of affections. Presenting them in a space that is not my home, where they'll be viewed by an anonymous audience, these objects act not in a private plane, not personal but collective, general. My brother saw the exhibition at the Museum Nogueira da Silva, in Braga, where I exhibited porcelain, furniture, family albums, and he didn't immediately recognize some of the objects. There they were impersonal, exterior to him.

That is interesting because the theoreticians of cultural studies oppose the memory to history, pointing out the objectivity, the universal and the demand of history's reason, and the connection of memory to the affections and emotions. In the case of your work, are we before a history of memories?

It is in a certain way the history of memories because I try to follow two processes. As I explained, I intend to distance myself and be involved. However I don't intend to build the history of the historians. I just want to turn into present a moment that belongs to history and still remains to write and review. The only registered perspective is the political and military, not the one from people who lived other realities. How can one make history without consider the experience of the ones who lived there? What do they have to tell? What hasn't been told? Why wasn't told? What is submersed, hidden and submitted to silence? Why didn't people talk? The told history doesn't reveal and forgets many realities. What I do: compile memories that establish a relation to history. To represent this relation I start from museum practices and the museum as a place that gives knowledge, to view, to present history. The museum presentation induces to one of several readings of the object. In certain situations I stage the classification and cataloguing of objects. In the exhibition at the Museum Nogueira da Silva I followed some of the characteristics and solutions adopted by the museum in its collection of furniture and porcelain. In visual terms I approach a realist representation and to certain visitors hyper-realist. To me is just a representation.