Monday, March 5, 2007

texto Miguel Amado _ alheava

Manuel Santos Maia

Miguel Amado

Manuel Santos Maia was born in Nampula, Mozambique, in 1970. He studied Painting at the University of Oporto Faculty of Fine Arts. He is one of the leading figures on the Oporto art scene not only due to his path as a creator but also due to the role he plays in stimulating ideas and organising events. In relation to the latter aspect, one should highlight his collaboration in experimental magazines such as Desvio 265 or in cultural publications such as Ideias Fixas, the conceiving of conference cycles such as inter+disciplinar+idades and artistas comissários or his links with the mentors of alternative exhibition spaces such as PêssegoPráSemana and the Salão Olímpico. As for the first aspect, one should stress the ongoing development since 2002 of the alheava project, which has now had several public presentations held in group and solo exhibitions promoted in contexts outside the institutional artistic circuit.

The overall designation of Manuel Santos Maia’s work states the conceptual premises underlying his reflection. “Alheava” is the conjugation of the verb “alhear” [to alienate] in the imperfect past tense. This use of the verb tense refers to the past – which in turn alludes to memory as the raw material of individual and collective identity. In this way, the mechanisms of the production of the imaginary are dealt with, establishing a cognitive map of a given lived experience. “Alhear” suggests a state of separation, an effect of deviation, an absence of roots, a sensation of loss and a feeling of shifting. The reality portrayed is that of the post-colonial condition reflected, on the one hand, in the experiences of the Portuguese people who lived in the several different African colonies in the period before the 25th of April 1974 revolution and, on the other hand, in the path they followed during the process of decolonisation. It is, therefore, a questioning of the notion and of the practices personified by the term “retornado”, which refers to the Portuguese people who returned to Portugal from Africa after the end of the Empire.

Manuel Santos Maia’s modus operandi is, on the one hand, based on the gathering of material belonging to members of his family and on the capturing of the oral registers they possess and, on the other hand, on the staging of these multiple components of biographical dimension in installations. Both steps follow a methodology close to that of ethnographers; each of these elements is then granted a status similar to that of artefacts of material culture. There is thus a transforming of their nature that allows the gestation of a sense of non-specific but global order. The photography albums, the furniture and the several objects now form a sort of booty in that are inscribed the emotional circumstances not only of a particular group, but of a community as a whole.

Manuel Santos Maia’s proposal for the CAV project room, entitled alheava – reconstrução, follows this line of intervention, and forms one more moment in an ongoing research process. At the centre of this attention is his grandfather, Mr. Maia. A news item outlines his personal story and laments his death. A eulogy of his professional activity stands out among the words recalling his achievements. He was a house builder. The setting is Nampula, Mozambique. Anchored in these references is the structure of a narrative critical of the exporting to Africa of western thought patterns, in this case exemplified by the introducing of modernist architecture to the Portuguese colonies in Africa. This is made evident by the existence of photographic reproductions of the dwellings built over the decades by Mr. Maia, accompanied by maquettes, sketches and preparatory studies for some of them made by students at Coimbra University. This interpretation is reinforced by the presence of a slide show of these images and of others portraying the urban landscape of the region, as well as of some drawing instruments and technical books that Mr. Maia used. Awareness of this logic emerges in a soundtrack made up of excerpts from an interview that the artist carried out with his father, in which the latter talks about the memories he has of the time.